What other genre of music has a 4 day festival that allows you to get up close and personal with the artists? That honors the fans and has over 300 bands on 8 stages, including LP Field, the stadium where the Titans play football? It’s country music! The Country Music Assoc. (CMA) takes over downtown Nashville every year in June for a jam packed music festival. Each day on 7 stages there are all kinds of music (“country and western”). We have gone since 2011 and looked forward to this year’s festival.
We arrived in Nashville on Wednesday and made it to our hotel by early afternoon. We booked our trip through a website that packages the festival with hotel room, a 4 day pass to all venues and shows and a “goody box”.
Once we unpacked we were ready to hit Broadway where all the small bars and honky-tonks are. Our first stop was Tootsie’s, a very famous bar where Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Waylon once performed.
Wednesday night there are two things scheduled. One is the CMT Music Awards and the other is Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam at the “Mother Church of country music”, the Ryman Auditorium. We chose Marty because we know there will be a fun packed evening of great country music ahead of us.
Leading off the evening is Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives. They never disappoint.
Next up was the Oak Ridge Boys. I’ve grown to really respect and like their music. They are really fun to watch. Here they are with Jamie Johnson in a tribute to George Jones.
The other two most notable performances were from a band of brothers called “The Sleepy Man Banjo Boys” from New Jersey! These boys are incredible musicians. The youngest on the banjo is the “leader” of the group.
Finally The Mavericks closed out the night. Now I have to tell you that the show starts at 10:00 pm. By the time The Mavericks came on it was 1:00 am!!! That’s 2 am for us New Yorkers and way too late. We left after the first two songs because we were exhausted from traveling. Here’s a small taste of them doing “Back in Your Arms Again”
Ok, Thursday morning brings a full day of artists to see and hear. When the festival has its schedule finalized it posts the daily activities on its website and also has a handy app for your smartphone. This allows you to schedule the artists and bands you want to see as well as the meet & greets available in the convention hall. During the day the main venue is the Riverfront Stage on the Cumberland River. They pull a barge up to the bank of the river and build a stage. The audience sits on the grassy slope and takes in the music. It opens at 10:00 and goes until 5:00 every day. This year had a good lineup of singers: Sara Evans, Gretchen Wilson, Lonestar, Maggie Rose, Sunny Sweeney, Phil Vassar and JoDee Messina to name a few.
This year the festival moved its indoor stages and booths to the beautiful new downtown Music City Center.
The place is beautiful! The huge space made it possible to have more stages inside away from the heat. The best new stage was The Close Up Stage. Each day there were panel discussions or one on one interviews with country stars and legends. One of the best panels was a discussion on the late George Jones. The panel consisted of John Rich, Randy Travis, Jamie Johnson, Country Weekly Magazine editor Joe Hudak and Nancy Jones, George’s widow.
The other great interview was with Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn. If you don’t know about Ronnie Dunn, he is the real voice of Brooks & Dunn. The interview focused on his photography but also had a discussion on his new music. Since I’m such a HUGE Ronnie Dunn fan I didn’t miss it.
I follow RD on Facebook and Twitter, and yes, it is really him tweeting and posting. A few days before the festival he posted a cryptic message that he would appear “somewhere” and to be ready on Wednesday evening to find out “Who is Ronnie Dunn?”. On Wednesday afternoon this was tweeted out:
So we headed over to 5th and Broadway to see what was next. We found a big truck with people on the top with video cameras. Just as the CMT Music Awards was letting out, next thing you know, Ronnie Dunn comes to the edge of the second story lounge of Rippy’s BBQ and starts to sing! His first song was “Country This”. I shot it but silly me had the camera at the wrong angle and it ended up sideways! The next song was his new single just released on XM Radio, Kiss You There.
Each night at LP Field the major acts perform. The show starts at 8:00 and goes to around midnight. That’s 4 hours of big name country stars. This year’s lineup was a little disappointing to say the least. Of the 23 acts scheduled we were only interested in about 7 or 8. Those being Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown Band, Little Big Town, Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson (I know she’s not “country” but she’s releasing a country album), Keith Urban, Brad Paisley and (for me) Dierks Bentley. The rest were too pop like Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line or too past their prime like Lee Greenwood and Tracy Lawrence.
Thursday night we arrived late to avoid the artists we weren’t interested in seeing, especially Taylor. Unfortunately the show was running late and we had to endure her terrible “live singing”. Next up was Eric Church, I actually like some of his songs, it’s the chest pounding and fist pumping that gets old. Miranda was excellent as usual and she looked fabulous. Final act was Zac Brown Band. They were awesome! They brought out Kenny Rogers and played “The Gambler” and everyone in the audience over 35 sang along. The final song brought out another surprise guest, Kid Rock. They did a rousing rendition of American Band by Grand Funk Railroad. Also joining them onstage was the guitar player from GFR who also sang the original.
