“We’re back!” Keith Urban told the crowd of partygoers on Thursday evening (June 9) as he headlined a show at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium as part of CMA Fest 2022, which returned after a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus. “I have a feeling you guys have missed this whole thing as much as we have,” Urban said. That sentiment was clearly shared by the thousands of attendees, who cheered in agreement.
After a day filled with performances at stages including the Chevy Vibes Stage and the Chevy Riverfront Stage, CMA Fest attendees flocked to Nissan Stadium for the first night of evening performances, with a stacked lineup that included Urban, Jason Aldean, Zac Brown Band, Darius Rucker and Shenandoah.
Here, we look at six top moments from the evening:
Female newcomers shine: Though the main Nissan Stadium lineup on Thursday evening offered a testosterone-heavy performer stack, a few female newcomers made the most of their moments in the spotlight. Brittney Spencer, who last year joined Mickey Guyton during her CMA Awards performance, wowed the audience with her nuanced vocals and poised rendering of the national anthem. On the smaller Nissan Stadium platform stage, Priscilla Block performed “My Bar” and her breakthrough single “Just About Over You,” and offered a tear-filled thank you to the crowd for making her CMA Fest performance at Nissan Stadium “the best night of my life.”
Additionally, Kat Luna’s stellar vocals took center stage and she and her husband/bandmate Alex Garrido (together known as Kat and Alex) offered up the churning pop-country tune “I Want It All.” And while one of the audience’s loudest moments of the evening was singing “Adiós and vaya con Dios,” along with Zac Brown Band during the group’s rendition of “Toes” later in the evening, Kat and Alex also honored their Latino roots by interspersing English and Spanish lyrics during “How Many Times.”
Shenandoah brings the ’80s and ’90s hits: Shenandoah, led by lead vocalist Marty Raybon, treated the crowd to a string of their 20th-century hits, including “The Church on Cumberland Road,” “If Bubba Can Dance (I Can Too),” “Two Dozen Roses,” and the tear-jerker “I Wanna Be Loved Like That.”
Darius Rucker gives his set the jam band treatment: Clad in a Rolling Stones shirt, CMA Fest veteran Rucker got crowd in a party-ready mood, reminding the audience that he has been performing at CMA Fest since 2009. This year, he revved up his Nissan Stadium show by reworking the majority of the songs in his set to bring a looser, jam band vibe to songs such as “Alright,” with a slightly slowed down, moodier vibe to “Beers and Sunshine.” He interspersed his country hits with equally well-known hits from his Hootie and the Blowfish catalog, including “Only Wanna Be With You” and the always-timely “Hold My Hand,” before wrapping his set by unleashing his band’s talents for a full-on instrumental breakdown on his Grammy-winning cover of the Old Crow Medicine Show classic “Wagon Wheel.”
Jason Aldean celebrates a current chart-topper, introduces new radio single: While Aldean, all smiles and clad in a yellow Dolly Parton shirt, roared through hits such as “Hicktown” and “Dirt Road Anthem” with a palpable energy, his set on Thursday evening at Nissan Stadium was particularly celebratory, with Aldean noting that this is the first time he’s performed during CMA Fest with a song currently at the top of the charts. His song “Trouble With a Heartbreak” is currently in its third week atop Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart. He also let the CMA Fest concertgoers in on a little news, introducing his next radio single, “That’s What Tequila Does.”
Zac Brown Band turns set into a collaborative affair: Zac Brown Band is known for their freewheeling, collaborative jam band vibe, but their Thursday evening set at Nissan Stadium expanded on that feeling as they welcomed a number of guest artists to their set. Lead singer Zac Brown welcomed King Calaway to perform their new single, “When I Get Home,” which Brown co-wrote and produced for the group’s upcoming album. “They are the future of country music,” Brown told the crowd.
ZBB also welcomed vocalist and ace guitarist Marcus King, who left the crowd in awe with his expert guitar riffs on “Stubborn Pride,” a collaboration from Zac Brown Band’s recent album The Comeback. Then, in addition to offering crowd favorites from the ZBB catalog such as “Toes” and “Colder Weather,” Brown surprised the crowd with a soaring rendition of the Eagles’ 1975 classic “Take It to The Limit.” Finally, they rounded out the set with another collab, welcoming Rucker back to the stage to join them on their 2008 hit “Chicken Fried.”
Keith Urban, up close: Early in his set, Urban offered a range of songs from his 10 solo studio albums, from “Days Go By” (from 2004’s Be Here) to his latest barn-burner “Wild Hearts.” Midway through his show, Urban found a way to make the massive Nissan Stadium feel more intimate, as he left the main stage during his set and walked through the audience to a smaller satellite stage in midst of the crowd. The audience quickly crowded around the stage as Urban performed an angsty rendition of “You’ll Think of Me.”
CMA Fest runs from June 9-12 in downtown Nashville. The Nissan Stadium shows continue Friday night, with a lineup including Kane Brown, Thomas Rhett and Kelsea Ballerini.