Kid Rock had seven tough acts to follow at Friday night's (June 12) CMA Music Festival show at Nashville's LP Field, but he quickly had the tired crowd on its feet and screaming for more as midnight approached.
Photo Credit: Ed Rode
The country-tinged rock 'n' roller was originally intended to be a surprise guest. However, his appearance was announced the night before, and the word had spread well before Friday's concert started.
The acts leading up to Kid Rock, in order of appearance, were Luke Bryan, Little Big Town, Rodney Atkins, Lady Antebellum, Jake Owen, the Zac Brown Band and Jason Aldean. Bryan came on stage at 7:40 p.m. and Kid Rock exited at 12:05 a.m.
At previous festivals, the CMA used two side-by-side stages to shorten the downtime between acts. This year, there's only one stage, a factor that makes the production limp along.
Propelled by a band that included a saxophonist and two female backup singers, Kid Rock roared on with "Son of Detroit," a crowd-pleaser that tips its hat to such country icons as Hank Williams Jr., Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.
Then, after romping through the vivid imagery of "Cowboy," he abandoned his frenetic pacing to sit on a stool and croon his sad and world-weary "Picture." A verse into the song, he paused and brought out Martina McBride to sing with him.
It was a glorious pairing as the two proceeded to squeeze out every forlorn emotion the lyrics suggested -- and it drew the loudest, most sustained applause of the evening.
Kid Rock wrapped up his set with "All Summer Long," which he interrupted by acknowledging that America is going through tough economic times and thanking the fans "for spending your hard-earned money to see us play for you."
As the song was ending, the festival fireworks display began.
The crowd, which looked to be larger than those at previous festivals, gave every act an enthusiastic reception, but it was particularly demonstrative toward Aldean, Lady Antebellum and the Zac Brown Band.
Aldean strutted the stage like an amiable Mick Jagger -- pure attitude in boots and a black Hank Jr. T-shirt. He would have been fun to watch even with his sound off. But he delivered the sonic goods to perfection, rolling through "Johnny Cash," "Amarillo Sky," "Why," "She's Country" and then capping it all off with his first hit, "Hicktown."
Lady Antebellum looks so much like a well-scrubbed Christian music trio, it's always sort of surprising when they rock out instead of testify. Like the most successful Christian acts, though, they build their performance on a substratum of eroticism, which, in their case, is conveyed chiefly through the teasing, insinuating stage antics of lead singers Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott.
Add the fact that they sing everything with evangelical fervor and pound their lyrics home with a throbbing, insistent, almost hypnotic drum beat, it's easy to see why they've come so far so fast. Each song sounds like a proclamation to the world.
Their set started with "Love Don't Live Here" and progressed through "Long Gone," "I Run to You," a cover of John Mellencamp's "Hurts So Good" (which has become one of their concert staples) and rang off with "Lookin' for a Good Time."
Even though the Zac Brown Band is a recent arrival on the country scene, the crowd seemed to know its music. The band doesn't have a particularly arresting stage presence, but it plays with enough ferocity to make up for any lack of visual style.
After bowing in with "Whatever It Is," the band barreled into "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," which Brown ramped up with some lightning guitar picking. Then it was on to the tropical tones of "Toes," which really got the crowd going with the line, "Gonna lay in the hot sun and roll me a fat one." The band's finale was "Chicken Fried."
Atkins had his hordes of partisans as well -- and he saluted them with his opening number, "These Are My People." Next up was his new single, "15 Minutes," which is already well on its way to becoming a bar standard. He rounded out his set with the chart-proven favorites, "Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)," "Watching You," "It's America" and "If You're Going Through Hell."
"This is my first year of playing on the big stage," Owen marveled. "I can't tell you how much this means to me."
Maybe he couldn't tell, but he did a great job of showing it. Owen has become a master at connecting with his audience on a one-to-one level. He's perfected the broad grin and intense stare that have served Garth Brooks so effectively.
Owen struck a properly festive mod with "Yee Haw" and "Something About a Woman." He showed his sensitive side with "Startin' With Me" and "Don't Think I Can't Love You" and sang his farewell via his current single, "Eight Second Ride."
Little Big Town captured the crowd with "Fine Line" and held it through "Bones" and "Vapor." But the clear favorite was the band's closing number, the ominously chorded "Boondocks." LBT's vocal harmonies were stunning.
In the brief 20 minutes allotted him, Bryan did a superb job of warming up an audience that was still trickling into the stadium. He came on with the goofily boastful "Country Man" and then shifted to the more contemplative "We Rode in Trucks."
For his third number, Bryan sang his current single, "Do I," which he co-wrote with Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood. He closed with his rollicking first hit, "All My Friends Say."
View photos from Friday night's concert.