CMA Music Festival’s nightly concerts at Nissan Stadium were full of surprises Thursday night — ranging from country music’s top-selling artist Garth Brooks to the genre’s newest award winner Lauren Alaina.
Here are five things you missed:
Garth Brooks just made one of his famous surprise CMA Music Festival appearances, walking on stage at Nissan Stadium and kicking off his unannounced set with Thunder Rolls.
Brooks moved into Calling Baton Rouge and The River. He followed up with new single Ask Me How I Know, asking fans to help him sing it.
In a ball cap and strumming his acoustic guitar, Brooks worked the stage during That Summer and went straight into The Dance as fans lit up the stadium with their cell phones. Brooks paused and let fans sing the last word, then flowed into Friends in Low Places, pacing the front of the stage during the set.
While it has been close to 27 years since Friends in Low Places was released, country music fans haven’t forgotten the song that helped propel Brooks to super stardom. The crowd, more than 50,000 strong, came in loud on the first word and sang with Brooks, through the last chorus. The Country Music Association’s current Entertainer of the Year let them finish it out, a wide smile stretching across his face.
“That’s Nashville, home of country music!” Brooks excitedly bellowed. “YEAH!!!,” he screamed as fans cheered wildly. “Are you kidding me?”
With a final wave, Brooks ran off the stage.
Luke Bryan Played into the wee hours
Luke Bryan just thought he was playing Thursday night at CMA Music Festival. By the time he made it on stage, it was the wee hours of Friday morning.
Bryan injected some much-needed energy into the night, showing limitless enthusiasm for hitting the stage an hour after his headlining arena shows are typically finished.
“It’s morning time,” he shouted to fans. “Are you all ready to get us into the morning?”
Bryan wasted no time breaking out his infamous hip-shimmying dance moves, kicking his set off with Move. He kept up the pace with Play It Again and That’s My Kind of Night, turning his ball cap around, which seems to be his go-to symbol for, “I’m about to bust a move.”
The father of two slowed things down for his current single, Fast, a ballad about watching his children grow up. He asked fans if they liked to hunt and commented he knew everyone was “doing a little loving out there on a Friday morning” before Huntin’, Fishin’, and Lovin’ Every Day.
He asked for the lights to be turned off in the stadium and for the audience to hold their cell phones up and sing Drink a Beer with him one more time. Nissan Stadium lit up like a Christmas tree.
He closed with I Don’t Want This Night to End and Country Girl (Shake it For Me) with thousands of people doing just that at 12:45 a.m.
“We’ll see you next time, thank you so much. We love you,” he told fans.
Alaina, Swindell surprise
Following Garth Brooks’ unannounced CMA Fest appearance, Lauren Alaina had a surprise of her own, walking out to sing Middle of a Memory with Cole Swindell.
“I got chills,” Swindell said after Alaina’s voice soared through the song’s chorus. “My Georgia buddy. Give it up!”
Swindell said he and Thomas Rhett were talking backstage about how they listened to Brooks music growing up.
“Am I dreaming or did Garth Brooks just play before me?” he asked the crowd. “What a memory right there. This song fits this situation perfectly because I think tonight we are in the middle of a memory.”
Previously, Swindell kicked his set off with Ain’t Worth the Whiskey and since Brooks inadvertently served as his opening act, fans were ready to sing. Swindell said he wished he had his cell phone so he could FaceTime his ex-girlfriend so she could hear the stadium packed with people singing the lyrics: But don’t think for a second I’m out to drown your memory / Baby you ain’t worth the whiskey.
Swindell’s set also included his first No. 1 hit Chillin’ It and his multi-week No. 1 You Should Be Here.
“The last time I sang this song in the stadium it was probably the highlight of my whole career, seeing the cell phones light up the stadium,” he said of the song he wrote following his father’s death. “I’ve been there.”
During the song, fans again lit up the stadium with the lights on their cell phones.
“That means the world to me,” Swindell said.
Miranda Lambert brought a set thick with new songs and a couple of sing-along favorites when she took the stage near the end of Thursday night’s line-up at Nissan Stadium.
Lambert kicked her night off with early hit Kerosene and then switched gears to songs from her recent ACM Album of the Year The Weight of These Wings.
Lambert chose album cut Highway Vagabond to feature on CMA Music Festival’s upcoming television special then asked fans if she could sing a song about drinking.
Vice followed and then Pink Sunglasses, both also from The Weight of These Wings.
“This album is a double album and I’m just trying to get as many songs heard as I can,” Lambert said Thursday morning. “I’m not sure what a single is these days or the life that it has so as a songwriter I’m just proud of all 24 songs and I want to get as many to have a moment as I can.”
Lambert said playing Nissan Stadium during CMA Music Festival’s nightly concerts is her way of “appreciating our fans giving us a job.”
“They buy our records, they buy tickets, they come out here and support us and they go to fan club parties,” Lambert said. “Without them, we don’t have a job.”
Dierks Bentley rocked
Country music fans got a solid preview of Dierks Bentley’s arena tour Thursday night when Bentley brought his hits – including his current Top 20 with Cole Swindell Flatliner – to Nissan Stadium.
Bentley’s set included Tip It On Back, his recent No. 1 Black and album cut What the Hell Did I Say as well as sentimental favorite I Hold On.
“I’ve been waiting for this since last year,” Bentley told fans before he sang. Of course, they sang it with him.
Bentley cracked jokes about Garth Brooks being his opening act and called Brooks “the greatest of all time.”
“To be on the same stage as him is unbelievable,” Bentley said.
He closed his set with Somewhere on a Beach and Drunk on a Plane.
“How do we get to a beach? I’ve got an idea, let’s all get drunk on a plane and I’ll fly you all down,” Bentley told the stadium of fans.
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