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As sure as Monday follows Sunday, you can count on one night of CMA Music Fest being plagued with showers at the least and tornado warnings at the most. And Saturday night festivalgoers got to experience both.
Foot traffic headed over to the show from downtown Nashville was halted from crossing the bridge that spans the Cumberland River as lightning permeated the dark skies, but after it ceased, the poncho-clad masses began to trickle over, only to find the show was on hold as rain continued to fall. Fortunately, they were allowed to wait either in one of the covered alcoves or—for the fortunate—the club-level dining area where hockey was being broadcasted from the TV screens.
After a 90-minute delay, hosts Katie Cook, Alecia Davis and Cody Alan welcomed the fans, who began making their way back into Nashville’s LP Field. They also announced that Chris Young, who was part of the evening’s entertainment, had been pulled from the lineup and was recovering from hand surgery following an accident he suffered at home with a kitchen knife the other night.
Columbia recording artists Home Free performed the national anthem Saturday evening before Katie Cook returned to the stage to introduce the opening act, Sara Evans.
And while the sun was literally far from shining, things definitely brightened up in Nashville’s LP Field when the tan, leggy brunette hit the stage in a gray camo romper and gladiator sandals, looking like a million bucks and sounding like a lottery windfall. Sara repeatedly thanked the crowd for enduring the rain as she peeled off hit after hit, starting with fan favorite “Born to Fly.” In between, super-fans, who continued to trickle into the open stadium, despite the ongoing precipitation, roared with delight when she punctuated “As If” by gesturing to the sky during the line, I’m acting as if this blue sky is never gonna rain down on me. Sara’s set also included “A Little Bit Stronger” and her current hit, “Slow Me Down,” before she wrapped with another smash, “A Real Fine Place to Start.”
Katie Cook returned to the stage to provide brief update on the weather, telling those who had stuck it out that a meteorologist was on the premises and keeping an eye on their safety as lightning continued to flash in the distance. But the music had started and no one was showing signs of leaving as Little Big Town took the stage.
LBT’s Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook took the stage to pounding drums and gathered around just one microphone to perform their energetic hit “Little White Church.” Appropriately, they followed with their smash “Tornado” as wind and rain from the inclement weather whipped through the stadium and onto the stage, blowing their hair, dresses and fringe around them like a . . . tornado? Kimberly greeted fans enthusiastically and introduced their newest release, “Day Drinkin’,” but it was previous hits “Boondocks” and “Pontoon” that garnered the most response from the soggy audience, who sang back every word. And while we’re certain that Music Fest crowd was thrilled with their set, no one looked to be having as much fun as the quartet.
Darius Rucker was determined to bring the sunshine to his up-tempo set as well, and if the music didn’t do it for you, his omnipresent smile should have. Something must have worked though as the rain let up momentarily as he kicked off with “Alright.” Darius bounced around the stage, flashing a grin that reached the masses in the nosebleeds as he continued with tunes like “Alright,” and, somewhat slowing down for just a moment with fan favorite “This.” But he kicked it back into gear with the fun, summertime smash “Radio,” and contributed his own weather-related verse to the evening’s repertoire as he sang, Wouldn’t you know it, pouring rain, in “Comeback Song.” He also touched back on his days as the frontman for Hootie & the Blowfish by performing “I Only Wanna Be With You” before leading the now-full stadium in a chorus of the Old Crow Medicine Show hit that took him to the top of the charts, “Wagon Wheel.”
The only sleeves worn by Florida Georgia Line when they took the stage were the tattoos that both Brian Kelly and Tyler Hubbard sported as they kicked off their set rapping “It’z Just What We Do.” While the boys have never denied their urban influences of rap and hip-hop, they truly showed that they are no one-trick pony, supplying ample and competent harmonies on hits and obvious fan favorites like “Round Here” and “Shine On.” And the energy from the crowd was palpable as the award-winning duo rolled into their most recent No. 1, “This Is How We Roll,” in anticipation of a surprise visit from the song’s contributor Luke Bryan. Although Luke did not appear, it certainly didn’t dampen the already damp crowd’s spirits when the boys sang the first few words of their mega-smash “Cruise.” The refilled stadium was on their feet, glasses were hoisted into the air and the party, which had started nearly two hours before, ramped up to the next level.
At that point, the bottom could have fallen out of the sky and the stadium’s concertgoers wouldn’t have budged. Keith Urban was taking the stage on Saturday night/Sunday morning, and the greeting he received as he launched into “Long Hot Summer” was more deafening the early thunder. Keith, too, thanked the crowd, not only for enduring the less-than-perfect weather, but also for hanging out until after midnight to see his show. And they were justly rewarded as, after performing “Good Thing,” he invited Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild back to duet with him on the hit he made popular with Miranda Lambert, “We Were Us.” And no one likes bringing out guests more than the All for the Hall founder, who welcomed Florida Georgia Line back to the stage to close out the evening with the high-energy “You Gonna Fly.”
By the end of the night, the rain, although still sprinkling from the sky, was almost forgotten as the soaked country music lovers made their way back to their hotel rooms satisfied from a night of great music.