The more than 50,000 fans at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium on Thursday (June 8) didn’t see it coming.
But they all came unglued when the CMA’s reigning entertainer of the year Garth Brooks stepped into the spotlight for a surprise performance on night one of the CMA Music Festival. The concert moment happened early in the night after Brett Eldredge‘s set when fans were expecting the next scheduled performer, Cole Swindell.
Brooks played for 30 minutes delivering his latest single “Ask Me How I Know” and several of his biggest hits, “Thunder Rolls,” “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” “The Dance,” “The River” and “Friends in Low Places.” The sound of a stadium full of fans singing along to every word made Brooks smile from ear to ear throughout most of his show.
Opening night went into Friday (June 9) as the concert’s final performer Luke Bryan wrapped his set around 12:45 a.m. But fans didn’t mind. They danced like it was still early in the evening when he closed the night with “Country Girl (Shake It for Me).”
The stadium crowd skewed mostly toward female fans who were there to see Miranda Lambert. She offered selections from her latest album The Weight of These Wings, hits “Mama’s Broken Heart,” “Automatic” and some Texas sass on “Little Red Wagon.” When it was time to sing the lyrics, “I live in Oklahoma,” she changed the words to, “I got the hell out of Oklahoma,” in reference to leaving the home state of her ex husband Blake Shelton.
Eldredge’s performance included the CMA Fest premiere of his new song “The Long Way,” from his forthcoming self-titled album, arriving Aug. 4.
Dierks Bentley‘s set was a taste of his What the Hell Tour and featured several hits from his latest albums Black and Riser. He brought out Swindell for a surprise collaboration on his latest single “Flatliner.”
Swindell followed Brooks with his biggest No. 1s including “You Ain’t Worth the Whiskey,” “You Should Be Here,” and “Chillin’ It.” Surprise guest Lauren Alaina joined him onstage for “Middle of a Memory.”
Kenny Rogers kicked off the night with a moving set his signature songs “The Gambler,” “Lucille,” “Islands in the Stream” and “You Can’t Make Old Friends” with special guest Linda Davis.
Here are scenes from Thursday night (June 8):
Kenny Rogers and Linda Davis
Cole Swindell and Lauren Alaina
Cole Swindell and Dierks Bentley