CMA Fest brings out the best and the future of country music, but day three of the fest felt particularly special as artists seemed to really give their all in their performances. Perhaps it was the cooler weather — almost every performer said something along the lines of “It’s so much nicer than last year!” — but whatever it was, Saturday (June 10) brought the heat in a different way.
With up-and-coming artists like Jackie Lee and Carly Pearce shining and Nissan Stadium seeing duets from Cassadee Pope and Chris Young as well as Maren Morris and Thomas Rhett, day three almost felt like the fest’s kickoff thanks to all of the memorable moments. Check out what Billboard caught on day three below.
11:15 a.m.: As Old Dominion performed an acoustic rendition of their new single, “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart,” to an intimate HGTV audience, something a little alarming caught fans by surprise. Sasquatch — featured on the cover art for the song — made an appearance, dancing his way around the venue and even taking pictures with some humored fans.
12:28 p.m.: Brother duo High Valley brought a ton of energy for their 12:15 set, and the group’s Brad Rempel wasn’t going to let those in attendance at their Riverfront Stage show get away with sitting — particularly during their cover of John Michael Montgomery’s “Be My Baby Tonight.” “If you love your mom and the United States of America you better be on your feet dancing for the next five minutes!”
1:04 p.m.: On the exact one-year anniversary of the release of Brandy Clark’s Big Day in a Small Town, the singer celebrated by singing songs from that album like “Love Can Go to Hell” and “Girl Next Door.” Seemingly one of the performance highlights for her was her track “Daughter,” which she referred to as her favorite revenge song “It’s because it’s not about slashin’ tires or blowin’ s–t up — it’s a kind of sweeter, long term kind of revenge.”
1:54 p.m.: “What a beautiful occasion we’ve got ourselves into. It’s a beautiful day, music city’s lookin good, everybody’s loving on each other, nice and sweaty. We got some naked people on the river — it’s a good time!” Drake White declared as he began his Riverfront set. His cheery mood rubbed off on his crowd, who swayed and sang along to every song he performed including “Makin’ Me Look Good” and “Livin’ the Dream.” Even at the very end of his performance, he spread the love: “Be kind to your neighbors and remember, music is love baby!”
2:38 p.m.: Although the sun was shining bright overhead, Cam brought an extra ray of sunshine with her sunflower-decorated set, bubbly personality and yellow “Have a Golden Day” shirt. And before starting her song “Cold in California,” Miss Positive Vibes even gave the aspiring musicians in the crowd a little advice. “When you hit a moment that’s uncomfortable and you think you shouldn’t be doing this, that’s when you keep pushing.”
3:13 p.m.: Eric Paslay reminded fans how many iconic songs he’s had a hand in writing at a songwriter’s workshop inside the Fan Fair X at Music City Center. After starting with his own hits “Song About a Girl” and “High Class,” Paslay then played Love & Theft’s “Angel Eyes” and Jake Owen’s “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” closing with a lively rendition “Friday Night.”
3:58 p.m.: Up-and-comer Jackie Lee brought an unexpected cover to his CMA Fest set, rocking out to Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar Were Goin Down.” “This is my favorite country song,” he joked, alluding to the rather surprising song choice. He also slipped in another brief ode to the pop punk era, mentioning that he co-wrote his hit “Getting Over You” with Boys Like Girls’ Paul DiGiovanni and throwing in a quick snippet of their classic “The Great Escape.”
4:33 p.m.: In line with the pop rock vibes Jackie Lee brought, former Hot Chelle Rae frontman Ryan Follese took the stage to perform songs from his EP and forthcoming full-length album, which he revealed is set to be released in the next month or so. As the son of two high-profile country songwriters (Keith and Adrienne Follese), he performed a little medley of the hits his parents have written, like Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That” and Faith Hill’s “The Way You Love Me.” But before leaving the stage, he had to pay tribute to his HCR days, performing “Tonight Tonight” which left the crowd good and energized as the day sets came to a close.
5:08 p.m.: Carly Pearce gave fans a preview of her debut album expected later this year, and despite it not being out yet, there were already some fans singing along. “Y’all are creeping me out, I keep looking around and y’all are singing the words,” she laughed. “It makes me want to cry!” Before singing her breakout hit “Every Little Thing,” she explained that she’s been in Nashville for 8 years (“I guess it’s like an 8 year overnight success, right?”), and it was ultimately a breakup that helped launch her success. “If I could say anything to the guy who broke my heart it’s thank you for this song.”
8:40 p.m.: “Man, there’s a lot of people in here,” Maren Morris says as she processes her Nissan Stadium performance slot. She had taken the same stage last year, but as a guest of Rascal Flatts’, before her single “My Church” changed her life. All she could do while she sang songs like “Sugar,” “80s Mercedes” and “I Could Use A Love Song” was thank fans for getting her to that point, but one infatuated fan wanted to know if the 27-year-old was married. “I am not, thank you for asking,” she replied with a laugh. (For the record, though, she has been dating fellow singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd for about a year.)
9:21 p.m.: Just like his predecessor Morris, Chris Young spent his 30-minute set expressing his gratitude for his fans (and the eight No. 1s they’ve given him) in between hits such as “Aw Naw,” “I’m Coming Over” and his latest single “Losing Sleep.” At the end of his set, he took the thanking one step further by surprising the crowd with Cassadee Pope for their duet “Think of You.”
— Chris S (@smittychristoph) June 11, 2017
10:07 p.m.: Kelsea Ballerini had a bit of a full-circle moment with (now tour mates) Lady Antebellum as she introduced them, showing a picture of when she met them at CMA Fest when she was 14. She likely didn’t hear the same songs performed, though, as Lady A’s set was filled with newer material like “Bartender” and stuff from their brand new album Heart Break that came out the day before their performance. As for the horns section they’ve added to their live show? “We stole them from Justin Timberlake’s band, true story,” Charles Kelley laughed.
10:49 p.m.: Adding a little funk to his country twang, Thomas Rhett turned his song “Crash and Burn” into a jazzy jam and later did a choreographed dance with his band members during “Vacation.” After bringing out Maren Morris for their collaboration “Craving You,” Rhett told fans about his new daughter, Willa, and his pregnant wife, Lauren. “Life’s about to get really crazy, but this is why we do what we do.” And before singing his love song to Lauren, “Die A Happy Man,” he asked the crowd to “light up this stadium like a Christmas tree real quick.” Proving to be a family man with his commentary, he further proved that even after his performance — the first thing he did as he made his way off stage was grab Willa for a hug.
11:38 p.m.: “CMA Fest what you got baby?” Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard asked the crowd as they began their night-closing set. “Thanks for coming to party with us.” As they sang chart-toppers like “Anything Goes” and Tim McGraw collaboration “May We All” as well as their latest song “Smooth,” they gave a shout-out to their wives and Hubbard even announced that his wife is pregnant with a baby boy. The guys started a sing-along to “H.O.L.Y.” as Hubbard played the piano, picking up the pace to close things out with “Cruise.” “It wasn’t that long ago that we were sneaking into this place, so thank you for making this happen,” Brian Kelley said before they made their way off stage. The guys had been high-fiving all night, but embraced in a well-deserved bro hug in celebration of their electric headlining spot.