The one-two punch of Rascal Flatts and Martina McBride was enough to keep Nashville’s LP Field packed and the crowd on its feet throughout Saturday night’s (June 12) concert at the CMA Music Festival .
Unlike the previous two nights, the absence of extra TV production elements mercifully allowed for short set changes and an 11:30 p.m. finish to the brutally humid night at the stadium on the Cumberland River. The Thursday and Friday shows ended much later due to the shooting of CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock, an ABC special set to air Sept. 1. At Saturday’s show, the crowd’s energy was never left to dwindle for too long.
By the time Rascal Flatts offered their quick-moving, six-song set of fan favorites, the thousands of sweaty audience members had already been entertained by McBride, the Zac Brown Band, Billy Currington, Easton Corbin and Randy Houser, but most were in no hurry to call an end to the night. Instead, they were treated to a fireworks display timed perfectly to go off in the middle of Flatts’ “Summer Nights.” The timing itself may have just been a coincidence, but the effect was definitely an impressive and climactic highlight of the evening.
Other songs in the Flatts set included “Fast Cars and Freedom,” “Me and My Gang,” “Here Comes Goodbye,” “Unstoppable” and the closer, “Bob That Head,” while lead singer Gary LeVox mused that the group’s favorite part of the yearly festival was watching sunburns develop on the devoted throngs of fans. Other than that little tidbit, the group was all business. Stopping only to thank the fans for making the CMA Fest so much fun, they rode a wave of appreciation built up by the other stellar performances of the night.
McBride had a particularly fine showing, her powerful voice moving with ease between a sultry whisper and all-out howl. She started with “Ride” and “This One’s for the Girls,” the latter proving to still connect with women of all ages. Many held hands and swayed their arms above their heads while singing the chorus out loud.
Later, during “Love’s the Only House,” she showed off her harmonica skills — which the audience absolutely loved — and then an easy sense of humor. Referring to the hot night, she quipped, “I have a feeling that before the night’s over, I’ll look a little like Amy Winehouse … or maybe Alice Cooper.” She then dedicated “Anyway” to the Nashville community’s flood relief efforts and got a long standing ovation for a moving rendition of “A Broken Wing.” Visibly emotional, she carried that energy into “Independence Day,” throwing the mic stand to the floor and belting out the song’s monster hook. As unlikely as it seems, it was hard to hear her vocals over the crowd’s cheering.
The Zac Brown Band was greeted with cheers as well — and also an invasion of beach balls as they launched into “Toes.” The island jam theme carried on with a six-minute guitar-noodling session that showed why they’ll fit right in at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival on Sunday (June 13) in Manchester, Tenn. They brought out the married duo Joey & Rory to help sing a new song, aptly titled “This Song’s for You,” which they described as a tribute to country fans. But ironically, they neglected to play two of their biggest country hits. Fans were obviously disappointed when Brown said his goodbyes without playing “Chicken Fried” or “Whatever It Is,” let alone “Highway 20 Ride.”
Earlier in the night, Billy Currington warmed up fast and earned a big response for his closer, “Good Directions.” As the singer’s sheepish smile got wider and wider, he moved through “That’s How Country Boys Roll,” “Don’t” and the fitting “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right.” He must be, since the audience happily sang that chorus for him. His new single, “Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer,” was slow and surly and seemed close to the same vein as “People Are Crazy,” which was an instant crowd favorite. It only got more popular when he slipped “women are crazy” in for “people are crazy” during one round. The funny thing is that as I looked around, just as many ladies were jumping up and down as there were men nodding and smirking in approval.
Newcomer Easton Corbin got his first shot on the CMA’s big stage and received an equally warm welcome. His short set proved that the George Strait comparisons are not totally unfounded, although Corbin is a little more animated than Strait and not planted to his microphone stand. The vocal stylings are pretty close, though. He offered up his right-out-of-the-gate No. 1, “A Little More Country Than That,” and then asked fans to support his new single, “Roll With It,” in the same way. Not afraid of the large audience or the cameras, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Corbin on the festival’s big stage again next year.
Opening the show, Randy Houser provided a spirited but all-too-brief three-song set. I’ve always enjoyed watching the burly singer-songwriter work a crowd with the soulful “Anything Goes,” and to follow that, he kicked them into high gear with “Whistlin’ Dixie.” When he started things off at sunset with “Boots On,” the humidity was still stifling and showed no sign of letting up. Fans sang along and stomped their own boots to the tune — which could probably serve as the festival’s theme song — but I couldn’t help thinking that in this weather, flip-flops were way more practical.View photos from Saturday night’s concert at LP Field.