Those affected by the act of terror in Orlando, Florida, were top of mind as the 2016 CMA Music Festival came to a close at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium on Sunday night (June 12). The final night featured sets by Little Big Town, Luke Bryan, Keith Urban, Thomas Rhett, Brett Eldredge and Exile.
As the sun set over downtown and the music got underway at the stadium, across the river at Public Square Park, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry led a candlelit vigil to remember the 50 victims killed and 53 injured in the mass shooting inside the Orlando gay nightclub Pulse early Sunday morning (June 12). The gunman Omar Mateen, 29, died in an exchange of gunfire with police.
The event is being called the deadliest terror attack since 9/11, and it is the deadliest shootings in U.S. history ahead of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 and the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012.
There was pin drop silence as Ray Stevens opened the night with the National Anthem.
Exile’s 20-minute set included their 1978 pop hit “Kiss You All Over.” an a capella version of “People Get Ready” by the Impressions.
Little Big Town dedicated an uplifting performance of the Wanderlust track “Miracle” with Pharrell Williams to a city and a nation in mourning.
“Tonight, it would not be right if we did not sing this next song for our friends in Orlando,” Karen Fairchild said. “We realized it was a divine appointment that we get to sing this for you guys because we need a change. We need it here. And love’s bigger than the hate, and no one is going to tell us where we sing, what we sing and when we do it. So, Nashville, we need a miracle tonight. Show Orlando all the love you have.”
In the festival press conferences backstage, Fairchild spoke for the band when she called, music “the ultimate healer.”
“We will not let the haters destroy what we love and enjoy,” she said. “We will not live in fear of this. And tonight is going to be a celebration of life and love and harmony. And we’re going to remember those lives that were lost, and we’re going to celebrate them tonight and we are not going to let the negative tell us what we’re going to do.”
Little Big Town’s portion of the show included their first No. 1 “Pontoon,” “Day Drinking,” “Wish We Could Stay All Night,” “Girl Crush” and “Boondocks.
Thomas Rhett got everyone in the stadium dancing with his six-song set that included five No. 1s “Make Me Wanna,” “Get Me Some of That,” “Die a Happy Man,” “T-Shirt,” “Crash and Burn” and the Tangled Up track “Vacation” with Eldredge.
Next, Eldredge performed four No. 1 hits and his next single “I Wanna Be That Song.” Rhett returned onstage to help close Eldredge’s set with their Illinois collaboration “You Can’t Stop Me.”
The night’s emcee CMT’s Cody Alan and Still The King star Billy Ray Cyrus introduced Urban.
Urban entertained with “Where the Black Top Ends,” “Somewhere in My Car” and five Ripcord songs including his latest No. 1 “Break on Me.”
Bryan’s set featured four No. 1s plus hit current single “Huntin’, “Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day.” During “Drink a Beer,” he called for a moment of silence to pray for the victims’ families.
Those who played the Nissan Stadium shows did so for free with proceeds from the ticket sales benefiting music education through the CMA Foundation. Eldredge and Rhett will co-host CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock, a concert special airing Aug. 3 on ABC.
Tickets to the 2017 festival go on sale July 11 through Ticketmaster.