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CMA FEST 2019 – The Nissan Stadium Shows (and me)

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

As I sit here pondering what to say about the Nissan Shows at CMA Fest 2019, my mind is in knots.  It was such a different year for me! There were things that changed the total dynamic of how I went about covering the big shows, mostly changes in my personal life, but some outside factors too.  I can promise you something though, no matter what got thrown my way, I made every attempt to keep the Think Country ship at Nissan afloat.  

Day one at Nissan.  I can’t comment. Another team member had a family emergency and was unable to cover the Nissan shows as originally planned, and I was already scheduled to cover another gig long before that. I could only make days two through four.  In other words, I was glad to take over, but I had a prior commitment. As it turned out, the weather was brutal that first night. I’ll admit, I was thankful to have been indoors.

Day two I was ready to rock.  I arrived at the stadium with every intention of making up for the day I missed.  I would take copious notes, documenting every bit of minutia from beginning to end.  In my world, it’s me who is usually the reason everything doesn’t go the way I envision it.  This time, I began to question my own sanity.

In previous years, I was seated in the Media Gallery, which is at the back of the field.  Allow me to share a personal bit of information. That was always difficult for me. I rarely, if ever, talk about my health.  It bores people, but mostly, it bores me, however, my writing has always veered off the side of a cliff for a moment or two, and get ready, you’re about to go over the edge.  I have an eye disease called keratoconus. That’s a mouthful, I know.

What is is, in a nutshell, is crummy corneas.  Instead of nicely rounded corneas, they turn into wickedly-shaped cones, distorting your vision horribly.  The only known way to help correct a person’s vision is by wearing rigid gas permeable contact lenses (which I do) or have a corneal transplant.  In my case, even the lenses don’t do all that great of a job, especially at night, and especially at a distance. Concerts are the worst. From as far back as the last row of a stadium, not even the big screens mean much to me.  I take video and watch it later, all the while praying my battery lasts. This was not meant to be a sob story. Just facts. Now you know way too much about me. We should be friends.

This year, however, I had a ticket in the Club Level.  Sounds posh, right? Well, as I approached the sign indicating that I must have a ticket for the Club Level in order to board the escalator to get to it, I was feeling all VIP (okay, not really) and stuff, but I had no idea what to expect at the top.  

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

Like Dorothy Gale when she opened the door of her sepia-toned, tornado-mangled, Kansas farmhouse, to the brilliant, Technicolor wonderland of Munchkinland, in The Wizard of Oz, I was dazzled.  These were uncharted waters!  Feel the cool breeze! Alright, you Club Level veterans, stop laughing!  Maybe it wasn’t quite a “breeze”, but when you’ve been hanging around in Nashville humidity for hours, air conditioning in a stadium concourse sure feels like it.  There were actually tables and chairs to eat your Papa John’s personal sized pizza at. Full bars, big screen TV’s, the Professor and Mary Ann… all on Gilligan’s… oh, too far, but I was that excited.  Put me here every year! I couldn’t wait to get to my seat and see if I could SEE! That would be the icing on the cake!

Photo courtesy of The Bernard Olcott Story

I knew this had to be too good to be true.  As I made my way to my section and approached the usher for further direction to my seat, I was told I needed to enter through another door, as it was closer to my actual seat.  That made sense. Off I went. The usher at that door informed me that I needed to cross over what I would describe as a catwalk of sorts to get to my seat. Alrighty. I did that, only to look up and see a different section number on the wall.  Hmmm… confusion was setting in. He pointed me to “my” row. Nope. Someone in that seat. I kind of thought there was something wrong. Extremely long story short, it took me about 90 minutes, several visits to two different sets of ushers, some angry patrons, a popcorn vendor and finally a supervisor, to get me in my ticketed seat.

Even longer story short, I missed much of the beginning of day two by going on this merry goose chase, and watched part of it on one of the TV;s in the concourse.  At least it was in that lovely air conditioning. Always look on the bright side, right? I’ll have you know that I did take notes while I watched the “televised version”, but the sound was poor and that was unfortunate.  I’m sure I missed some seriously great entertainment during that fiasco. In any event, I made it to my seat thanks to that final link in the chain (the supervisor) and now I can begin. I think.

I should apologize for all of that nonsense leading up to here, but when people ask me to describe my writing style, I always say I don’t have one.  I just write the way I talk, so now you know not to meet me in person. What you read is what you get, so to speak. Onward.

 

Image courtesy of Ronald E. Yates

The first artists I saw (sort of) were Dan + Shay.  It was during one of my field trips to try and get to my seat that I got to catch some of “Speechless”.  The stadium was aglow with the white lights of cell phone flashlights. I wasn’t able to pay much attention to what was happening, but I could certainly hear Shay Mooney’s gorgeous vocals, and I was so wishing I was in my proper seat and settled for whatever was going to happen next.  It was a pipe dream. I ended up watching the rest of their set out in the concourse on the big screen. Although the sound out there wasn’t good, I was able to tell they stuck to their hits until they were done, finishing strong with their number one, “Tequila”.

