Another sold-out crowd greeted the performers at the 2012 CMA Music Festival's LP Field as Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, The Band Perry, Jake Owen, Brantley Gilbert and Ronnie Milsap all delighted the crowd on a beautiful Friday night (June 8) while the temperature hovered around 70 degrees.
Photo Credit: Ed Rode
Randy Houser and The Voice's Gwen Sebastian also contributed short sets from an acoustic stage at the Tennessee Titans' football stadium.
Underwood's soaring voice highlighted the lineup and the night -- she showed up with all the extra energy she gained at the CMT Music Awards two nights before -- but her supporting cast did more than just warm up the crowd.
Starting off with a tag team of classic country stars, the Oak Ridge Boys led the crowd in the national anthem and their signature hit, "Elvira," before Milsap took the stage just as the sun was going down.
Many young fans seemed unsure of who the piano-playing singer was, but his songs stood the test of a cellphone-distracted audience as Milsap had the crowd swaying along to "Stranger in My House" and "Stand by My Woman Man" in no time.
Following Milsap was the hard charging Gilbert and his equally hard-nosed band. He may be the only country artist employing a double kick drum, an instrument that is mostly used in hard rock and heavy metal. But as he sings in his hit song, "Country Must Be Country Wide," the genre is spreading its wings, and fans in the stadium loved the heavier approach.
With the arched stage looming like a hillbilly version of Radio City Music Hall, Gilbert threw his hands up and shouted, "Let's raise some hell!" before jumping into "My Kinda Party," the tune he wrote and Jason Aldean took to No. 1. He backed that up with another Aldean hit, the infectious "Dirt Road Anthem," and showed his softer side on "You Don't Know Her Like I Do."
After a quick equipment change, Owen took the stage next and delivered one of the most energetic sets of the night.
Sprinting across the stage and all but doing backflips, Owen delighted the crowd and showed he's still a smooth ladies man, even if he just got married about a month ago.
"Eight Second Ride" started things off, and though it drew a huge response from fans, there was much more to come. Owen sat at the edge of the stage and let the crowd sing the signature lines in "Yee Haw," then brought the entire stadium to its feet for his latest single, "Alone With You."
The girls especially loved that tune and went completely wild when the Florida native added an extra line to the end of the song. After "But you kiss me when you're drunk," he crooned, "I won't be your booty call." Oh, to be young.
Owen also introduced a new song, a regret-filled tune, "The One That Got Away," focusing on a brief summer fling which could have been so much more.
"Don't Think I Can't Love You" found the audience so enthralled with Owen that he actually took his chances with a little crowd surfing, which by country standards, went extremely well.
Owen was deposited back onstage just in time to close his set with an extended rendition of "Barefoot Blue Jean Night." Feeling like a career-defining song, it featured sing-alongs, some impromptu rapping and an entire stadium full of arm-waving fans. It almost appeared as though not one fan was left sitting as Owen left the stage.
Not to be outdone, The Band Perry took over and showed off their tight family harmonies as Kimberly Perry stalked around the stage with her brothers at her side. Their set was a sweet affair, even though much of their subject matter seems to deal with brokenness.
"You Lie," "Postcard From Paris" and "If I Die Young" are all decidedly downers. But sung with smiles and lots of waves to the front few rows, they still seemed upbeat. "All Your Life" and a cover of Queen's "Fat Bottom Girls," on the other hand, were just for kicks.
Up next was Shelton, who has been busy this week recording tracks for his upcoming album. Even on a night when he seemed dead tired from working in the studio, the tall singer mustered the energy for a few toasts and some fine singing.
Going on at about 10:20 p.m., the beach balls came out and the party officially hit full swing with the opening notes of "All About Tonight." He raised his glass once more and delivered a picture-perfect rendition of "God Gave Me You," with his backing band deeply in the pocket of a smooth groove.
"There is a crap-load of country fans out there," deadpanned the fun-loving Oklahoman.
"Drink on It" was the logical follow-up, and even at lower volumes, Shelton's voice came across full and clear.
He only had one request during his time onstage, and it was fulfilled whole-heartedly.
"Just one time," he said, "I want everyone here to sing every word of one of my songs."
Wisely, he picked the smash hit "Honey Bee." Shelton fetched his glass and departed the stage on that note, with a loving crowd behind him.
The moment the entire stadium seemed to be waiting for arrived as Kimberly Perry introduced Underwood to a roaring welcome.
Dressed in an American flag tank-top and sparkly short shorts, Underwood skipped out onstage and jumped straight into her current No. 1 single, "Good Girl."
With the crowd bathed in red lights and strobes flashing all over the stage, she seemed extra energetic, maybe because she won CMT video of the year and collaborative video of the year with Brad Paisley two days earlier at the CMT Music Awards.
"I came [to the CMA Music Festival] once when I was 14 and got to do all the things that you're doing," Underwood announced to the crowd. "It's such an honor to take this stage. I just have one question -- are there any all-American girls out there?"
"All-American Girl" and "Jesus, Take the Wheel" followed in quick succession, showing off Underwood's huge voice and ability to stretch out a high note for what seems like minutes.
She also introduced "Blown Away," the title track of her new album. Its story revolves around a dysfunctional family and the young girl who secretly wished for a tornado to come carry them away. With a power pop feel to it, the song showed Underwood reaching out a little further to the mainstream audience and featured a digital tornado swirling behind her band on large video screens.
As her set came to an end, she joked about "Last Name" by saying, "This is what not to do at CMA Fest!"
She offered a few more soaring high notes on "Before He Cheats," took one last look at the massive audience and skipped happily off the stage, a job well done.
Fireworks rang out as the stadium emptied around midnight, the CMA party horde moving on to find one last neon nightcap before getting up and doing it all over again the next day.
View photos from Friday night's concert at the CMA Music Festival.
Check out complete coverage of the 2012 CMA Music Festival.