Wednesday, June 8th had been flagged the start of CMAFest 2016. For several days we had seen advertisements and heard commercials talking about Chris Young would be performing the CMAFest Kick Off Concert at the new Ascend Amphitheatre. We decided to head into Nashville this morning for the Chris Young concert and hang around afterwards for the SiriusXM Highway Finds Stage that would follow.
Gates opened at 10:00. It was about 10:30 when we arrived. There was a huge crowd going through the gates but it went pretty quickly and smoothly. Once inside we found really good seats available even though there were a lot of people already there.
With the sun rays beaming down and the smell of suntan lotion in the air everyone was eagerly awaiting the kick off. At 11:00 the opening day ceremony started with CMA’s CEO, Sarah Trahern welcoming everyone to Nashville for CMAFest.
Nashville’s Mayor, Megan Barry spoke briefly. This is the first CMAFest for Barry as Mayor. She spoke of how important this event is to the city. How it brings about 87,000 people into the city, has an economic impact of $60 million and raises $10 million for music education programs. Barry, got a laugh from the crowd as she said “We welcome you and hope you spend alot of money”.
The Fisk University Jubilee Singers delivered a flawless a capella version of the National Anthem with fireworks shot off at the conclusion.
Chris Young, country artist from Murfreesboro, TN came out to speak before his performance. He brought out with him the McGavock High School Drum Line for a brief performance. Finally it was time for Young to perform. He started his acoustic set with his first chart topper “Gettin’ You Home” (Little Black Dress Song). Everyone knew this song and was singing along. Seems it’s always a fan favorite. Next he did “I Can Take It From There”. Local American Idol finalist, Tristan McIntosh, joined Chris on stage to do a cover of Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All”. She sounded great!
When Chris and Tristan finished, his set was over. Three songs? Three songs does not make a concert. What happened to Chris Young doing the CMAFest Kick off CONCERT? People had gotten there early, stood in line, set in the hot sun for three songs? A lot of people were ticked off. They were mouthing and letting their thoughts be knows as they got up to leave. I think maybe next year the ads and promos should be worded different so you don’t think you are actually getting a “concert” from a big name artist.
We were hanging around because as in years past Sirius XM The Highway was having a Highway Finds stage. Highway Finds are up and coming artists that the Highway have taken a chance on and played and in some cases like, Florida Georgia Line, Cole Swindell, and Parmalee to name a few, have went on to have big careers.
The Highway started the Highway Finds stage in 2013 to showcase some of the artists they had played throughout the year, whether their careers took off or not. That stage in 2013 and 2014 was in front of Hard Rock. This had become one of mine and Ed’s favorite parts of CMAFest. In 2013 there were 14 artists that performed. In 2014 they had 28 artists. Last year for 2015 the Highway Finds stage moved to the Riverfront stage and showcased 23 artists. This year it was great that the Highway Finds were going to be at Ascend. Such an awesome stage. It was a little sad and disappointing though, that this year only brought 9 Highway Finds. We had noticed in listening to the Highway over the last few months there weren’t as many Finds and only having 9 for today reflected what we had been hearing…or not hearing.
However, we were still excited to hear and see these artists, some we’d never seen live before. Old Dominion was first up. These guys we’ve seen a few times over the last couple years. They just get better and better and it’s been really cool to witness that with all of the times we’ve seen them. A huge crowd stayed to hear them so that was good to see. They have great songs and put on a great show. Their current single “Song For Another Time” is one of my favorite songs of theirs. Before they did “Break Up With Him”, their record label came out to present them with the news that “Break Up With Him” had gone Platinum. Way to go!!
Aubrie Sellers, daughter of Lee Ann Womack, who we had never seen before, only heard “Light of Day” on the Highway was next. Hadn’t been a huge fan of that song. Thought her sound was very similar to her mom. However today with the other songs she did they were a lot more rocking and she didn’t sound like Lee Ann at all. Was a great set and glad we got to see her. Her debut album, New City Blues, came out in January.
Portland, Maine native, Kalie Shore, was up next. For weeks, the Highway has been playing her debut single “Fight Like a Girl”. Of the songs she did today, it was definitely her best song. She was excited it was her first full band solo CMAFest show. She did a cover of Dierks Bentley’s “What Was I Thinking” , which I found a bit odd given the lyrics.
