The 2013 CMA Music Festival opened its arms to pop and rock artists Saturday night (June 8) at LP Field as Kelly Clarkson and Lenny Kravitz joined country stars for the festival's third night of stadium concerts.
Photo Credit: Rick Diamond/Getty Images
Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, Florida Georgia Line and The Oak Ridge Boys filled out the musical assortment, drawing from their respective influences in '70s rock, hip-hop and traditional country. Brett Eldredge provided the national anthem to kick off the night.
With so many different musical styles taking the stage, American Idol's first winner Clarkson was right in her element. Arriving with a shoulder-length head of golden blond hair and a modest red mini-dress, her bubbly personality was the only thing that shined brighter than her high-flying voice.
Early in her first song, the upbeat hit "Stronger," Clarkson noticed she had forgotten to wear her engagement ring. The soon-to-be-married singer couldn't seem to get her mind off of the oversight, making the packed house of around 60,000 fans giggle with her as she apologized repeatedly to fiancé Brandon Blackstock from the stage.
"This is my first official set at a country ... thing," Clarkson beamed midway through her set. "I've been nervous all day because I wanted to be good for you!"
Judging from the enthusiastic reaction after songs like "Tie It Up" and "Don't Rush," which she recorded with Vince Gill for her recent album Greatest Hits: Volume One, she was much more than "good."
"Because of You," her Top 10 single from 2005, was a high point as Clarkson sang the somber tune accompanied only by a piano, wringing even more vulnerability out of the song she said she wrote at age 16.
Fans thought maybe her duet partner Reba McEntire would step out for "Because of You," but Clarkson had different ideas. She instead introduced another song and a different guest -- "Don't You Wanna Stay" with Jason Aldean.
Both singers perform the song on tour -- usually with a projection version of their counterpart shown onstage -- so hearing and seeing the real thing was a treat even for hardcore fans. The two delivered the No. 1 hit flawlessly, with Aldean taking a bow to huge cheers.
The surprises weren't over for Clarkson, though, as she announced she wanted to sing something special for the country crowd. As she nailed the first two verses of Garth Brooks' "Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)" and headed into the chorus, none other than Trisha Yearwood appeared to harmonize on her husband's track amid squeals and hollers and flash bulbs.
Urban followed Clarkson to close the show, showing off his affable voice, collection of fine guitars and expertly chosen wardrobe. His gray V-neck shirt was undone just enough to let the sun tattoo on his chest peek through, but no more.
But Urban is much more than a pretty face, as he showed by continually mixing fiery guitar leads with romantic singing, often at the same time.
"You Gonna Fly" started his set and was followed by "Long Hot Summer," as he used his short amount of stage time for music rather than banter.
He did offer a thank you to "everybody that traveled a long, long, long way to be here tonight," however, and there were plenty of those folks.
Urban shot smoldering looks at his guitar throughout "Stupid Boy," then offered up his current single "Little Bit of Everything" with its bass-laden club beat.
Fireworks exploded in perfect time with his final song, "You Look Good in My Shirt," filling the stadium with light at midnight on the dot and even drowning out Urban's spirited singing at one point. As the song wound down, Urban jumped into the crowd and worked his way through the mass of fans, camera crew in tow, all the way to a tunnel exit near the stage. There he unstrapped his sparkled silver guitar, handed it to an awestruck young fan and hopped into a vintage pickup truck that nobody had seemed to notice before. He fired it up, gave a wave and, as his band rolled on, drove right out of the stadium. Sorry folks, no encore this time!
No doubt you'll see that bit during the ABC broadcast of the CMA Music Festival special later this year.
Kravitz was given a full performance slot earlier in the night, offering radio staples from his two-decade career like "Fly Away" and "Always on the Run."
He mentioned his appearance earlier in the week on the 2013 CMT Music Awards and, building anticipation, announced, "Just in case you missed it, my friend Jason Aldean."
"Should we play something country or something rock 'n' roll?" asked Aldean.
Rock was the choice, and the two reprised their collaboration on "American Woman" from the awards show and then rolled into an added performance with Aldean taking the lead vocal on Kravitz's hit "Are You Gonna Go My Way."
Bentley loosened up the crowd prior to that, delivering "Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)" and announcing, "That's what CMA Fest is all about!"
His audience started a spontaneous chant of "U.S.A." during the thoughtful "Home," which Bentley dedicated to those serving in the military. Bentley later introduced one of Nashville's top songwriters, Hillary Lindsey, to sing with him on his smoky new single "Bourbon in Kentucky."
Fresh from earning two buckles at their first-ever CMT Music Awards, Florida Georgia Line proved to be a strong duo with an already-solid connection with fans. Introducing their upcoming single, "'Round Here," Tyler Hubbard showed his ability as a frontman while Brian Kelley added the perfect amount of depth and hype to their vocals. With guitars slung low and energy to spare, FGL rapped in a lyrical flow that is beginning to make the burgeoning country rap field sound and feel more natural.
They delivered their breakout hit "Cruise" with confidence and the crowd singing along, letting fans take over verses like "fire it up, let's go get this thing stuck" with joyous abandon. Just before they left the stage, Hubbard and Kelley quieted the band and called for the huge audience to sing one last time.
With a unity not seen in many church choirs, a football stadium full of country fans rose to the occasion and sang every word of the song's catchy chorus.
Check out photos from Saturday night at LP Field and view complete coverage from the 2013 CMA Music Festival.