CMA Fest 2018 has officially begun, with Day 1 starting out a jam-packed weekend of country music with some of the genre’s biggest and most promising stars. Despite the near 100-degree heat in Nashville on Thursday (June 7), fans and artists didn’t let that stop them from jamming out.
Billboard caught some high-energy shows on the first day of the gathering from hitmakers including Jason Aldean, Lee Brice, Lauren Alaina and more. Take a look at the best moments from each set below.
Lauren Alaina’s “Celebration of Music”
After gushing over her night at the CMT Music Awards – where she sang with the Backstreet Boys (“All of my childhood dreams came true,” she said) on the red carpet and won collaborative video of the year with Kane Brown – Alaina said “Let’s celebrate music” and dove into a decade-spanning series of classic hits. Starting with Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” Alaina impressively strung together Diamond Rio’s “Meet In the Middle,” Zedd and Maren Morris’ “The Middle,” Shawn Mendes’ “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back,” BSB’s “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road,” Brooks and Dunn’s “Brand New Man,” and Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.”
Lindsay Ell’s Ode to John Mayer
Continuing the great covers, Lindsay Ell gave a shout-out to John Mayer’s Continuum – which she just recorded in full and released as a gift to fans – by playing her rendition of “Waiting on the World to Change.” She rocked out on her guitar through her entire 30-minute set, but seemed particularly excited to bring a little Mayer into the mix.
— The BIG 98 (@98WSIX) June 7, 2018
Jordan Davis’ Niall Horan Rendition
Before making the crowd go wild with his Country Airplay No. 1 (and debut single) “Singles You Up,” Jordan Davis warmed them up with a little snippet of Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands.” Not only did the beat work seamlessly with his own song, but his voice also worked perfectly with the sultry track.
Lee Brice’s Salute to the Troops and Emergency Responders
Lee Brice had a mix of heartfelt and high-energy songs in his Chevy Riverfront Stage set, but the most touching part of his performance came before “I Drive Your Truck,” when he thanked the men and women of the United States Armed Forces and emergency responders. After finishing the emotional song, he held up his hat for one last salute, with the crowd joining in what was practically an unannounced (and powerful) moment of silence.
Carly Pearce’s Commemorating of Her First Award
Carly Pearce was the most visibly excited about her win on the CMT Music Awards hardly 18 hours prior to her CMA Fest performance, so of course she gushed over her first-ever award (breakthrough video of the year for “Every Little Thing”) – also acknowledging her genuine reaction. “I will never stop crying – we all know I cried on TV last night,” she said with a laugh.
— CMT (@CMT) June 7, 2018
Ashley McBryde’s Unabashed, Self-Depricating Humor
Despite being rather new in the country radio world, Ashley McBryde has already established herself as one of the genre’s wittier characters, and hilariously displayed that during her afternoon performance on the Chevy Breakout Stage. “I’ve got about three layers of spandex on from my ankles to my collarbone, so I’m feeling pretty cool,” she quipped after acknowledging the scorching heat. “This is the third shirt I’ve sweat through today, but this one’s sweat-color friendly, so I’m alright with that.”
LOCASH’s Debut of a Brand New, Florida Georgia Line-assisted song
Following two of their biggest hits to kick off their set, LOCASH decided to unveil one of the freshest songs in their arsenal – a “brand spankin’ new” one they just wrote last week with the guys of Florida Georgia Line. Titled “Feels Like a Party,” the upbeat party anthem had a very-FGL hook (“Make you wanna get your hands up, side to side/ Get your hands up side to side”) that LOCASH’s good-time vibe worked with perfectly.
Luke Combs Getting Personal in the HGTV Lodge
The CMA Fest-exclusive shed makes for intimate performances as it is, but Luke Combs made the experience even more personal – but hysterical – when he mentioned that he had to rush over to the Grand Ole Opry following his HGTV Lodge appearance, meaning that he also had to get ready at the Opry. “I don’t know who the last guy to shower at the Opry was, but the next guy is gonna be me,” he joked. On a more serious note, he thanked fans for changing his life as well as his family’s: “I’ve been able to help my parents out with a lot of things and my family out with a lot of things, so thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Charles Esten’s Nashville Gathering
With “Charles Esten and Friends” listed on the bill as the kickoff act for the 2018 Nissan Stadium shows, Nashville fans likely anticipated an appearance from a couple stars. But after he started out his set on his own, Esten served up surprises from Jonathan Jackson, Chris Carmack, and Lennon & Maisy, who joined him for “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” (“the first song you ever heard on Nashville,” as Esten reminded) that made for a bittersweet beginning to the end of the CMT/ABC series.
— iHeartCountry (@iHeartCountry) June 8, 2018
Kane Brown’s Vulnerability
Kane Brown’s honesty shines in his music, and he made sure to incorporate that into his set by talking about his tough childhood and performing his autobiographical track “Learning.” Though he looked like a true superstar, with on-point vocals and high energy, he added humility to his honesty by acknowledging, “This is the biggest stadium I’ve ever played… I was so nervous when I got up here.”
Dan + Shay’s Disbelief of Their Stadium Crowd
In line with Brown’s excitement, it was evident that Dan + Shay were over the moon about their Nissan Stadium performance. The guys were beaming as they delivered flawless performances of “Nothing Like You,” “How Not To” and their current hit “Tequila,” with Shay Mooney even bending over because he couldn’t handle his excitement – especially after the crowd of 65,000 lit up the stadium with their cell phones during “From the Ground Up.”
Darius Rucker’s Massive “Wagon Wheel” Sing-Along
Darius Rucker’s set also showed the power of a sold-out stadium crowd, as he ended his string of hits with his Country Airplay-topping rendition of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” and engaged fans in a sing-along that roared.
Brothers Osbornes’ Mind-Blowing Guitar Solos
While the Brothers Osborne guys’ voices sounded great during their second consecutive Nissan Stadium appearance, it was their face-melting guitar playing that was the most awe-inspiring. The biggest highlight was the back-to-back performances of “Shoot Me Straight” and “Stay a Little Longer,” which were equally as epic and made for a rocking set-up for night one’s closer, Jason Aldean.
Jason Aldean’s Hit-Packed Set
Jason Aldean brought all the fan favorites to his 2018 CMA Fest headlining slot, starting things off with the rocking “Lights Come On” and playing other jams like “Tattoos On This Town,” “Dirt Road Anthem” and “My Kinda Party.” Things were so high-energy that Aldean didn’t let technical difficulties during the beginning of “She’s Country” put a damper on the night. “That’s a new version of that song you haven’t heard yet,” he joked. “Just gonna let you guys make up your own first verse, it’s all good.” Ending his set with his staple closer “Hicktown,” Aldean put the ultimate exclamation point on a fantastic set by crushing a beer.
Hunter Hayes’ Post-Midnight Jam With Famous Friends
Despite being a Thursday night, the party didn’t stop at Nissan Stadium. Hunter Hayes hosted a late-night jam session in partnership with Spotify and Opry Entertainment at Blake Shelton’s Ole Red bar on Broadway. During his nearly two-hour set, Hunter mixed his own hits with covers of classics like Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and U2’s “With or Without You – but brought out his famous friends to help. The likes of Morgan Evans, Charlie Worsham, Jillian Jacqueline, Chase Bryant, Charles Esten, Maggie Rose and more showed up for the fun, and even Mr. Shelton himself showed up to sing his 2004 hit “Some Beach.”