There is a reason Urban was named 2018 CMA entertainer of the year, and his 30-minute set on Sunday evening proved exactly why. Powering through his lengthy catalog including “Never Comin’ Down,” “The Fighter” and “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” mid-set, the country singer asked for the lights to be cut while performing fan favorite “Somebody Like You.”
“Bring the lights down, all the way down,” he requested. “Kill every light. That’s what I’m talking about. Welcome to Nashville. In the event of the electricity going out, the only way that you can see the band might be...” On cue, fans in the stadium lit up their cell phones and held them high in the air. Moments later, Urban and his band were illuminated onstage from the thousands of country fans in the crowd. He’d later join them on the floor for set closer “Wasted Time,” reminding all to live in the moment: “Everything we do is about this moment right here.”
Chris Janson is stadium-ready with lively set that rivals the headliners
Janson made the most of his first-ever full set on the main stage at CMA Fest with a vigorous performance that included equal parts energy and heart. A diverse set list that included the rollicking “Redneck Life,” feel-good “Fix a Drink” and new single “Good Vibes,” Janson alternated between harmonica and guitar while gliding around the stage with more energy than the combined festival headliners Bryan, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood and Florida Georgia Line.
It was on poignant single “Drunk Girl” that showed his heart, as Janson segued from a cover of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” to the memorable ballad while seated at a keyboard. He’d follow up with the lively “Truck Yeah,” where he hopped behind the drum kit for a rousing percussion interlude before closing with a stadium sing-along of his breakthrough hit “Buy Me a Boat.”
Maren Morris delivers powerful message with Brandi Carlile on “Common”
Never one to shy away from speaking her mind, Morris delivered a thoughtful message on the importance of understanding those with different beliefs on “Common,” a stirring duet with special guest Carlile. Her inspiring set also included the anthemic “My Church,” fan favorite “The Bones,” and tongue-in-cheek “Rich.”
Ahead of performing her first No. 1 as an artist with “I Could Use a Love Song,” Morris admitted that CMA Fest felt like a homecoming. “There’s no week like this in any other genre,” she said. “Thank you for showing up this week from all over the world.” She then closed her set with "The Middle" -- a song she says changed her life -- and thanked fans for “accepting me as I am.”
Elementary school choir slays Carrie Underwood’s “The Champion”
A major initiative of CMA Fest is to help raise awareness and money to benefit music education programs across the U.S. through the CMA Foundation. All festival performers donate their time and a portion of ticket sales directly benefits music education. The Andrew Jackson Elementary Eagle Honor Choir, a group of third- and fourth-grade students from Nashville’s Andrew Jackson Elementary, showcased where that money is going with their standout performance of Underwood’s “The Champion.” Led by director Franklin Willis, the student choir had the stadium on its feet with their inspiring performance and powerhouse vocals.
Luke Bryan brings the CMA Fest party to a close with Bon Jovi cover
Bryan had the stadium singing (and dancing) well after midnight throughout his 10-song hit-laden set. The singer launched into his festival-closing performance with fan favorite “Country Girl (Shake It for Me)” with plenty of hip shaking before the ever-appropriate “Rain Is a Good Thing.” New single “Knockin’ Boots” followed suit as Bryan welcomed fans to Nashville. “Welcome to the center of the country music universe tonight,” he said.
He powered through previous singles “Kick the Dust Up,” “That’s My Kind of Night,” “Play It Again” and “What Makes You Country” before closing out the festival with a cover of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” “I’m fixin’ to try to sing this song. I’m not going to be able to hit all the notes,” he warned. “You are all going to have to help me.” As his band launched into the cover, thousands of fans played their part as they sang along in the stadium, helping Bryan close the festival for the second consecutive year.
Portions of CMA Fest 2019, which took place June 6-9 throughout Nashville, were taped for a television special and will air Aug. 4 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.