Canadian brothers, Brad and Curtis, who are the duo known as High Valley were next. We had seen them two years ago on the Highway Finds stage doing an acoustic set. With full band and a longer set they sounded much better than I remember. They did a bluegrass/gospel song, “I’ll Fly Away”, which to my surprise almost everyone there new the words to.
Steve Moakler. A few weeks ago the Highway started playing a Highway Find called “Suitcase” by a guy named Steve Moakler. It was a good song, written by Luke Laird, Thomas Rhett and Barry Dean. I liked it. However, they kept playing it and playing it until I got very tired of hearing it. I was ready to see if Steve Moakler could sing anything else. Just this week they started playing a new song, “Love Drunk”. We had not ever seen Steve live so we were curious. I was impressed. Most of his stuff doesn’t sound like “Suitcase”. There’s a lot more to him. He wrote Dierks Bentley’s “Riser” so he performed it today. He also did a cover of Nick Jonas’ “Jealous”. Hope to keep hearing him on The Highway.
Buzz, DJ from the Highway introduced the next artist by saying, that this was the one all the ladies had been waiting for…..Michael Ray. Now let me just put this out there…..he very possibly might be the hottest artist at CMAFest. However, there’s more to him than that. He has an amazing voice. Whether it was the looks or the voice or a little bit of both, by the time Michael got on stage he had a huge crowd gathered back in. After Old Dominion the crowd had dwindled down with people just coming and going. That was not the case, as several of the chairs were now occupied.
First song Michael did uptempo “Another Girl” and then went into the song he co-wrote with John Rich that Big and Rich released “Run Away With You”. He did his new release “Think A Little Less”, and his previous single, “Real Men Love Jesus”, which the Highway never did play. He did David Lee Murphy’s “Dust on the Bottle” and got the crowd singing along.
One morning several months ago I was on my way to the gym and the Highway played this song that sounded like something that should have been on Prime Country, but I loved it. It was called “I Met a Girl” and it sounded like nothing that was being played on country radio presently. The voice behind the song was great. It belonged to the next artist up on stage, William Michael Morgan. The irony of his traditional sound is that Sam Hunt, who is anything but traditional, wrote “I Met A Girl.” His newest song the Highway is playing is “Vinyl”, which is also a great song. WMM said it’s his favorite song on his EP. This was our first time seeing WMM. When he walked out he was definitely the most country of the day, complete in cowboy boots, belt buckle and a cowboy hat. As he sang he really reminded me of old school Mark Chestnut, Tracy Byrd, Doug Stone.
Next up was one of our personal favorites of the Highway Finds, Clare Dunn. We feel like we discovered Clare long before the Highway did. We heard her at a bar in Indianapolis, 8 Seconds Saloon, and she was incredible. We tweeted the Highway about her and it took them a bit but they finally got with the program and started playing her. So we’ve watched Clare’s career for awhile and think she’s great.
Today was no exception. Even with some guitar issues, she owned the stage and showed everyone why the Colorado farm girl deserved to be there. She started with “Move On”, did a little Bob Seger “Strut”, “Cowboy Side of You”. She put her guitar down for “Gold to Glitter” and her current single “Tuxedo” but then picked it back up to do a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”. Another great rockin’ performance by Clare.
The grand finale for the night was Frankie Ballard. So in March 2014 around the time they started playing “Helluva Live” we saw Frankie in Indianapolis. I was very disappointed. Going back and reading that blog was amusing. We saw him again with Florida Georgia Line and we liked him live better but he still didn’t seem to have found his niche so to speak. We saw him the last time in November 2015 and it was a whole different Frankie. It was the same one that showed up today. The one that seems to have figured out who he is and where he wants to take his career.
He came out with “Young and Crazy”. During his set he did “Drinky Drink”, “Sunshine and Whiskey”, a cover of “Hound Dog” which fits him and his rockabilly vibe so perfectly. He did cuts off of his new CD, El Rio, that comes out Friday, “Cigarette”, “El Camino” and “It All Started With a Beer”. He finished his set off with “Helluva Life”. The few songs I’ve heard so far from the new CD, they are great. I can’t wait until Friday to get the whole CD. Frankie’s performance was great! He’s funny, personable and gets the crowd involved; and he loves to riff on the guitar. Get the CD and see him at a show!!!!
Keep checking back for blogs from our week at CMAFest and check out our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/ourcountryconcerts