CMA Fest: Keith Urban, Florida Georgia Line Jam

Darius Rucker, Little Big Town, Sara Evans Also Perform

At the 2014 CMA Music Festival on Saturday night (June 7), this is how we rolled: Waited several hours for a severe thunderstorm to pass, then stayed up well past midnight to hear Keith Urban, Florida Georgia Line, Darius Rucker, Little Big Town and Sara Evans.

“You guys are troupers for staying and hanging in there!” Urban exclaimed shortly after taking the stage. “It’s Sunday morning now!”

He didn’t need to sing “Rainin’ on Sunday,” though, because by this point, the skies had finally dried up and the party at Nashville’s LP Field was still on. The smiling superstar kicked off his set with “Long Hot Summer,” conditions that better describe a typical day at CMA Music Festival.

All in all, Urban’s set was worth staying up for. A true musician with a magnetic personality, Urban makes entertaining at a football stadium look easy. The massive digital screens flanking the stage gave the night a sense of immediacy, too. Seriously, these screens were gigantic.

After that, he pulled from his newest album, Fuse, for “Good Thing” and “We Were Us” (with Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild taking Miranda Lambert‘s vocal on the latter song.) He announced “Somewhere in My Car” as his new single, saying it’s about “reminiscing and missing an old love,” then sang it twice for the needs of the upcoming ABC-TV special. No big deal, though, because it’s inevitable we’ll be hearing this sexy song a lot over the next three months anyway.

After singing “Cop Car,” he humbly thanked everybody for sticking around — “It means everything to us” — then brought out Florida Georgia Line on “You Gonna Fly” to conclude the night.

Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley have this entertaining thing down to a T. For being so early in their career, they comfortably work the stage, thanking fans for spending their hard-earned money and for changing the singers’ lives. Wearing a vintage Alan Jackson tour T-shirt, Kelley even took one fan’s camera and posed for a selfie from the stage.

To be sure, the glowing cell phones swaying to “Get Your Shine On” is going to make for excellent TV. And even though it’s been around for years, enthusiasm for “Cruise” hasn’t seemed to fade, at least among this crowd. Judging by overwhelming audience response, I’d guess that “This Is How We Roll” is probably going to have a really long life, too.

When it comes to radio-friendly artists, you can’t get much more crowd-pleasing than Rucker, who took the stage at 11 p.m. The inescapable “Wagon Wheel” put the “festival” feel back into this CMA Music Festival with wet fans cheerfully singing, “Rock me mama like the wind and the rain.” He also received a warm welcome for “Alright,” “Radio” and “Come Back Song.”

And surprisingly, “I Only Want to Be With You” from his Hootie & the Blowfish days elicited screams and hollers, too. You’ve got to hand it to the guy — two huge hits, 20 years apart — and you can tell by his sincere smile that he’s still having a ball.

Little Big Town took a dramatic turn with “Little White Church” and “Tornado,” then delivered their brand new single, “Day Drinking.” (It was 10 p.m. by this point but … hey, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.) They bid farewell after their breakthrough hit, “Boondocks,” and the unsinkable “Pontoon,” Whenever people decry the lack of women at country radio, let’s not forget Fairchild, who has one of the genre’s most commanding and clear voices. Kimberly Schlapman is at the top of the game, too.

Evans served as the night’s opener, reaching back to “Born to Fly” to lead the night. She has been appearing regularly at CMA Music Festival since releasing her debut album in 1997, but she’s in the unique position to mix the old stuff with the new, such as “A Little Bit Stronger” and “Slow Me Down.” Also, since the concert started 90 minutes late due to inclement weather, and a lot of people were soaked, it was nice to see a smiling face up there.

Evans is an excellent example of the rewards of a country fans’ loyalty. Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, they’ll all be back next year.

View photos from Saturday night’s CMA Music Festival concert.
Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.