Over the weekend, we headed to downtown Nashville to experience the sights and sounds of CMA Music Festival 2018. The four-day event is packed with concerts, special events and unique festivities that bring fans closer to their favorite artists. Here are the 10 best things we saw at CMA Music Festival 2018.
Luke Combs Rises to the Occasion
Just two years ago, Luke Combs performed at one of the festival's smallest stages to a modest crowd. This year, he earned his own slot at Nissan Stadium, thanks to his No. 1 hit "When It Rains It Pours" and fan favorite "Hurricane." With a red solo cup in hand, he gave his all — quite literally. Combs had to cancel his scheduled performances after the festival due to losing his voice. — Lorie Liebig
Country Stars Get Up Close and Personal With Fans
After the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting, increased security was put into place at the festival. The photo lines that allowed fans to get close to their favorite stars on stage were eliminated, adding more of a spacial gap between performers and attendees. To counteract this disconnect, many country stars decided to bring the show closer to the crowd. During his surprise performance of "Downtown's Dead," Sam Hunt took a seat in the stands before making his way through the stadium crowds. Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett and Keith Urban also opted to take a dive into the crowd during their sets. — Lorie Liebig
Luke Bryan Breaks the Rules
After a rain delay pushed back the opening of Nissan Stadium for the festival's final night, most concertgoers wouldn't be surprised to see Luke Bryan's headlining slot cut short. But the country star instead opted to keep things rolling by doubling his planned 5-song set. Randy Travis was in attendance at the show, and Bryan opted to honor his surprise appearance with his own impromptu versions of "Diggin' Up Bones" and "On The Other Hand." — Lorie Liebig
Jason Aldean Breaks the Ice
During the first night of CMA Fest, it was hard to ignore the subdued and cautious feeling emanating from the crowd, which was surrounded by a large security and police presence. Never one to let fear get in the way, Jason Aldean took the stage for one of his most spirited and energetic CMA Fest performances yet. — Lorie Liebig
Midland Rocks for a Good Cause
Midland took the stage at Nashville's Cannery Ballroom on June 5 to benefit Musicians on Call, an organization that brings live and recorded music to the bedside of patients in healthcare facilities. The Texas trio had the whole crowd swaying to covers of everyone from Alabama to Bob Seger along with their own fan favorites, the ubiquitous "Drinkin' Problem" and the sultry barroom shuffler "Burn Out." — Bobbie Jean Sawyer
Kassi Ashton Slays Downtown
While there are tons of official CMA Fest shows (seriously, it's impossible to see them all), some of the most special moments can happen at unofficial showcases that pop up around town. This year, Spotify and Opry Entertainment took over Blake Shelton's newly-opened Ole Red restaurant and bar to showcase both established and up-and-coming artists. Newcomer Kassi Ashton instantly won over the Saturday night crowd with a killer performance of her new single "Taxidermy," followed by the autobiographical "California, Missouri" and soulful heartbreaker "The Straw." Anyone in the audience who didn't know Kassi Ashton before this show will certainly remember her now. — Bobbie Jean Sawyer
Dierks Bentley Pulls Double Duty at the Ryman
Dierks Bentley celebrated the release of his new album The Mountain by playing the record from top to bottom with help on a few songs from bluegrass legend Sam Bush. It was clear that Bentley was loving every moment — so much so that even after nearly an hour and a half onstage, the singer returned to the Mother Church as part of his '90s country cover band, the Hot Country Knights. As his alter-ego Douglas Doug Douglason, the mullet-ed Bentley and his cohorts delivered a medley of '90s radio classics, including Sawyer Brown's "Some Girls Do" and Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt's "Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best." — Bobbie Jean Sawyer
Cole Swindell Lights Up The Night
On Saturday night, Cole Swindell kept the party going at Blake Shelton's new bar and venue Ole Red for Spotify's Hot Country Presents showcase. With an at-capacity crowd surrounding him, Swindell kept the energy high, rolling through hits like "Chillin' It" and "Ain't Worth The Whiskey." As the night turned to early morning, he also tipped his hat to 90s country with fun renditions of Tim McGraw's "I Like It, I Love It" and Brooks and Dunn's "Red Dirt Road." — Lorie Liebig
Carrie Underwood Lights Up the Stage
With a lineup that featured a majority of male performers, Carrie Underwood's headlining performance on Friday acted as a breath of fresh air. Her green jumpsuit and glitter tear makeup weren't the only thing sparkling that night — Underwood's powerhouse vocals once again proved that she is the reigning queen of modern country. — Lorie Liebig
Country Legends on the Budweiser Forever Country Stage
Sure, CMA Fest is about seeing the current chart-toppers and rising stars, but it's also a great place to see some of the legendary folks who made you fall in love with country music in the first place. The Budweiser Forever Country Stage offered entertainment for fans of '80s, '90s and early aughts country music, featuring performances from Wade Hayes, Joe Diffie, Mark Collie, Terri Clark and more. Saturday afternoon, the stage honored those in the country community we've lost over the past year with "Forever Country, Not Forgotten." Hosted by Tracy Lawrence, the ceremony featured Craig Campbell covering his favorite songs by Daryle Singletary and Jamie O'Neal honoring Lari White. — Bobbie Jean Sawyer
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