Jun 8, 201211:03 AMThe Telegraph
The Premier Blog of the West
CMA Music Fest 2012: Day 1 Highlights
The first few hours of a multi-day music event always breed chaos in the mind. The CMA Music Festival’s no exception.
With multiple outdoor stages spread out all over Nashville’s downtown area, marketing street teams pushing their materials on anyone who glances sideways, exhibit halls filled with autograph signings and promo booths, scalpers trying desperately to buy and sell tickets, thousands of fans competing for sidewalk space in a city with too-few closed streets … well, you get the idea. “Overwhelming” doesn’t do it justice.
Somewhere during Day 1, though, it all starts to click. The moments of clarity – and bliss, even – come unexpectedly. Like the moment when we power-walked up 5th street, trying to get away from the madness of Bridgestone Arena and the surrounding blocks of human cattle calls, and suddenly laid eyes upon the beautifully preserved red brick of the Ryman Auditorium. So much musical history in that there building.
Or, how about when we arrived at the packed Riverfront Stage overlooking the Cumberland, and saw a Kenny Chesney lookalike, posing with unknowing drunk people and loving every minute of it.
“Don’t those people realize that isn’t Kenny?” a lemonade stand owner remarked as we ordered a large, freshly-squeezed. “I swear; he gets them every time.”
What can we say, lemonade man? The fans here are rabid, and sometimes their love for country music stars clouds their judgment. Not that they were lacking access to real-life stars at any moment of Day 1. The Riverfront Stage alone -- with comfortable grass on which to sit and big screens providing good views for everyone – played host to bright up-and-comers and well respected veterans.
Lee Brice kept the folks singing along to his recent hits “A Woman Like You” and “Hard To Love.” He even did his own rendition of “Crazy Girl,” the smash he co-wrote for Eli Young Band. Brice was followed by traditional Texas crooner Neal McCoy, who may have put on the most purely entertaining show we saw all day.
McCoy’s well past the point of being one of country music’s hot commodities, and he joked about it on stage: “We’ve got a new album out there, and ain’t many of y’all bought it. We’ve got ways of tracking that stuff, you know.” But, in some ways, not being a current chart king frees him up to just have fun with his impressive catalogue of ‘90s hits. “Wink,” “The Shake,” and “You Gotta Love That” surely won him a few younger fans during his set, and the older ones got plenty of pleasure from his tie-dyed shirt that read “Fan Fair 25 Years In A Row.” He also proved to have much more energy than half the acts we saw, climbing up a lighting rig like it was nothing. The biggest laugh of his time on stage came when he urged the crowd to sing with him: “OK, now let’s hear just the white people.”
Highlighting the bill’s diversity, newcomer Dustin Lynch followed McCoy on the Riverfront Stage and debuted several songs from his upcoming first album. If you thought all his material would be as earnest and heartfelt as his single “Cowboys and Angels,” you might need a reality check. The current formula for industry domination seems to require songs about sexy girls and vehicles (Lynch sang a song called “She Cranks My Tractor”), and tunes heralding the simple, small-town life (he sang one about his hometown of Tullahoma, Tennessee). Lynch has the look and the pipes to take him far, though.
Later on, we joined 50,000 fans across the river at LP Field, home of the CMA Fest’s big nightly shows. The legendary Glen Campbell went on first, doing “Gentle On My Mind,” “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Galveston,” and a couple more. He sounded great, despite the fact that he’s on what he says is his farewell tour. Let’s hope he finds the fight and good fortune to keep on going.
Also taking the giant LP stage last night were Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, Zac Brown Band, and Brad Paisley. Lambert got the ladies in the crowd riled up early on with “Gunpowder & Lead,” and she brought tears to more than a few eyes with a rousing rendition of the current hit “Over You.” She even trotted out them Pistol Annies for a couple of songs. It must be gratifying for Nashville’s songwriting set to see Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe play a stadium. They’ve both toiled in the scene and paid more than their share of dues. Can’t wait for their next solo albums to come.
Nobody at LP brought the folks to their feet the way Jason Aldean did. He’s on top of the country world at the moment, and everyone around us honored that by singing every word to every song. The Georgia native’s got a distinctive voice and a humble-pie attitude; his songs embrace the aforementioned formula for which Dustin Lynch seems to be aiming. And, it’s what seems to appeal most to the CMA Festival crowds. Take that as you will, but remember that it’s not the only thing going in Nashville this weekend. Our not-so-secret goal in the next few days is to try to search out a few anti-Aldeans. We’ll certainly let you know how it goes.
Follow our quest for the best at CMA Fest on Twitter: @CI_Magazine.