Friday night was a little better however the big thunderstorms that hit around 4 that afternoon caused major problems for one of the bands, Little Big Town. I’m not sure how this can happen but their equipment got wet from the rain and caused a schedule mix up all night long. When they finally did make it onstage you could tell they were angry. There was hardly any interaction between themselves and the audience. To top it all off they only played 2 songs! On the third song a surprise guest, Sheryl Crow came out and they all sang Soak Up the Sun. Sheryl then sang her new single. The final act of the night was Blake Shelton. He also came out with a ticked-off attitude. There was barely any interaction with the audience and he just didn’t have any energy. We had seen him perform the last two years and he was always had one of the best sets.
Saturday night brought out one of my favorite acts, Keith Urban. The other artist I was looking forward to seeing was Kelly Clarkson. Now you may be wondering what she is doing at a country music festival. Well, she is engaged to Reba McEntire’s stepson. She is also releasing a country album and has a single on the radio now. When looking at the lineup for Saturday night we noticed only 5 artists instead of the usual 6. I’m thinking that, hopefully, Keith Urban gets to play more than 30 min. Shortly after the start of the evenings performers there was an announcement that there would be a “surprise SUPERSTAR” later in the evening. We kept hearing to be “blown away” by this performer. Finally after Florida Georgia Line performed, the next act was to be our surprise. Ok so our seat neighbors and us were brainstorming who it could possibly be. We listed various superstars in country music that might make an appearance. Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Reba? My seat neighbor thought maybe Lenny Kravitz because he had performed with Jason Aldean Wednesday night at the CMT Awards Show. Well….she was right. Lenny Kravitz was our surprise performer….um, hello??? He’s not country!!! To say that the crowd was puzzled, shocked, and bewildered was an understatement. When he finally left the stage everyone was downright mad.
The surprises kept on coming. Next thing we know Lenny invited Jason Aldean onto the stage to sing American Woman with him. I guess they sang this together on the awards show. Jason was not on the lineup for this year, much to the disappointment of many. It seemed backwards to have a rock star invite a country star onstage to perform with him at a country music festival!! Next fiasco was Lenny Kravitz playing his first single, “Let Love Rule”. He tried to get the crowd to sing along with him. Well how in the world would a country audience know the words to one of his first hits?? The crowd just stared and didn’t answer back to his continued prodding. He became so incensed that people weren’t joining in that he jumped off the stage into the crowd and continually tried to get people to sing with him. When he finally made it back up on stage he said, “Can’t show the love?”, flipped off the crowd with both fingers and walked off. WHAT!?! What an asshole. I was not impressed. I was so mad that he took 15 more minutes than he was given which ended up shortening Keith Urban’s performance. He never should have been up on that stage in a performers time slot. He could have been invited up there for 1 song, but not 4-5.
Despite the horrible Kravitz fiasco, Kelly Clarkson was fun and Keith Urban was amazing as usual. He performed one of my favorite songs, Stupid Boy and had some crazy good guitar solos.
The final night had its own drama as well. The weather all week had been perfect. Usually it is crazy hot and muggy, but not this week. Temps in the 70’s, no humidity, cloudy with occasional rain showers. Sunday things changed. It became warmer, muggier and the threat of severe thunderstorms. As the afternoon led into evening the severe thunderstorm threat became a warning.
The only artist we really wanted to see on Sunday was Brad Paisley. The other artists didn’t really interest us mainly because we saw them last year and/or not big fans. Each act was given 30 minutes each night. Since there were 2 acts ahead of BP we waited to head over to LP field. With rain ponchos in tow we arrive at the stadium just as Brad took the stage. WHAT? Wait, he isn’t supposed to be on yet. Turns out the powers that be decided to “speed up” the time slots so every act could get on before the big storm front arrived. So Brad Paisley got 3 songs, one of which was with Charlie Daniels. The Band Perry got 2 songs, poor Jake Owen only got ONE SONG! He was not a happy camper. The final act was Carrie Underwood. She was given 2 songs but defied the producers and did 4. To say she wasn’t happy was an understatement. She was furious and it showed.
The show was done by 10 and the crowd was not happy. There was a chorus of boos for a good 5 minutes as people made their way out of the stadium.
The sad thing about Sunday night, the storm never arrived. It went south and not a drop fell on anyone.
And so ended the CMA Music Festival 2013. It went out with a whimper to the disappointment of many. I did have a good time. I saw some great performances and ate way too much good food. The best moment will follow in another special post. The worst moment, missing the Tuesday night Grand Ole Opry Show. No worries though, we’re just a short flight from Nashville and can see an Opry show anytime.