Country music seldom gets any hotter than it does during the CMA Music Festival. Between Montgomery Gentry’s performance officially opening the festival and the fact that temperatures were hovering just below the 90-degree mark, the heat index was evident Thursday (June 9) in downtown Nashville.
The festival, which continues through Sunday, was previously known as Fan Fair. The event brings country fans closer to their favorite artists through a series of concerts and autograph sessions.
Even before Montgomery Gentry hit the outdoor stage at Riverfront Park, Cowboy Troy and several other acts cruised down lower Broadway around 9:30 a.m. during the first-ever festival parade. Although the procession made its way with little fanfare — no pun intended — hundreds of people stood on the sidewalk to catch glimpses of Troy and others, including Brad Cotter, David Ball, Lila McCann, Cowboy Crush, NASCAR driver Boston Reid and — back for another year — Bush’s Baked Beans spokesman Jay Bush and his canine companion, Duke. Although the golden retriever is quite talkative during the company’s television commercials, he appeared to have nothing to say as he sat patiently in the front seat of a Corvette while fans snapped his photo.
A few minutes later, Montgomery Gentry had no problems getting the party started with an energetic set that began with “Gone” and quickly moved through several hits (including “Hillbilly Shoes” and “My Town”) and their latest single, “Something to Be Proud Of.” Listening to their brief set, it became obvious they now have the luxury of not being able to play all of their hits in a mere 30 minutes.
Jamie O’Neal followed with her hits, old and new, including “Trying to Find Atlantis,” “There Is No Arizona” and “When I Think About Angels.” Ryan Shupe & the RubberBand, a five-piece band from Utah, made their first CMA Music Festival appearance. Offering songs from their upcoming Capitol Nashville debut album, the mostly-acoustic act got the crowd’s attention with “Banjo Boy” and a circular sharing of instruments that truly must be seen to be believed.
Even though Columbia Records newcomer Brice Long’s debut single, “It’s Only Monday,” won’t be released until later this month, he hit the stage like a pro. For his upcoming album, the Kentucky native is in the studio with two prominent producers who have never worked together — Mark Wright (known for his work with Gretchen Wilson, Lee Ann Womack and others) and Keith Stegall (Alan Jackson’s longtime producer).
With “Pickin’ Wildflowers” as a calling card, newcomer Keith Anderson entertained the throngs, as did Jessica Andrews, a seasoned veteran of Fan Fair and the CMA Music Festival even at the age of 21.
After an afternoon schedule of concerts featuring Cowboy Troy, Chely Wright, Pam Tillis, Hanna-McEuen, Trent Willmon, Little Texas, the Bellamy Brothers, Neal McCoy and many others, the music moves to a bigger stage at Nashville’s Coliseum for a Thursday night concert starring Dierks Bentley, Dolly Parton and the Grascals, Julie Roberts, Sugarland, Keith Urban, Phil Vassar and Lee Ann Womack.