Kid Rock, Reba McEntire, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert Excite CMA Music Festival Fans

Josh Turner, Julianne Hough, The Band Perry Also Perform on Friday Night at LP Field

Kid Rock faced the challenging task of following Reba McEntire and Keith Urban at the CMA Music Festival ‘s Friday night (June 11) concert. If he seemed nervous about it, you couldn’t tell by his expression on the enormous digital screens that flanked the stage at LP Field. Although he didn’t go on until a few minutes past midnight, about two-thirds of the capacity audience stuck around to see what all the fuss was about. As it turns out, the Kid can hold his own against the seasoned pros in country music.

It can be argued — and has been relentlessly — whether the rapper even fits in at the festival, especially when he opened an approximately 45-minute set with “Rock N Roll Jesus.” But “All Summer Long” did have some success at country radio, and when he played it as his second song (mashed up with “Sweet Home Alabama”), you could spot country fans all across the football stadium getting their groove on.

Although he’s based in rural Michigan, the musician told the audience he bought a house in Nashville because the city offers “some of the greatest people I’ve ever met around the world.” He also mentioned that a new album is coming in September, then kicked off the rollicking “It Feels Good to Me.” If ever a song showed the influence of living in Motown’s town, this groovy one does.

Next, he dedicated “Low Life” to “all the hillbillies in the house” and slipped in a few lines of the bluesy Georgia Satellites’ song, “Keep Your Hands to Yourself.” He also showed his patriotic side by talking about traveling to Afghanistan to perform for U.S. troops and being reminded how Americans should consider themselves lucky. The ensuing song about surviving a war (or not), titled “Born Free,” elicited a standing ovation.

He pretended to sign off for the night, since the performance was being filmed by ABC for a TV special to air on Sept. 1. But within a few moments, he quickly planted himself at the piano and said he still wanted to play — even though the cameras were shut off. Prior to signing off for good, he reprised his opening number from the CMT Music Awards — a medley “Cowboy” and “Theme From The Dukes of Hazzard (Good Ol’ Boys)” — but this time without any surprise guests.

As the night wore on, there were frustrating gaps in between performers. There was even an onstage wedding that seemed more like a tactic to stall for time — or maybe I’m just bothered that they didn’t pass out any cake. McEntire’s set started nearly an hour after Urban’s due to technical issues, yet she was gracious enough to apologize on behalf of the crew. Judging from her roaring reception, she remains one of the most well-liked country stars. She front-loaded her set with newer material — “Strange,” “Consider Me Gone,” “I Keep On Loving You” and “I Want a Cowboy” — then closed with a rousing “Fancy,” delivered with gusto, as though she hasn’t sung it nearly every night for the last 19 years. She easily connected with the eager crowd by pointing, waving and smiling at everybody who caught her eye. Considering the show was a sellout, that’s an awful lot of pointing, waving and smiling.

As much fun as it is to see McEntire perform, Urban might be the hardest act to follow in country music. Charismatic and obviously talented, which you can notice even from the cheapest seats, it would be wise to tap him as the finale next year. Maybe he’ll have new music by then, but in the meantime, he treated fans to upbeat tunes like “Kiss a Girl,” “Days Go By,” “Sweet Thing,” “I’m In” and “Somebody Like You.”

Urban concluded his set with an impassioned cover of Joe Cocker’s arrangement of “With a Little Help From My Friends” that included a small horn section, famed producer Tony Brown on piano and Sarah Buxton and Little Big Town‘s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman on soulful harmonies. Urban dedicated the classic tune to Nashville’s volunteers — he called them “angels” — who stepped in for flood recovery efforts in the area last month, noting, “The Volunteer State spirit has never been more alive or more evident.”

During her six-song set, Miranda Lambert recalled coming to CMA Music Festival as a fan long before she had a record deal. But she proved she’s earned her spot on the main stage with sassy fan favorites like “Famous in a Small Town,” “Gunpowder & Lead,” “Only Prettier,” “White Liar” and “Kerosene.” It’s a challenge to excite a stadium with the slow tempo of “The House That Built Me,” but everywhere I looked, people were singing along with her. She also took a few minutes to commend the Nashville community for pulling through a tough time.

Just before Lambert’s set, Josh Turner piled on the up-tempo hits, and it’s hard to believe he’s been around for seven years now. He received very enthusiastic responses to “Your Man,” “Firecracker” and “Would You Go With Me,” and you could see in his eyes — and the gleaming white teeth of his smile — that he was overcome by singing for so many people and perhaps by the fact that many of the fans were singing right back to him. He played his new summer-themed single, “All Over Me,” then steamed ahead with “Long Black Train” and “Why Don’t We Just Dance,” with both songs enticing fans to stand up and shake it.

Following an intricate reading of the national anthem by The Band Perry, Julianne Hough kicked off the show by previewing material from her upcoming album, expected to be released in November. She drew on pop influences and lively choreography for most of her set, including her new single, “Is That So Wrong.” The two-time Dancing With the Stars champion said goodnight with “That Song in My Head.” Of course, if her new stuff strikes a strong chord with fans, you can bet she’ll be back on the big stage next year.

View photos from Friday night’s concert at LP Field.