Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood Keep the Hits Coming at CMA Music Festival

Faith Hill, Josh Turner, Miranda Lambert Also Play Friday Night Concert

Keith Urban surprised the CMA Music Festival audience Friday night (June 6) with an unannounced headlining performance — and got face-to-face with fans by strolling through the walkways of LP Field in downtown Nashville during his show. You can always hear a gasp when a singer steps off the stage and into the masses, but Urban went beyond the front rows and into the side sections to serenade some lucky listeners.

You could see one woman on the jumbo screens burst out crying from excitement. Urban got wrapped up in the moment, too, sliding the guitar off his torso, autographing it and laying it in the arms of an overwhelmed tourist. It’s funny to watch people’s faces when they encounter somebody like Keith Urban up close and personal. It’s almost like the singer plugs them into a wall socket and they immediately come to life.

Moments like these keep country fans coming back to CMA Music Festival. Plus, it’s unbelievable sometimes how many hits you can hear in the span of four hours. Urban didn’t have any filler, sticking to essentials like “Days Go By,” “Better Life,” “Making Memories of Us,” “You Look Good in My Shirt,” “Who Wouldn’t Wanna be Me” and “Somebody Like You.” Urban is playing LP Field in July with Kenny Chesney, so touring contracts stipulated that he could not be announced as part of the CMA Music Festival lineup, but he came anyway and played right up until the stroke of midnight.

In her first CMA Music Festival appearance in 10 years, Faith Hill bookended her up-tempo set with “Wild One” and a show-stopping version of “Piece of My Heart,” with all the big hits in between, like “Mississippi Girl,” “The Way You Love Me,” “This Kiss” and “Breathe.” She didn’t talk much between her songs, but her vocals were strong and she wasn’t afraid to adjust the arrangements to make her hits sound more contemporary. Of course, anyone could instantly recognize the songs she was singing, but the pop-rock influence was certainly more present during the stadium show than in her early recordings.

On the other hand, Josh Turner kept it country, bringing his easygoing demeanor and memorable melodies front and center. You can’t go too wrong with a set featuring “Would You Go With Me,” “Long Black Train,” “Your Man,” “Another Try” and “Firecracker.”

Meanwhile, you can hear more confidence and emotion in Carrie Underwood’s voice each year — and no wonder because the young woman seems to be singing somewhere every time you turn around. Launching her set with “Wasted,” she quickly moved on to “All-American Girl,” “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” “So Small,” “Last Name” and “Before He Cheats.” A little girl behind me, maybe 7 or 8 years old, knew all the words to those last two songs. It’s somewhat disconcerting to hear those adult lyrics coming out of a child’s mouth. But the young women around me jumped right out of their seats at the first notes.

Miranda Lambert takes it one step further as she sang about shooting her abusive boyfriend in “Gunpowder & Lead,” as well as shooting her ex-lover in “Kerosene.” No wonder she’s famous in a small town. She also slipped in a fine rendition of “Desperation,” from her ACM-winning album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Lady Antebellum looked completely at ease in front of their biggest crowd ever, singing a handful of songs (“Lookin’ for a Good Time,” “All We Ever Need” and “Love Don’t Live Here”). Jack Ingram, one of Lambert’s heroes, also unloaded a trio of tunes — “Wherever You Are,” “Barbie Doll” and “Love You.”

A few lucky new artists were offered brief slots over the course of the evening, including Ashton Shepherd (“Taking Off This Pain,” “Sounds So Good”), Dancing With the Stars mainstay Julianne Hough (“That Song in My Head”) and Jake Owen (“Yee Haw” and a new single, “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You”). Billy Ray Cyrus also strolled on stage to encourage the fans to stick around until Sunday (June 8), the final night of the CMA Music Festival. And hey, that’s when he’s performing as well. Surprise!

View photos from Friday night’s concert at the 2008 CMA Music Festival.