Country Superstars Connect at iHeartRadio Country Festival

Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Carrie Underwood, Florida Georgia Line Delight Fans in Texas

When Hunter Hayes noted, “This is quite the party,” it must have seemed like quite the understatement for fans at the iHeartRadio Country Festival.

Presented by Clear Channel, the inaugural festival at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin featured Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line, Lady Antebellum, Jake Owen, Carrie Underwood and, of course, Hayes.

The star power was undeniable. Virtually all of the artists at the festival have headlined their own arena tours and have been the main attractions at multiday outdoor festivals throughout the nation. So how do you pack that into a concert that only lasted a little more than four hours?

With the exception of Dan + Shay, a new duo releasing their debut album Tuesday (April 1), nobody was in the mood to introduce any totally unfamiliar songs from their brand new project. With none of the artists performing more than seven songs, the biggest challenge was determining which hits to omit, so the abbreviated concert sets were briskly paced and got directly to the point. There were no huge surprises, but with a lineup like that, it was simply a matter of delivering the goods. And the goods were delivered efficiently and powerfully.

The iHeartRadio Country Festival, which was streamed live on CMT.com and the CMT Artists App, was similar in format to the nightly concerts at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville. Or for those who haven’t attended those concerts in Nashville, it was sort of like an awards show except there were no mind-numbing acceptance speeches and, fortunately, the artists were able to perform more than one or two songs.

Church opened the show on an incendiary note with the title song from his latest album, The Outsiders and continued with his current Top 10 single “Give Me Back My Hometown.” He eased in an older song, “Smoke a Little Smoke,” before offering “Cold One” and offering a passage from Bruce Springteen’s “I’m on Fire” while delivering his song, “Springsteen.”

Owen followed with abundant enthusiasm and energy during a set that included “Days of Gold,” “Anywhere With You,” “Alone With You,” “The One That Got Away” and “Barefoot Blue Jean Night.”

Lucy Hale, the Pretty Little Liars TV star who’s launching a country music career, introduced Dan + Shay, who performed “Somewhere Only We Know,” “Show You Off” and “19 You + Me,” their first single from their debut album Where It All Began.

Lady Antebellum’s polished vocal harmonies were front and center on hits such as “Compass,” “Downtown,” “I Run to You,” “Need You Now” and “We Owned the Night.”

Florida Georgia Line’s relentless touring has made them even more confident onstage, as evidenced by their set that included “It’z Just What We Do,” “Get Your Shine On,” “Round Here,” “Stay,” “This Is How We Roll” and their mega-hit “Cruise.”

Hayes’ personable demeanor onstage probably won him additional fans in Austin as he sang and showed off his formidable skills on guitar and piano on “Wild Card,” “Wanted,” “Invisible,” and “I Want Crazy.”

As the concert was reaching its third hour, Underwood kicked things into high gear with power-charged versions of “Good Girl,” “Two Black Cadillacs,” “Undo It,” “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” “Before He Cheats” and “Blown Away.”

Aldean and his band roared onstage with “Take a Little Ride,” “Tattoos on This Town,” “Dirt Road Anthem” before throwing a bit of a curveball by noting that Church and Bryan had sung on his recording of “The Only Way I Know.” Explaining that he was going to do something different, he invited Florida Georgia Line to fill in for his other two friends. Aldean closed with “My Kind of Party.”

It hasn’t taken all that long for Bryan to ascend to true superstar status, and he underscored the achievement as the night’s closing act. Opening with “That’s My Kind of Night,” he kept the crowd in a festive mood with “Rain Is a Good Thing,” “Play It Again” and “Crash My Party” before changing the mood briefly with the poignant “Drink a Beer.” After that, he got back to the sounds that made him famous with “I Don’t Want This Night to End” before finishing the evening with an extended take on “Country Girl (Shake It for Me).”

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.