Jo Dee Messina Opens CMA Music Festival

Thursday Events Offered Country, a Bit of Rock and Lots of Stars

When the CMA Music Festival officially kicked off Thursday morning (June 10), the first song performed was a cover of “Carry On Wayward Son,” a 1977 hit for the rock group Kansas. Jo Dee Messina delivered it during the Country Kickstart Show at the Riverfront Park stage in downtown Nashville.

Messina was exuberant as she performed material from her upcoming album, Delicious Surprise, rather than the greatest hits set fans usually expect from artists during the festival. Like many others, Messina is having a bit of trouble remembering that the event formerly known as Fan Fair is now touted as the CMA Music Festival.

“Is it hot enough for you?” Messina said when she greeted the thousands gathered at the grassy amphitheater on the banks of the Cumberland River. “This is the magic of Fan Fair … I mean, the CMA Music Festival.” Messina added, “OK, I’m not gonna be the only artist to do that. I’m just the first to do that.”

Among the new songs she has written, she explained that “Heaven Was Needing a Hero” was inspired by David Bloom, a 39-year-old NBC reporter who died of natural causes while covering the war in Iraq. However, at Thursday’s show, she dedicated it to the late Ronald Reagan.

“It’s election year, so I won’t get into the Democrats and the Republicans and all that kind of political talk,” she said. “But I will say this: Most of my life growing up, President Reagan was the president. Losing him is kinda like a bit of my childhood is gone.”

The Country Kickstart Show was just the first of a series of concerts during the CMA Music Festival taking place through Sunday (June 13). Later in the day, several major country acts signed autographs at Fan Fair — now the name of the area at the Nashville Convention Center. Among them: Montgomery Gentry, Lonestar, Blake Shelton, Mark Wills, John Berry, Pam Tillis and Charlie Daniels.

The festival continued Thursday night at the Coliseum with a concert featuring Daniels, Rascal Flatts, LeAnn Rimes, Vince Gill, Uncle Kracker, Terri Clark, Buddy Jewell and Sara Evans.

Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.