Nashville’s annual New Year’s Eve party will ring in 2022 with its biggest spotlight to date when the five-hour concert special New Year’s Eve Live: Nashville’s Big Bash airs Dec. 31 via CBS Television Network, as well as Paramount+.
The show, which begins at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT, will feature more than 50 performances from several of country music’s biggest stars, including Jason Aldean, Jimmie Allen, Kelsea Ballerini, Gabby Barrett, Dierks Bentley, Brooks & Dunn, Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Elle King, Miranda Lambert, Carly Pearce, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Cole Swindell and Zac Brown Band — all airing from the heart of downtown Nashville.
Bentley will co-headline a free concert at Nashville’s Bicentennial Mall, alongside Hunt and Zac Brown Band. The show will also incorporate multiple time zones, with Nashville counting down with the East Coast at midnight (11 p.m. CT) and continuing through midnight Central Standard Time with a fireworks display and Nashville’s traditional music note drop.
Robert Deaton, longtime executive producer for the Country Music Association’s television properties, teamed with artist manager Mary Hilliard Harrington (who represents artists including Bentley and King) to executive produce the show in partnership with the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.
“When I reached out to do talent bookings, so many of the managers and artists were saying the same things,” Deaton tells Billboard. “I talked to Ronnie Dunn and he was like, ‘This is cool for Nashville and cool for our genre.’ Same thing with Blake Shelton. With a new format and a new show, you don’t know until you start making the calls. I found out really quickly the artists are behind this show.”
“We took the idea collectively to the city and then to CBS and thankfully Jack Sussman [executive vice president, specials, music, live events & alternative programming, CBS] was on board right away,” Harrington tells Billboard. “It started as nearly a four-hour show and then we realized how important it was going to be to also show the Central time zone new year’s eve note drop, which has become such a big moment in Nashville. The network was like, ‘We’ll give you five hours,’ so we got to work.”
While other networks’ New Year’s Eve shows feature multi-genre performer lineups, Nashville’s Big Bash is focused solely on country music.
“We are going for that big-time network audience in the middle of America, [that] loves country music and loves good music,” Sussman says. “We have some of the biggest artists in country music on our stage on that night. Quite honestly, there’s some of the biggest artists in music. … People want to watch these people. They want to hear them. We’re going for a different audience than ABC. We’re going for a different audience than NBC. We’re going for straight-down-the-middle country music lovers who want that on New Year’s Eve.”
Sussman predicts ratings for the inaugural show will be solid. “I know we’re going to have a good night. Other people are going to have good nights too; we’re going after a section of the audience that I feel has been ignored. We’re going to a previously underserved audience on New Year’s Eve and we’re going to bring them the biggest party in country music you could ever imagine bringing in the new year.”
“We’ll expect something like 50,000 fans to be there at Bicentennial, with Zac Brown Band doing songs like ‘Chicken Fried,’ ‘Toes,’ and ‘Same Boat,’” Deaton says. “Dierks will collaborate with Breland. We wanted to see multiple songs from those performers. When we’re putting together the run of show, sometimes we’re like, ‘Let’s just let Dierks do anything he wants,’ so it feels loose, like you are at a concert.”
Country music artists won’t be the only ones in the spotlight during the five-hour event. The special will showcase Nashville itself, with performances airing from several locations, including the Skydeck at Nashville’s Assembly Food Hall, and some of the artist-owned downtown bars from Lambert, Bentley and Aldean.
“You’re going from this massive stage, then popping over to see Lady A at the Skydeck and then to Broadway with the artists’ bars,” Harrington says. “It’s a massive undertaking to tie that all together to show the full picture of the whole city. For those 50,000 people at Bicentennial, you must keep the music going whether you are airing from that stage or another stage, so that’s been a part of the logistics, and Robert’s been like a mad scientist putting it all together. Most of these shows have one stage and they take a feed from another city, but there is not another show that will pull off what we will pull off.”
Music fans can expect some unique collaborations, with artists mixing things up between current and classic country hits.
“We’ve got a great collaboration with Darius Rucker, Brooks & Dunn and Jason Aldean that is killer,” Deaton says. “Sam Hunt and Ingrid Andress will do their new single. We’ve got Chris Janson, Jon Pardi and Riley Green pulling out some old Hank [Williams] Jr. songs. Also, Darius is doing a collaboration with Zac Brown Band. There are collaborations that you might not see anywhere else.”
Deaton estimates that two-thirds of the show’s performances will air live, with one-third being pre-taped. Though the five-hour show will be heavily focused on musical performances, the evening’s co-hosts, radio and television host Bobby Bones and Entertainment Tonight’s Rachel Smith, will also take time to talk with attendees in Nashville to help capture the festive atmosphere.
Of course, the prospect of an outdoor concert in December also means Harrington, Deaton and their team had to take into consideration the potential for inclement weather.
“We try to keep the stage a certain temperature so the instruments stay in tune,” Deaton says. “We have a heated stage, though we already had one artist request — he doesn’t care what the temperature is, he doesn’t want the heaters on. He’s going to do it no matter how cold it is. We also have a heated offstage tent where we keep all the instruments, that is the same temperature as the main stage to help keep all the instruments in tune.”
Asked about long-term plans for the show, Sussman says, “We’re going to see how it goes. Nothing would make me happier to make this year one in an annual event with Nashville and the CBS television network.”
Sussman added, “The CBS audience is the big tent. We go after everybody. We want everybody from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and everybody in between. And if you look at this music that we’re putting on the stage that night, this is playing to everybody from one side of the country to the other and everywhere in between. We’re not calling it Nashville’s Big Bash for nothing.”