The 2017 CMA Music Festival is officially underway, with day one of the four-day country extravaganza (June 8) already taking Nashville by storm with some of the biggest names in the genre along with a couple of major surprise guests. Despite Bonnaroo taking place just one hour away, downtown Nashville was the only place CMA Fest-goers wanted to be, and for good reason. Just day one alone saw Luke Bryan, Maren Morris, Dierks Bentley, Old Dominion, Miranda Lambert and more take the stage, keeping the spirit of country music alive as ever from 10 a.m. (CST) all the way until Bryan’s last song finished just before 1 a.m.
Billboard is on the ground at CMA Fest, capturing as much of the action — and there’s a lot of it — as possible throughout the entire weekend. Take a look at what we caught on day one below.
10:53 a.m. CST Festival kickoff-ers Old Dominion draw a massive crowd at the Riverfront Stage despite having the earliest set of the day — the line to get in is already down the block. As they near the end of their hour-long performance with “Wrong Turns” and finish with their hit “Song For Another Time,” lead singer Matthew Ramsey recognizes the early morning dedication. “For the first thing of the day, we appreciate you getting up and showing up for this, this is amazing.”
11:34 a.m. Sporting his signature cowboy hat, Jon Pardi thanks his fellow hat lovers for joining him in rocking the country look staple before beginning his song “Cowboy Hat.” “Here’s to everyone in a cowboy hat right now,” he says, then specifically shouting out to the ladies, “dig a girl in a cowboy hat!”
12:03 p.m. As Maren Morris greets fans while making her way onto the HGTV Lodge stage, she almost seems to be more focused on finding two of the channel’s biggest stars rather than performing an acoustic set. “Where are the Property Brothers is what I’m saying,” she says before singing hits like “80s Mercedes,” “Rich” and “My Church.”
12:43 p.m. Twelve hours before Luke Bryan closed out the night, another recognizable Luke played some new music at the Chevy Park stage: Luke Pell, who was a contestant on Season 12 of The Bachelorette last year. While he didn’t mention that little factoid during his performance, he did hint at it before singing his new single “Best Thing You’ve Ever Done.” “This is a song i wrote about a girl who broke up with me on television,” he told the crowd. “I took a note out of Taylor Swift’s book and wrote a song about it.”
1:44 p.m. “I love CMA Fest, because you never know who’s going to pop up,” Michael Ray told his Riverfront Stage audience, seemingly setting up a surprise appearance — and boy was he ever. “He’s my hero, I’m so honored to call him a friend and to be label mates with him. He paved the way for country music,” the hinting continued, “ladies and gentlemen, Randy Travis.” A smiley Travis joined Ray to sing “Forever and Ever, Amen,” a performance that kept fans talking even after he left the stage, including a rousing “Randy, Randy, Randy” chant.
— randytravis (@randytravis) June 8, 2017
2:24 p.m. As Kane Brown performed Chapter 1 songs like “Thunder in the Rain” and “Hometown,” he recognized how much his life has changed in the past year, referencing his tours with Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean as well as his success at country radio. “Thank you for giving me one hell of a 2016.”
3:46 p.m. Following a meet and greet with lucky contest winners, Garth Books and Trisha Yearwood sat down — well, Brooks stood (“he’s a pacer,” Yearwood suggested) — for a Q&A about everything from the Predators being in the Stanley cup to their favorite songs of each other’s. The 20-minute chat included a Cher impression from Yearwood (“usually I have to have a couple drinks in me before I do that — don’t say anything, honey,” she said, looking at Brooks), Brooks referring to Yearwood’s “Walkaway Joe” as the song he knew she’d be a star, and Yearwood revealing her hopes for new music next year. No matter what was being discussed, though, it was clear that the two are still very much in love. “I’ve been waiting for a shoe to drop, nicest guy in the world,” Yearwood said about Brooks. “I’ve learned that the shoe doesn’t drop.” Furthering their humble ways, the two stuck around to thank fans and give out high fives.
4:57 p.m. Brandon Lancaster of LANco experienced technical difficulties with his acoustic guitar before playing “Greatest Love Story,” almost giving up hope after about five minutes of trying to get the sound to work. But immediately after asking their sound guy “What do you think the chances are of this guitar working?,” suddenly it worked, with the crowd erupting into excited cheers. Particularly two men in the crowd were relieved about the fix, as there were two proposals during the song, something that the band didn’t realize until after the performance when they greeted both sidestage. With so much love in the air, the band’s guitarist Eric Steedly exclaimed, “Let’s all just get engaged!”
8:37 p.m. “This is my favorite weekend of the year everybody!” Brett Eldredge declared as he performed his hits “Beat of the Music,” “Drunk On Your Love,” and one of his new songs “Long Way Down.” Before performing his CMT Music Awards-nominated “Wanna Be That Song,” he gushed, “I wrote this songs for nights like this,” also proving that he deserved a nomination for social superstar at this year’s CMT Awards by snapping a selfie video with the crowd.
9:16 p.m. Although Cole Swindell was next on the schedule, it apparently wasn’t quite time for him. Why? Because Garth Brooks wanted to say hi first. But instead of just coming out for a quick hello, the country legend managed to sing a handful of his hits like “The Thunder Rolls,” “Callin’ Baton Rouge” and “Ask Me How I Know,” ending with a 60,000-person sing-along to the classic “Friends in Low Places.” He clearly didn’t want to leave, either, throwing up his arms as if to say “I feel alive!” before making his way off stage.
— Garth Brooks (@garthbrooks) June 9, 2017
9:47 p.m. In the middle of one of his No. 1 country radio hits “You Ain’t Worth the Whiskey,” Cole Swindell gives a shout-out to members of the armed forces as well as cops, firefighters and EMTs. “Thank y’all for riskin’ your lives, away from your families, for strangers like me every single day,” he said, finishing the song by prompting a “USA!” chant. Following the Garth Brooks surprise, Swindell had a surprise of his own in store, with Lauren Alaina joining him for “Middle of a Memory.”
10:34 p.m. Referring to Brooks’ earlier appearance, Dierks Bentley joked, “Technically he did perform before me, so I can say that Garth Brooks opened up for me.” Keeping up the surprises, Bentley brought Swindell back out for their duet “Flatliner,” then finishing a lively set with his sing-along hits “Somewhere on a Beach” and “Drunk on a Plane.”
11:20 p.m. “I’m gonna sing a song about drinking, is that okay?,” Miranda Lambert asked before singing her hit “Vice.” Later, not much more than 24 hours after performing her song “Pink Sunglasses” on the CMT Music Awards, she delivered a rendition of the song at Nissan Stadium, dying the crowd pink with her lighting. The crowd was already into the performance, but perhaps most so when she sang “Little Red Wagon,” emphasizing the line “I got the hell out of Oklahoma” (alluding to her split from Blake Shelton).
12:00 a.m. Taking the stage an hour and a half later than he was scheduled to, Luke Bryan didn’t seem phased in the slightest about performing as the clock struck midnight. “It’s morning time y’all, ready to dance through the morning?” he asked before singing (and shaking his hips to) his rowdy tracks “That’s My Kind of Night” “I Don’t Want This Night to End” and closing with a dance party to “Country Girl (Shake It For Me.”