CMA Fest 2019, Day 3: Backstage With Miranda Lambert, Luke Combs, Dierks Bentley & More

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Miranda Lambert performs onstage during day 3 of the 2019 CMA Music Festival on June 8, 2019 in Nashville.

The skies cleared for Day 3 of the 2019 CMA Music Festival as Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw, Luke Combs, Brett Young, Dierks Bentley and Lil Nas X took the stage at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium. Billboard spoke with a number of the artists backstage Saturday night (June 8) before their performances. 

Lambert used her time at Nissan Stadium to introduce a new song, her first new material since 2016’s The Weight of These Wings.  “Locomotive” is a driving number that she couldn’t wait to play.

“I am so proud of this,” she told Billboard. “This is a song that I felt like it's perfect to perform at CMA Fest in the stadium. I haven't sung here in awhile. It just has this fire to it and I feel like it's kind of speaking, 'I'm back.’" 

As far as a new album goes, Lambert said, “I don't even know what that means anymore at this point. You know what I mean? I'm just going to put as many songs out there as I can and hope some fly. I'm not sure when ‘Locomotive’ comes out. We honestly haven't even finished the record, but as soon as it can, I want it to, so ASAP.”

Before Combs took to the Nissan stage to play for 50,000 people, his manager, Chris Kappy, sent him a screenshot of a post from Combs’ Facebook page from June 2013 when the singer/songwriter was still living in Boone, N.C. It read, “CMA fest is here and I’ll be there one day. I'll be playing it.” With a sweet grin, Combs said, “That kinda puts it in perspective a little bit. It wasn't that long ago. I wasn't even living in Nashville. Six years ago I was still playing three hours a night by myself and working two jobs and was a college dropout.”

Now, Combs is dominating country music. When his new EP, Prequel, came out Friday (June 7), no one was happier than him to have new music for his fans. “It’s definitely great having some new stuff out,” he said. “It has been long overdue in my opinion. I mean, that’s the whole point of it… to write songs for people and hope that they mean something to them. Without that, I don’t think there’s any shows or careers or anything like that.”

Combs paired with Crocs to debut a limited edition of the shoemaker’s clogs at CMA Music Fest and by Saturday night, all 2,000 pairs had sold out. Combs said he’d now like to debut a new line that everyone could buy, but he’s also wishing that maybe he’d nabbed more than four pairs -- one each for himself, his fiancee and his parents. “Now I definitely think I could resell them,” he said with a laugh. “I should have kept all 2,000. I think Crocs got a bad rap there for awhile as an unhip thing. And then all of a sudden Post Malone was wearing them and everyone thought they were cool.”


Should Runaway June take “Buy My Own Drinks” into the Top 20 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart (it stands at No. 21 this week), it will mark the first time in nearly 15 years that an all-female group has reached the Top 20 on the Country Airplay chart since SheDaisy in 2005 with “Don’t Worry ‘Bout a Thing.” 

“We’re just doing the best job that we can do as musicians and artists and not thinking about female or male or any of that stuff. It's just really tough right now to be a new act, period,” says the trio’s Naomi Cooke. She allows that when she and her bandmates heard the stat, “It kind of blows your mind. And we immediately go to it's an opportunity for us to help more people get in the door because every time someone gets into that top 20 slot, it just kicks the door open wider and wider and it needs to change and it's changing. We're a part of it and it feels good.”

The act, whose debut album, Blue Roses, comes out June 28,  is on the road with Carrie Underwood through the summer. “Learning from Carrie has been awesome,” said Runaway June’s Jennifer Wayne. “She's such a professional. She just goes above and beyond. She's at every sound check. She sings her butt off. She's a mom, she's a wife, she has her dogs on the road. She's like superhuman. She's like the perfect example for us to look up to and go, ‘I want to be like that.’”

Similarly, Tenille Townes has nothing but praise for Dierks Bentley, with whom she has been on tour since January. Townes, who joined Bentley on stage Saturday night for “Different for Girls,”  said, “He's just really such a kind soul. I love watching him look out for everybody, on and off the stage. He’s such an entertainer and he puts on such a great show and loves making everybody just feel joy in his set. His entire team and him have really gone the extra mile for us as an opening act to make sure that we feel welcome and taken care of. I look forward to hopefully getting to pay that feeling forward someday.”

Townes, whose single “Somebody’s Daughter” reached No. 26 on Country Airplay, said she hopes to announce the release date for her debut album “soon. I really, really wish I knew the exact date. I can’t wait to get it out.”

Bentley is preparing for his second annual Seven Peaks Festival, which takes place Aug. 30-Sept. 1 in Colorado. While he says he may not be quite so abstemious this year, he has no plans to overindulge. “I was totally sober last year at that festival because I wanted to make sure every detail was [perfect]. I had a beer the last night. So imagine being there for the ‘90s night, for all these great artists that played, hanging out with Kiefer Sutherland -- he was getting after it -- and I was just like, ‘I don't want this to be like a one-time thing. I want this festival to be a 20-year thing.’ And so it's just like raising kids where sometimes you've got to sacrifice your own personal time to make sure they get that thing right.” In addition to Bentley, this year’s performers include Luke Bryan, Maren Morris, Jon Pardi, War and Treaty and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. 

Syndicated radio host Bobby Bones joins Kelsea Ballerini and Thomas Rhett this year to host ABC’s August 4 CMA Fest special. Bones has been a huge proponent of female artists, including dedicating programming blocks to an all-women lineup, but he knows there is still progress to be made at radio.

“I feel like it's two steps forward, one-and- a-half steps back, one step back, half step forward,” he said. “My whole thing has been I never wanted there to be this crazy revolution. I wanted there to be an evolution, because if everyone goes 'Hey, we're shifting immediately,’ and everything shifts and then it doesn't work, everyone goes, ‘We told you it wasn't gonna work.’ For me it's never been about what is happening exactly right now on the radio, it’s been about what work can we do to start developing [the acts] earlier.”

Bones, who has previously discussed his political ambitions, said he may run for governor of his native Arkansas as early as when his current iHeartRadio contract expires in four years or so.

“I said on the air a couple of weeks ago that this could be my last radio contract," he told Billboard. "It’s never been about being a politician. I came from [a] population [of] 700 in Mountain Pine, Arkansas. I lived under the poverty line my whole life. I see the disadvantages that are put on to people that don't have the advantages. I've been on both sides of it now. If there's a bigger platform for me to use to help, I will.”  Bones went on to says that his ambitions could extend to running for president because “I think people want someone that can inspire them and motivate them. And, you know, I'm cool with people not agreeing with me.”

Kassi Ashton, who performed with her fellow CMA KixStart scholarship recipients Jameson Rodgers and Travis Denning, can’t wait to hit the road this fall as opener for Maren Morris’s fall tour. She got word of the opportunity as she was at Home Depot. “I was loading top soil into the back of my Jeep for my garden and my manager called me and goes ‘Are you calm?’ I'm like, ‘Oh no, what did I do?' And he goes, ‘Do you want to go on tour with Maren?’ And I screamed. The nice lady working in the garden department, was like, ‘Is she okay? Did she pull something loading that top soil?' I'm literally jumping around in these heavy insulated hunting boots, so excited. It was the easiest load I've ever done because I had super strength and adrenaline.”