Last week, thousands of country fans descended on downtown Nashville for the annual CMA Fest. Though a few downpours threatened to (literally) dampen the mood, country music fans are a hardy bunch and showed up in droves (and hastily purchased rain ponchos) for country chart-toppers and rising stars alike. Here are some of our favorite moments from CMA Fest 2019.
Maren Morris Slays Marathon Music Works
Okay, CMA Fest officially kicked off on Thursday, but everyone in Music City knows it's a weeklong affair. Maren Morris helped get the party started with a free Pandora LIVE concert at Marathon Music Works. Her 14-song set delivered her signature empowered anthems, from the wine-soaked self reflection of "GIRL" to the swaggering "All My Favorite People," which saw Morris shredding alongside band member Annie Clements. By the time she closed the show with her pop smash "The Middle" with the help of a sea of audience members in Maren-issued glitter crowns, it was clear: when Maren Morris shines, everybody shines.
Horses in the Back
Love it or hate it ( I personally love it), "Old Town Road" is inescapable. So when Billy Ray Cyrus closed out his set on Saturday night without an appearance from Lil Nas X, the feelings of disappointment from the crowd was palpable. (I heard multiple chants of "Old Town Road!" while making my way through Nissan Stadium.) But there was no need to fear: Billy Ray and Lil Nas X would take us on a trip down that ubiquitous road for a Wrangler-clad booty shaking good time. '90s country mainstay Billy Ray appeared between sets, asking "You didn't think I'd leave without playing this one, did ya?" The crowd was already on their feet by the team Keith Urban walked onstage, banjo in tow. There's been endless discussions about how to define "Old Town Road." Is it country? Is it rap? Country-trap? Country-funk? A clever commentary on climate change? In this writer's humble opinion, it's everything and more: pure, unfiltered yeehaw joy.
Miranda Goes 'Country Punk'
Miranda Lambert may have missed last year's CMA Fest, but she didn't miss a beat. The singer came out swinging with her bandmates the Pistol Annies, who captivated the crowd with the sultry "Hell on Heels" and "Sugar Daddy" before leaving Lambert to deliver a fiery set, which included her brand new song "Locomotive." The Texan told The Tennessean the song was "total country punk rock," proving once again that there's nothing she can't do.
The Next Generation Shines
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One of my favorite events during #cmafest-thanks to these incredibly talented artists who performed & told their stories Friday @officialcmhof #CMTNextWomenOfCountry @mickeyguyton @hannahgreyellis @cayleehammack @rachelwammack @laineywilsonmusic Thanks to @abitapia & the team at the Country Music Hall Of Fame❤
One of the best parts of CMA Fest is seeing a new generation of talent emerge. On Friday, June 7, the CMA Theater in the Country Music Hall Fame and Museum hosted the CMT's Next Women of Country showcase. Rising stars Hannah Ellis, Lainey Wilson, Mickey Guyton, Rachel Wammack and Caylee Hammack stunned the pack theater with tales of dreamers (Ellis' "Home and a Hometown"), badass anthems (Wilson's sassy "Middle Finger") and songs of empowerment (Guyton's "Sister") and heartbreak (both Wammack's gripping "Something People Say" and Hammack's "Small Town Hypocrite.")
The next day, I saw Hammack put on a stellar show at the Spotify House at Ole Red. Take note of these women -- you're gonna be hearing a lot more from them.
At Nissan Stadium, Tenille Townes shared the stage with tour partner Dierks Bentley, who put the spotlight on the rising star by testing her knowledge of '90s country. Townes was up to the challenge, delivering an abbreviated acoustic performance of Trisha Yearwood's "She's in Love with the Boy" and Deana Carter's "Strawberry Wine." Bentley noted that it's "different for girls" these days on country radio and made a call to action to bring back the male to female balance of '90s country radio. Amen.
'90s Country Abounds
Speaking of '90s country, if there's one thing baby boomers, Gen X-ers and millennials can all agree on it's that '90s country is really damn good. And they all came together to celebrate it at this year's CMA Fest. The Budweiser Forever Country stage hosted legends such as Pam Tillis, Lorrie Morgan and more, while Brothers Osborne threw a well-deserved Brooks & Dunn appreciation party at Nissan Stadium with a surprise appearance from the duo themselves. The intergenerational jam session featured the Bros joining Kix and Ronnie for the blue collar anthem "Hard Workin' Man" and ACM New Female Vocalist winner Ashley McBryde teaming up with the duo for the underrated '90s gem "You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone." For a moment, under that neon moon, all was right in the country world.
Tanya Tucker Reigns
Don't call it a comeback because she's never left our hearts, but Tanya Tucker just released her first new song in 17 years and, in case they'd forgotten, the spitfire singer reminded everyone at CMA Fest why we need her now more than ever. Tucker was a surprise last minute fill-in for Marty Stuart on the big stage at Nissan Thursday night, bringing a ray of sunshine to the rain-drenched crowd. With duet partner, producer and friend Brandi Carlile, Tucker performed two new songs: "The Wheels of Laredo" and "Bring My Flowers Now."
Saturday night, she left the Spotify House at Ole Red begging for more. All hail the queen.
Luke Combs Reaches Superstar Status
If the much-discussed Crocs collaboration wasn't enough proof that Luke Combs is a full-blown superstar, his performance at Nissan Stadium on Saturday night erased any and all doubt. The North Carolina native led a powerhouse singalong of his many hits, including "She Got the Best of Me," "Hurricane," "When it Rains it Pours" and song of the summer contender "Beer Never Broke My Heart." He even joined Tim McGraw onstage for the 2002 country strut "Real Good Man." The signature red Solo cup he threw into the crowd at the end of his performance might as well have been a gauntlet. Luke Combs is here to stay and we're all better for it.