Even after a rather devastating blow Thursday night, with the Nashville Predators losing 6-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins to make the Stanley Cup Finals series 3-2 Pittsburgh, country fans and artists performing at this year’s CMA Fest hardly seemed phased as day two went on. In fact, there was almost more hope in the air than sadness Friday (June 9), with Preds gear still being sported around the fest grounds and plenty of performers still saying “Go Preds” during their sets.
Frankly, the happenings of day two were enough to cure the sadness, as the likes of Kelsea Ballerini, Eli Young Band and Lady Antebellum all performed new music throughout the day, and even fireworks closed out the evening after Blake Shelton’s finale at Nissan Stadium. Take a look at the action Billboard caught during CMA Fest day two.
11:32 a.m. Lindsay Ell spent her entire 25-minute set jamming on her guitar, but proves to be half country singer/half rockstar while playing her song “Criminal” at the end of her set effortlessly playing an electric guitar — even taking the lead on a solo.
11:43 a.m. “This is the earliest I’ve played in a while, but it really feels like 9 o’clock on a Saturday night, this is a party,” singer-songwriter Corey Smith told the sprawling Riverfront Stage crowd. Fans were definitely into what he had to offer, including a not-so-conventional country cover of Adele’s “Someone Like You.” When it came time for him to sing one of his biggest songs, “Twenty-One,” Smith acknowledged that he’s been performing it for nearly 15 years now. “I’ve played this song 1000 times and you’d think I’d get tired of playing it, but I’m not tired of playing it,” he said. “This song’s like a fountain of youth for me, a time machine.”
12:19 p.m. Granger Smith fires up his Yee Yee Nation with a little Tom Petty, using “Free Fallin” to intro his hit “Backroad Song” — for which he received a gold plague following his performance. “He’s an example of the future of music,” a member of his BBR Music Group family declared as he handed Smith the plaque. After thanking fans for making his song gold, he began his new single “Happens Like That,” then changing into his “The Country Boy Song” getup (a pair of overalls and a white tank top)… which he, naturally, ended by shotgunning beer.
1:04 p.m. One of the older acts of the fest, Sister Hazel, recognized how special it is for them to still be able to play for so many people. “For a band that’s been together 23 years to be able to play for you guys, this is what gratitude looks like,” frontman Ken Block said. Even despite being around for so long, Block joked that there’s still some confusion with their name: “We are not Twisted Sister, we are not Sister Sledge, but you might know us from this one,” before playing their crowd-pleasing hit “All For You.”
1:26 p.m. The Swon Brothers got their Chevy park stage crowd bopping with some throwback country covers, Blake Shelton’s “It’s All About Tonight” and Tim McGraw’s “I Like It, I Love It” — during which Colton Swon couldn’t help jumping in the crowd to jam with fans and let them take the mic.
2:25 p.m. After helping Radio Disney officially launch a Los Angeles-based country station, Hunter Hayes plays an acoustic set inside Fan Fair X. Starting with his song “Amen,” Hayes then played his forthcoming new single “Rescue,” a song he said is “About everything I’ve been through to make this [new] music.” Following a sing-along to his classic love song “Wanted,” Hayes thanked his fans for sticking with him for several years. “I’m so blessed, you’ve lifted me up.”
3:18 p.m. “Boy it sure got hot all of the sudden,” Lauren Alaina said as she tromped around the Riverfront Stage in a pair of black pants and a shoulder-baring top. After starting off her set with “Queen of Hearts” and “Georgia Peaches,” Alaina opened up to the crowd by explaining the story behind her song “Doin’ Fine,” including her parents’ divorce and her dad marrying a 30-year-old. “Thank goodness to do country music, because I live a country song, I’m not kidding.” But getting super personal with fans seemingly doesn’t phase Alaina, as indicated by her first comment after “Doin Fine,” “My tan lines from this situation are about to be crazy!”
