Clay Walker Hosts and Steals Saturday CMA Fest Show

Brad Paisley Harmonizes With Josh Turner on "Long Black Train"

Among the thousands of country fans watching Saturday night’s (June 12) concert at The Coliseum in Nashville during the CMA Music Festival, one particular thought had to cross somebody’s mind: Is Clay Walker the next Kenny Chesney?

Like Chesney, Walker has long been in the trenches, racking up hits since the mid-1990s. Walker is already comfortable in huge venues, because that’s where he plays in his home state of Texas, but he seems poised for the big time. He’s been on the road almost constantly for more than a decade, but if memory serves, his singing now contains more passion and fire than it used to, and hits like “If I Could Make a Living” are just as appealing now as when they were on the charts.

Accepting the evening’s hosting duties on short notice, Walker also proved to be light-hearted and friendly, keeping the fans entertained during rather tedious gaps between acts. He’s also got the tropical attitude under control, with at least 20 beach balls bopping around the audience during “Then What?”

Ultimately, though, it’s the fans who decide who moves up to the next level, and the flash bulbs popped more during Walker’s set than anybody else’s during a show that included appearances by Montgomery Gentry, Brad Paisley, Lee Ann Womack, Diamond Rio, Billy Ray Cyrus and the Mavericks.

Of course, Montgomery Gentry can still rile up the crowd, but their segment had more physical comedy than musical highlights, with Troy Gentry slipping on the stage no less than three times — twice during “Hell Yeah.” The enormous screen captured every stumble. “If I had finished that bottle of Jim Beam, I wouldn’t have fallen,” Gentry wisecracked. Still, they continue to be a fan favorite, though they only had time for five songs and, as the evening’s headliner, couldn’t quit grinning.

Paisley wore a white tank top, and the music videos of “Celebrity” and “I’m Gonna Miss Her” at the close of his set finally gave the crowd a reprieve from seeing his armpits on the huge video screens. Though he delivered a strong set, including the catchy “Mud on the Tires,” he stepped aside to give a newcomer his moment in the spotlight, harmonizing with Josh Turner on the hit, “Long Black Train.”

After an agonizing hour-long rain delay, Womack took the stage with “I’ll Think of a Reason Later,” followed by “I’m Gonna Love You Tonight,” a song from her upcoming studio album. (It happens to sound a lot like “Gentle on My Mind.”) She also thanked the audience for sticking around — a true example of the loyalty of country fans.

Diamond Rio had just finished a bluegrass diversion when the sprinkles turned to a downpour. However, Cyrus did manage to get in five songs, including “Could’ve Been Me” and “Some Gave All.” His set also included a Christian version of “Achy Breaky Heart.” Yes, really. It went something like this: “Let Jesus in your heart, your achy breaky heart. …” And what better way to illustrate the conventions of Christianity than to have the blonde co-star from your TV series — Andrea C. Robinson who plays Nurse Nancy on Doc — twirl and frolic during the tune. I’ve never seen the show, but if he’s a doctor, and she’s a nurse, then please let me stay healthy as long as possible.

Kicking off the evening, the Mavericks incorporated a brass section into four invigorating songs, including their version of Merle Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down.” Their melodies prompted some enthusiastic line dancers toward the back of the stadium to do some twirling of their own. And though it took four and a-half hours to get to the fireworks display that closed the concert, it’s hard to imagine a finer Saturday night — even when the beach balls were long gone.

Set List:

“Hillbilly Shoes”
“If You Ever Stop Loving Me”
“You Do Your Thing”
“Hell Yeah”
“My Town”

“Wrapped Around”
“Little Moments”
“Mud on the Tires”

“Long Black Train”

“Whiskey Lullaby”
“I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song)”

“If I Could Make a Livin'”
“Everybody Needs Love”
“I Can’t Sleep”
“Then What?”
“Jesus Was a Country Boy”
“What’s It to You”

“I’ll Think of a Reason Later”
“I’m Gonna Love You Tonight”
“Little Past Little Rock”
“Ashes by Now”
“I Hope You Dance”

“Bubba Hyde”
“One More Day”
“Bluegrass Express”
Bluegrass medley

“Stand Still”
“Love Is Always 16”
“Some Gave All”
“Could’ve Been Me”
“Achy Breaky Heart”

“Dance the Night Away”
“There Goes My Heart”
“The Bottle Let Me Down”
“All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down”