Nashville’s Nissan Stadium is best known as home to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, but during CMA Fest, musical titans take over.
For the first night of the June 7-10 fest, among the artists taking the stage were Jason Aldean, Kane Brown, Brothers Osborne, Darius Rucker, Dan + Shay, and Carly Pearce. Billboard talked with several of the performers backstage, as well as Kelsea Ballerini and Thomas Rhett, who return as co-hosts of CMA Fest, a three-hour special airing Aug. 8 on ABC that will capture highlights of the festival, which takes over downtown Nashville.
Kane Brown was still jubilant and surprised over winning his first major award for best collaborative video at Wednesday night’s CMT Music Awards. How surprised was he? “I had no idea I was nominated for this event,” he said. “Then I heard my name. It was funny, I had a dip in, so I was trying to spit my dip out just in case, and it wouldn’t fit in the bottle. Then they said my name and I started freaking out. My fiancée had a brand-new drink and she was like ‘just spit in my drink,’ so I did that and walked up.” … Not only does Brown have the most understanding fiancée in the world, he has a likely hit of the summer with the uptempo “Lose It,” which just dropped. “It’s got a bunch of new instruments in it, like a fiddle, that we didn’t have on any of my old stuff,” he said. “It’s got like a Lynyrd Skynyrd kind of guitar, which sounds awesome with the fiddle. We just wanted an uptempo song for once. ‘What Ifs’ is uptempo but kind of a ballad, ‘Heaven’ is definitely a ballad, so we just wanted a fun uptempo song that country radio could play during the summer, bring some summer heat.”
Jason Aldean opened his club on Lower Broadway in Nashville on June 6, and yes, he confirmed to Billboard, he does get to drink for free at his own establishment. “That’s one of the perks,” he said. “I could have used that in my 20s. Better late than never.” The club opened as Aldean celebrates his 20th year in Nashville. “It’s cool to think I moved to town 20 years ago this year, driving around downtown, kicking around in all those bars down there, trying to play my songs and meet people, and to look on it now and you’ve got a bar in the middle of lower Broadway, it’s pretty cool.” … Aldean performed his new single, “Drowns the Whiskey,” on Wednesday’s CMT Music Awards. The song features Miranda Lambert, with whom he has long had a strong friendship. “We kind of hit the scene together here in Nashville and we were new artists at the same time, kind of rose up through the ranks together,” he said. “I think we’ve had a mutual respect for each other and I’ve always said, if I was a female, I’d be Miranda Lambert, I want to do what she does. We’re kind of the face of country music right now; we sure weren’t when we started” … Even though he closed the CMT Awards by joining Darius Rucker, Luke Bryan and Charles Kelley for a cover of Drivin’ N Cryin’s “Straight to Hell,” Aldean said don’t expect him to put out an album of covers anytime soon. “I never really wanted to do a greatest hits. I never wanted to do any of those things until I feel like I’m done making records,” he said. “I want to go in and make new music and try new things. I figure when it’s over and I’m not really making records like that anymore, then we’ll put the greatest hits out; maybe that’s when I’ll do a covers album.”
Kelsea Ballerini was glowing over her impromptu visit with Kelly Clarkson at the CMT Music Awards and Clarkson’s tweet that Ballerini’s stripped-down performance of “I Hate Love Songs” was the best of the night. Clarkson, along with Shania Twain, Taylor Swift and Britney Spears, are on Ballerini’s Mount Rushmore of favorite female artists. “Last night, I was about to leave and her dressing room was right next to mine, and I said, ‘I’m just going to see if I can say hi to here,’ and I knocked on the door and she’s like, ‘Come in!’ So me and [husband] Morgan [Evans] went and hung out with her and [husband] Brandon [Blackstock] for a little bit and they’re just so lovely and so warm. Afterwards she tweeted that and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the coolest thing ever.’” Next up on Ballerini’s wish list: “I’d love to sing ‘Ghost in This House’ with Alison Krauss. That’s on my list for big goals for the year.”
Thomas Rhett admitted he was surprised that “Life Changes,” the title track of his current album, got the nod as the set’s fourth single, given its extremely autobiographical lyrics. “Never in a million years did I dream that it would be a single,” he said. “I thought, ‘Who cares? I’m going to put that out as a single and some random guy is going to be driving around in Nebraska and will be like “Who is he talking about,”’ but I think [the label] had to do it because ever since the release of the album, the song has acted like a single. It tells a very, very personal story about my life and it’s been really cool to see that song doing what it’s doing. … Rhett is spending part of the summer opening stadium dates for Kenny Chesney before headlining his own arena tour this fall with Brett Young and Midland. He’s already thinking about moderation when it comes to hanging with the Midland men. “I’ve been around Midland enough to know when to stop drinking tequila, for sure,” he said a laugh.
Carly Pearce was in the middle of the most incredible 48 hours of her career: On Wednesday night, she won her first CMT Music Award; on Thursday night, she played her first stadium show at Nissan Stadium (after being in the stadium last year as a fan); and on Friday night (June 8), she will open for Rascal Flatts in Connecticut. On Thursday, she was still basking in her CMT victory for breakthrough video for “Every Little Thing” — not only for the win, but because she got to thank the ex who inspired the heartache. “It was so crazy, because I’ve already had such an incredible year. To have this be the icing on the cake is the most amazing revenge on the guy that shattered my heart, and I got to thank him on national television. My work here is done,” she said with a laugh. … Pearce recently told Billboard that her favorite country song by a female artist is “Let Me Let Go” by Faith Hill. On Thursday night, she told Billboard that Vince Gill’s “Whenever You Come Around” got the nod for favorite country song by a male artist. “It’s so timeless,” she said. “I like me some heart songs.”