Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw Kick Off CMA Music Festival’s Nightly Concerts

Alabama Make Their First CMA Appearance Since 1995

Luke Bryan and Tim McGraw bookended the opening night of the 2014 CMA Music Festival concerts at Nashville’s LP Field on Thursday (June 5), getting a little help from country music hall of famers Alabama and some surprise guests.

Also performing on the massive stadium stage were Brantley Gilbert, Rascal Flatts and Dierks Bentley.

By the time McGraw strutted off the stage and fireworks filled the sky just after midnight, fans had been treated to three generations of country hits. Of course, that puts McGraw right in the middle, but judging by his toned physique, he’s not anywhere near settling into his golden years.

It had already been a long night when he took the stage, so McGraw wisely jumped right in to the up-tempo numbers with “One of Those Nights.” Wearing an fitted gray T-shirt and tattered jeans with his signature black cowboy hat, the superstar worked the entire CMA stage and then some, stalking left and right all the way to the edge of the stands on songs like “Real Good Man,” “I Like It, I Love It,” “Truck Yeah” and an optimistic new tune called “Keep on Truckin’.”

He finished the night off with the uplifting “Live Like You Were Dying,” but the climax had come a few songs earlier when McGraw’s gorgeous wife Faith Hill stepped out onstage to duet with her husband on their new single, “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s.” With supreme confidence, he grabbed her rear end as she left the stage to hoots and howls from the crowd and a bashful look from Hill.

“I’m a lucky man!” he cried.

On the other side of the spectrum, Bryan dedicated his set to romance with no strings attached.

“That’s My Kind of Night” kicked off his frisky set, complete with wiggling and grinding and cat calls from the tens of thousands who turned out to wiggle along. At one point, Bryan sang a line referencing Conway Twitty, then somehow made an erotic act out of turning his ball cap around. Twitty, that ladies’ man from another era, would have been proud.

Bryan’s set was the longest of the night despite his No. 2 spot in the lineup, and he continued on with “Rain Is a Good Thing,” “Play It Again,” “Drink a Beer,” “I Don’t Want This Night to End” and of course, “Country Girl (Shake It for Me).”

He turned playful toward the close of his set, flirting with the front row and laughing at himself after a few particularly suggestive dance moves.

Bryan also introduced the CMA crowd to the next single from his album Crash My Party. Written by Cole Swindell and Michael Carter, “Roller Coaster” turned out to be a summer jam about falling in love on a vacation at the beach. One week was all it took to twist him up like a roller coaster.

At the end, he grabbed a cold can of beer and proposed a toast.

“I’ve been waiting all year to hear this crowd,” he said.

Of course, the crowd obliged with a massive cheer.

Beginning the night around 8 p.m. was Alabama, making their first CMA Festival appearance since 1995 when the event was still called Fan Fair and held at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds.

“We came here for one reason and one reason only,” singer Randy Owen told the stadium as it filled up. “To party with y’all!”

The ’80s superstars performed four songs and made the most of their time with fan favorites like “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas,” “I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)” and “Mountain Music.”

In fine form vocally and musically, the legendary group pulled off one of the more complicated arrangements of the night when they jumped into “Dixieland Delight,” then transitioned into “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and eventually made their way back to the original number with a tricky coda. The talented cousins have not lost their edge.

Owen took special care to remind folks that this week marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe during World War II.

Later on, Gilbert added a touch of metal mayhem to the show with his growling delivery on “Bottoms Up,” “Dirt Road Anthem” (which included an extra verse) and “Kick It in the Sticks.” Decked out in wallet chains and tattoos, Gilbert looks tough but actually has a very gentle demeanor.

He left the stage after “Country Must Be Country Wide,” but first dazzled the stadium crowd by inviting Thomas Rhett and Justin Moore to the stage to live it up on their latest single, “Small Town Throwdown.”

Rascal Flatts turned in a typically solid performance leaning on harmony and rich musical textures, at one point dropping all their instruments and gathering at the front of the stage to sing a few songs as a purely vocal group. They choose “Love You Out Loud” and a cover of Pharrell’s megahit “Happy” for the segment. Wise choices, indeed, and executed with skill.

From there Gary LeVox’s delicate but powerful vocals took over on songs like “Rewind,” “Bless the Broken Road,” “Summer Nights” and a brand new song with some edge to it, the club beats-influenced “Payback.”

Bentley’s set was smooth like the jetliner in his latest number “Drunk on a Plane,” except for one thing. After pumping the crowd up with “Am I the Only One” and just before “Tip It on Back,” the handsome singer said he was feeling a bit parched. Pulling a starry-eyed girl in her mid-20s out of the crowd, Bentley took two shots off a tray and offered one to her.

Some confusion ensued as they tried to talk over the music. Then, suddenly, Bentley downs both shots in one gulp.

“What do you mean you don’t drink?” he teases. “This is country music!”

I’ll honestly bet that has never happened to Bentley before.

The CMA Music Festival concerts at LP Field continue Friday night (June 6) with performances by Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Eric Church, Jason Aldean, The Band Perry and Travis Tritt.

View photos from Thursday’s concert at the CMA Music Festival.
Writer/producer for and CMT Edge. He's been to Georgia on a fast train. He wasn't born no yesterday.