The fighter jets that flew over Nashville’s LP Field Saturday night (June 7) seemed to set the tone for the entire evening at the CMA Music Festival. From the moment the formation made its way over the thousands of screaming country music fans, a certain unity seemed to fill the air and lingered throughout the rest of the night during performances by Alan Jackson, Kenny Rogers, Trace Adkins, Little Big Town, Rodney Atkins, Craig Morgan, Darryl Worley, Jason Michael Carroll and Jamey Johnson.
In what was reported as one of the largest crowds in CMA Music Festival history, the crowd at the stadium was on its feet as Alan Jackson made his way to the stage and performed a medley of hits including “Gone Country,” “Little Bitty,” “Small Town Southern Man” and “Don’t Rock the Jukebox.”
“I’ve been doing this a lot of years,” Jackson said between songs, “and I’ve learned how the country music fans are — very loyal — and I like to thank you when I can.” But fans were thanking Jackson as he continued to show them a “Good Time” with his latest chart topping hit. Line dancing broke out midfield and though it may have been 10:30 in the evening, you couldn’t tell it as “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” blasted through the air.
The applause and beer continued to flow, but it was the sobering and poignant “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” that provoked the biggest response of the night. Fans joined hands with their neighbor, some raised American flags and others wiped their eyes as tears streamed down their faces.
Jackson then appropriately lightened the moment as he announced, “It’s hotter than a hootchie-kootchie in here,” again bringing fans to another level of excitement as he began the fan favorite, “Chattahoochee,” and ended on an upbeat note of “Where I Come From.”
Cameras flashed, almost creating the effect of a disco ball, as Trace Adkins hit a homerun with hits such as “I Got My Game On,” “Swing” and the nostalgic “You’re Gonna Miss This.” But it wasn’t just the ladies who were on their feet as men pointed their fingers and also sang in agreement of Adkins’ “Ladies Love Country Boys.” And fans certainly had it going on like Donkey Kong as they continued to shake their money-makers to “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.” Adkins then admitted before walking off stage, “I got in this business for one reason, and one reason only — for the badonkadonk.”
Rodney Atkins shined a deer light over the crowd as he created a singalong to No. 1 hits, “These Are My People,” “Watching You” and what he calls his “‘Butterfly Kisses’ meets ‘Country Boy Can Survive’” crowd pleaser, “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy).” He performed his latest single, “Invisibly Shaken,” but fans were more enthusiastic as he addressed the troops and their family members by ending his set with “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows).”
In addition, Craig Morgan, a former military man and father of five, didn’t disappoint as he kept fans on their feet while belting upbeat favorites “International Harvester,” “Little Bit of Life, “Redneck Yacht Club” and new single, “Love Remembers.”
Fans honored the only band of the night and showed no shame by celebrating their roots with Little Big Town’s “Boondocks.” The quartet also performed new material, including “Fine Line” and “Firebird Fly,” and a remarkably harmonious rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way.”
In the interim, fans seemed overjoyed between sets by the acoustic performances from Carroll, Johnson and Worley. Carroll’s “Livin’ Our Love Song” and “I Can Sleep When I’m Dead” confirmed his growing popularity as fans chanted each word. Johnson, who served in the Marines, got an overwhelming response as he played his “Give It Away,” the song he co-wrote that was made famous by George Strait, and also his latest single, “In Color.”
Worley boasted a new song, but it was his 9-11 tribute, “Have You Forgotten,” that caused booming applause. As he changed his lyrics to “Don’t you tell me not to worry about some sick bastard named Bin Laden,” fans roared in approval, triggering a “U-S-A” chant as he exited the stage.
Superstar Kenny Rogers closed the evening by sharing some of his greatest hits spanning more than 40 years. The tan, snow white-haired favorite opened with “Just Dropped In (To See What My Condition Was In),” his 1967 hit with the First Edition, and followed by saying, “I will promise you, not 50 percent of you were born when that was a hit.”
Though some younger fans began to leave the stadium, others stayed and remained on their feet, singing every word and enchanted by his choice of hits, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” “Through the Years,” “Coward of the County,” “Daytime Friends,” “Buy Her a Rose,” “Lady” and forever favorite, “The Gambler.” Rogers jokingly ordered fans to quit “swaying” during “Lucille” and poked fun of encores — as well as his age — by admitting, “The older you get, the more steps you value.” Laughter filled the arena, and he ended the night on the same cheerful note with “Islands in the Stream.”
Young and old alike ended the night by sharing the songs of Rogers. They danced, sang along, embraced and truly seemed to appreciate the entire night of music that truly bridged several generations.