CMA Music Festival: Brad Paisley, Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum Sing Goodbye at LP Field

Hunter Hayes, Thomas Rhett, Charlie Daniels Band, Oak Ridge Boys Set the Mood for Festival's Final Concert

When fans gathered Sunday evening (June 8) at Nashville’s LP Field to see Brad Paisley, Lady Antebellum, the Zac Brown Band and others perform the final show of the 2014 CMA Music Festival, nature seemed to be apologizing for its bad manners of the previous night.

Whereas rain delayed Saturday’s concert for a hour and a-half, The Oak Ridge Boys, Charlie Daniels, Thomas Rhett, Hunter Hayes and the aforementioned acts had clear skies and mild breezes Sunday under which to strut their musical stuff.

Let the record show that Lady A delivered a particularly high-spirited and flawless set, perhaps one of the most enrapturing performances in recent festival history. The trio’s sound is far from traditional country music. But whatever its stylistic realm may be, it clearly reigns there.

All of the acts were in full flower. Such was the power of the Oak Ridge Boys (who sang the national anthem) and the Charlie Daniels Band that the crowd cheered them, embraced them and sang heartily along with them like the old friends they’ve become.

Rhett and Hayes, who are just beginning to acclimate themselves to stadium demands, worked the stage with confidence and flair, each buoyed by a sheaf of chart hits that most of the audience appeared to have committed to memory.

Zac Brown was the genial and monumentally gifted uncle of the evening. With his killer band and welcoming personality, he quickly transformed his mammoth surroundings into a cozy backyard singalong.

As in times past, Paisley closed the show — and the festival — with the same frenetic energy and best-pal friendliness that launched his career 15 years ago.

Crowds at LP Field tend to thin out somewhat as the evening wears on. But the anticipation of seeing Paisley — plus a natural reluctance to have the good times end — kept the crowd largely intact until he brought down the curtain at midnight with a guitar-stretched rendition of “Alcohol.”

Lady A was the fourth act to take the stage, emerging about an hour after the show got underway. If Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood weren’t having the time of their lives there in the spotlight, their acting was even more impressive than their singing.

The cameras transmitting the band’s images to the giant screens at each side of the stage focused mostly on Scott, who seemed thoroughly invested in the lyrics she sang, grinning and gesturing as though the words were coursing through her mind for the first time.

The long and limber Kelley wove in and out of the picture, looking for the world like he might take flight at any moment. Haywood was the anchoring instrumentalist who kept it all together with a more subdued brand of professionalism.

Opening with “Compass,” they moved on through “American Honey” and their current single, “Bartender.”

By the time they got into “Need You Now,” the band was pumping out a rich, rolling, volcanic sound that seemed to be heralding something epochal. This wasn’t just the bass and drums working to capacity and filling in for real music. It was layered and wholly enveloping melody.

Lady A finished with “Downtown” and “We Owned the Night.” Seldom have such fresh-faced singers treated the themes of drunkenness, restlessness and exhibitionism with such convivial buoyancy.

The crowd jumped and yelled for more. Alas, this was a no-encore zone.

The Zac Brown Band blazed through “The Wind” to get the crowd’s attention before hitting the bullseye with a faithful retread of David Allan Coe’s 1975 hit, “You Never Even Called Me by My Name.”

And — wonder of wonders — huge segments of the crowd knew the words and belted them out.

Next came “Sweet Annie,” after which Brown called in from the wings Bon Jovi’s longtime lead guitarist Richie Sambora to take the lead in singing and playing Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

Brown then shepherded his segment home with “Colder Weather,” “All Alright” and the ever-tasty “Chicken Fried.”

“We love you. Come see us,” he shouted as he took his leave.

Rhett had a set list of familiar tunes with which to enliven the crowd. And that it did, starting with “Middle Class White Boy,” his autobiographical gambit, and rocking on through “It Goes Like This,” “Beer With Jesus,” “Make Me Wanna,” “Get Me Some of That” and “Something to Do With My Hands.”

He told the crowd that when he was a teenager he sat in the “nosebleed” section of LP Field, taking in the music, just as they were now.

He invited them to light up and hold up their lighters or cell phones, In an instant, the gigantic bowl seemed populated throughout by fireflies.

Hayes also arrived with several hits in tow. Clapping his hands over his head and jumping up and down with kangaroo abandon, he invited the crowd to join him as kicked things off with “Storyline,” the title song of his new album.

A dazzling instrumentalist, he played a series of acoustic and electric guitars, but he sat — and stood — at a piano to deliver “Wanted,” his first No. 1.

On he went to “Tattoo,” his current single, and then to “Invisible,” which he introduced by noting, “I’ve always been obsessed by music. I’ve always been an outcast.”

“Invisible” appears designed to serve the same healing function for social outcasts that Taylor Swift’s “Mean” does for those who’ve been bullied.

Hayes bowed out with “I Want Crazy,” and the crowd joined in with that sentiment.

It was still light when the Charlie Daniels Band took the stage. Lest anyone forget his origins, Daniels ignited his four-song set with “Southern Boy.”

Pointing out that he is now in his 56th year as a professional musician, 77-year-old Daniels beckoned the band into “Tangled Up in Blue,” from his current Bob Dylan tribute album, Off the Grid: Doin’ It Dylan.

From there he journeyed to “El Toreador,” the strip of Spanish melody that gave each member of the band the chance to show his best musical licks.

“If we left here without playing this, you’d be mad at us,” Daniels said, bringing a roar from the crowd even before he played the first note of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

Although “Devil” was a hit 35 years ago and Daniels has played it thousands of times since, he still delivers the soul-gambling fiddle tune with tornadic force. The crowd stomped and screamed as though hearing it for the first time.

Paisley spent about half of his 35-minute set down in front of the stage, going face to face with fans.

His opener was “Water,” followed by a whirl through “Old Alabama” (with his fiddler accompanying into the crowd), the irresistibly loony “Ticks,” “Beat This Summer,” “River Bank,” (his current single), “Mud on the Tires” and, finally and fittingly, “Alcohol.”

“We’re gonna beat the record for the most selfies taken,” he announced. He then proceeded to grab cell phone cameras from a forest of outstretched hands and attempt to fulfill his prophecy.

Paisley worked the crowd so closely, apprehensive security guards moved up to surround him. But it was all good fun, and even before Paisley left the stage, fireworks were booming a valedictory as the music-saturated throng heading for the exits.

With the last flash of the fireworks, the 2014 CMA Music Festival was a wrap.

View photos from Sunday night’s concert at the CMA Music Festival.
Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to