3:45 p.m. Lady Antebellum celebrated the release of their brand new album Heart Break with a series of surprise shows inside the Budweiser Dome, the first of which was recorded for a Sirius XM album release special. Because of the radio involvement, the show included both a concert and interviews discussing the new album — including Charles Kelley’s explanation of how their song “Famous” was inspired by the Amy Winehouse documentary (“What being that famous can do to a person is kind of heartbreaking,” he said). Speaking of heartbreaking, Kelley asked the dome crowd how many in attendance were sad about the Predators’ loss the night before — but quickly following up that comment with a jinx moment with Hillary Scott: “But we’re gonna get it back!”
4:38 p.m. The Railers got their crowd engaged by mashing up their song one of their songs with The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” later throwing another cover into their set with a rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Galway Girl.” But it was what lead singer Jonathan Lawson asked that was possibly the most inviting part of their set: “You ready to make bad decisions with us on a Friday night, Nashville?”
5:11 p.m. As Eli Young Band took the stage for an acoustic set at the cabin-like HGTV Lodge, frontman Mike Eli expressed how much he dug the rustic environment. “This will be opening up as a new bar next week, sponsored by Eli Young Band,” he joked. The joke-cracking continued as they sang a couple of tracks from their forthcoming LP Fingerprints (due June 16), including one called “Skin & Bones” that Eli introduced after talking about the sunburned audience. “Speaking of skin… that was the worst segway ever.”
9:21 p.m. “We’ve played for fans all over, but you guys take the cake for the most dedicated fans in music,” Sam Hunt told the 50,000 fans in attendance at Nissan Stadium. Before leading a sing-along to his megahit “Body Like a Back Road,” Hunt said that his voice had been struggling all day (although it certainly didn’t sound like it) so he needed fans to help him out. Even with the supposed voice issues, Hunt was in high spirits as he performed, looking so good that even The Property Brothers — who served as the night’s emcees — couldn’t help gushing over him. “Is he not the most beautiful man in country music?”
9:56 p.m. Although Brett Young only had time to perform his latest single “In Case You Didn’t Know,” he made sure fans took advantage of the opportunity to make a move during the romantic song. “Dudes, you can slow dance to this if you want to,” he said.
10:11 p.m. After singing two of her biggest hits “Love Me Like You Mean It” and “Dibs,” Kelsea Ballerini sang a new song called “I Hate Love Songs,” which she performed right in front of the first row of fans on a stool in light of the performances she’d seen at CMA Fest when she attended as a fan. “My favorite part of cma fest is when an artist makes 50,000 people feel like a living room.” She also sang her new single “Legends,” dedicating it to the fans who “have made my dreams come true in so many ways.”
10:45 p.m. Eric Church’s set turns green as he sings “Smoke a Little Smoke” after starting with “Jack Daniels,” prompting raised glasses and swaying sing-alongs to almost every song he sang — especially “Give Me Back My Hometown,” which was almost as loud as the sing-along that ignited when Garth Brooks played “Friends in Low Places” the night before. A man of few words on stage other than his expression of gratitude, Church let out a happy laugh after finishing each tune, as if to say “this is awesome.”
11:29 p.m. CMA Fest veteran Blake Shelton — who said he’s been going to CMA Fest since 1994 — served as the night’s closer, keeping the energy high with songs like “Gonna” and “Boys Round Here,” along with his newest and oldest songs “Every Time I Hear That Song” and “Austin” (respectively). Perhaps the most lively moment was when Shelton brought out Trace Adkins for their hit “Hillbilly Bone,” which had everyone on their feet and Shelton amped. “That’s country right there!”
12:11 a.m. Despite the CMA Fest concerts being over for the day, some pumped-up fans wanted to keep the sing-alongs alive as Nissan Stadium attendees made their way over the pedestrian bridge back into downtown Nashville, singing a handful of well-known tunes like “500 miles (I’m Gonna Be),” “Country Roads” and, of course, “Friends in Low Places.”