You could trim the chorus of Reba McEntire's latest No. 1 hit, "Turn On the Radio," and use the first few lines as the CMA Music Festival's theme song:
Photo Credit: Ed Rode
Well, you can hear me
On the radio.
You wanna turn me on,
Turn on your stereo.
You can sing along
While they're playin' our song.
By the time she sang that catchy tune on Friday night (June 10) at LP Field in downtown Nashville, tens of thousands of fans had already enjoyed big hits by radio staples like Keith Urban, Sugarland, Lady Antebellum and Dierks Bentley. Meanwhile, Jake Owen and Shania Twain made surprise appearances, newcomer Ashton Shepherd warmed up the crowd and show host Clay Walker played a few acoustic songs just prior to McEntire's set.
McEntire reached back to 1994 for her opening number, the infectious "Why Haven't I Heard From You." Because the show ran overtime, she played until well past midnight. However, the crowd mostly stuck around, fortunate to hear "Consider Me Gone," "Is There Life Out There" and "Turn On the Radio." She concluded with a retake of her new single, "When Love Gets a Hold of You," because she said she got a frog in her throat on a high note the first time around. Presumably the tune will be included in the upcoming ABC special about the festival, so she wanted to get it right.
Although the repetition made for an awkward conclusion, McEntire correctly observed it had been a "spectacular" show. Fans clearly agreed, judging by the texts and tweets scrolling on the video screen beside the stage between long set changes. In particular, everybody seems incredibly pumped up about Sugarland's rousing set and Urban's surprise duet with Owen.
To get in the zone, Urban relied on his newest material, like "Put You in a Song," "You Gonna Fly," "Without You" and "Long Hot Summer" -- the latter being quite appropriate on a steamy night. He brought out Owen, who will open Urban's tour dates this year, for an unexpected duet of Owen's romantic hit, "Don't Think I Can't Love You." As they dug into the emotions of the song, it's impossible to say whether the performers or the fans were enjoying it more.
Urban situated himself on the lip of the stage to start "Somebody Like You," then made a bee line for the rafters. With a microphone stand and deliriously happy fans behind him taking photos and texting their friends, Urban exclaimed, "It's a hundred degrees here!" Then he had the crowd repeat a message for the folks back home: "Hi, world! Wish you were here! At CMA Music Fest!" Of course, every artist loves their fans. That's the impetus for the whole event, yet it's rare to see a performer thrive on audience energy to such a degree. Fans are his lifeblood.
In recent years, Sugarland's tours have been heavy on special effects and stage props. Take all that away, though, and you almost don't miss it because of Jennifer Nettles' dynamic presence. Your eyes just want to follow her everywhere. She was wearing incredibly bright red pants, so you didn't even need the gigantic screens to trace her steps.
The upbeat crowd bopped along with "Stuck Like Glue" and "All I Want to Do," yet for those only aware of the duo's hit songs, the power ballad "Tonight" must have been quite a surprise. Nettles nailed it. When she opens her throat and downplays the twang, she's a strong belter. They also cranked up a medley of cover tunes (from "Forget You" to "9 to 5") amid "Everyday America." Local drum corps Music City Mystique added a unique layer of percussion to the tune of "Find the Beat Again," which led to "Something More," one of the duo's earliest hits.
With unbeatable energy, Sugarland rose to the challenge of having to follow Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" and their own surprise introduction by Shania Twain. When the first few notes of "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" blasted over the sound system, the place went nuts. Alas, Twain did not sing, yet she used words like "fantastic," "amazing" and "having the time of my life" to briefly describe her experience this week. It is so refreshing to have her back in the mix.
Three months away from an album release, Lady Antebellum sprinkled in two new songs -- the invigorating anthem "We Own the Night" and the sweeping "Just a Kiss." The crowd enjoyed "Our Kind of Love," "I Run to You" and "American Honey," too, yet the pulsating "Need You Now" is their not-so-secret weapon, immediately bringing fans to their feet. Charles Kelley asked everybody to sing the chorus just one last time. Of course, everybody knew the words. At this point, how could you not?
Dierks Bentley is also building up to an album release, so he treated fans to its first single, the party-themed "Am I the Only One." Beyond that, he stuck to feel-good favorites like "Feel That Fire," "Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)," "Up on the Ridge" and "Sideways." He looked completely comfortable up there, wearing a backward ball cap, T-shirt and jeans. Obviously having a blast, he constantly moved from side to side of the big stage situated in the end zone. If the stage had run the entire length of the football field instead, you can guarantee he would be racing from end to end there, too.
Shepherd is a natural-born talker, although she kept her chatter to a minimum for her three-song set. Fans certainly recognized "Takin' Off This Pain" (which begins with a line about a cold beer in her right hand) and "Sounds So Good" (with the cooler slushin'). Meanwhile her sassy new single, "Look It Up," earned hollers of recognition. Shepherd cheerfully told the crowd she was celebrating her sixth wedding anniversary that very night and that she's having a baby in a few months. With such happy news to share, she merely gave the audience two more big reasons to celebrate the kind of star-studded Nashville night that only takes place during CMA Music Festival.
View photos from Friday night's concert at LP Field.