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

 

 

I played the “Where’s Patti’s Seat?” game again and lost, so rather than miss all of Thomas Rhett, I went back to my favorite TV and cozied up as close as possible so I might be able to hear better.  The sound was actually much worse for Rhett, so I decided to make another attempt at getting to that coveted seat. I know you must be wondering why it was so difficult for me to get to a ticketed seat. Trust me, I was curious too. I’m being highly diplomatic right now (insert cool shades emoji). I didn’t count, but I’d guess the sixth time was the charm. The supervisor I was finally connected with handled things like the boss she was.  I was able to catch Thomas Rhett’s lively rendition of “T-Shirt”.

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

From here on in, I’m going to hit what I consider to be the high points.  The artists that really brought it home for the love of all things country music.  For me, without question, the guy who blew everyone else out of the water this year was Eric Church.  Coming out with just his acoustic guitar, Church came on stage and all but obliterated anything anyone else could have planned that night.  A one-man-hit-o-rama, beginning and ending with “Mistress Named Music”, Church barely stopped to take a breath between songs. Playing nearly every big hit you can think of, it was easily the best thing I witnessed all CMA Fest.  No elaborate stage setup. No gimmicks. Just one damned good musician giving it all he had.

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

Carrie Underwood looked stunning as usual, her hair in a ponytail, and the rest of her looking as if she never gave birth to any children, much less one earlier this year.  She sounded great too, but when she brought out rocker Joan Jett and they sang a medley of Jett’s hits, I thought she was on fire. Underwood may be a country girl at heart, but there’s no denying that she can rock out too.  This performance wasn’t for everyone, but I was raised on rock and it was right up my alley. I enjoy my country with a splash of rock and roll.

 

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country


Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

I thought Billy Ray Cyrus was impressive.  He was smart too. He came out of the gate singing not one, but two very recognizable cover songs.  The first one, “Folsom Prison Blues” and next, “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”. Now, that’s how you get the crowd on their feet and singing and dancing right off the bat.  It doesn’t take me to tell you that when he played his super hit, “Achy Breaky Heart” it was like a madhouse in that stadium, but then he just left. What? How could he just leave?  He didn’t sing it. You all know what song I’m talking about, unless of course, you’ve been living on a deserted island with no wifi for the last few months. Why no “Old Town Road”, the Lil Nas X song that was remixed featuring Cyrus, leading many to believe it’s actually Cyrus’s song.  Love it or hate it, it’s one very popular tune. How popular? Enough that fans were chanting (begging) for Cyrus to come back and play the song, but alas, he was gone.

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

Through the magic of all kinds of logistics, you’ll never guess who showed up a little while later?  You people are way too bright. You guessed it. Lil Nas X graced the big stage at Nissan with Billy Ray Cyrus to sing the song many love to hate, “Old Town Road”, but wait!  There’s more! Joining them and wailing on a banjo, was none other than Keith Urban. This was a party! I don’t care where you stand on “Old Town Road”, if you were sulking during that number, I kind of feel sorry for you.  It was actually fun. No, it wasn’t traditional country. Yes, old Hank was probably rolling in his grave, but from all I’ve heard, he enjoyed a party, so I hope that rolling was just him doing his best to dance. As much as I would have thrown shade on this beforehand, I have to admit, it was one of the biggest moments for me.  

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

 

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

 

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

Much fanfare was made about Pistol Annies being on the bill, and I thought they were great, but I was expecting more.  I mean, all three of them looked fantastic. Lambert looked better than she has in years. In a sparkly, dark blue dress, she looked like she was headed to a cocktail party rather than to sing country songs, but hot damn!  The girl made it work. They came out with “Hell on Heels” and finished with “Sugar Daddy” which, for me, was a bit of a letdown. I would have liked to have seen them do at least one or two more numbers, but just to keep things on the positive side, “Whoa Miranda!”  

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

 

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

When the only Pistol Annie left standing was Miranda Lambert, it seemed the whole place took off like a rocket.  Opening up with “Kerosene”, it was almost as if we were watching Miranda Lambert when she first sang that song on tour back in 2005.  She looked more energetic and happier, almost like a woman on a mission to show the country music world that she was doing more than just fine.  

Lambert followed that up with a new song, “Locomotive”, which had her dancing and shaking her head around as if she were at a rock concert.  I loved it, but then again, I have a love for rock music. If you like your country served up traditional, you’ll probably hear this track and shake your head, but not the way Miranda Lambert did, and certainly not for the same reason.  

Maybe it was just me, but I detected a “theme” going on during Lambert’s set.  Before anyone takes this the wrong way, let me be clear, I’m not saying it was a flat-out “I showed you” performance, but there was just enough edge to everything she said and sang, to make me believe she was there to get her point across one final time, and that was, “I’m good.  I’m really good.”

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

She finished strong by throwing it way back to her 2009 hit, “White Liar”.  If you were there, you’ll know what I mean, but if you weren’t, and you see any video of this performance, watch for the part near the end where Lambert is smiling a mile wide and she comes to the line that goes, “Here’s a bombshell just for you, turns out I’ve been lyin’ too.”  Priceless.

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

I was just going to type two words here and move on to the next paragraph, but I suppose that would look bad, so I’ll type two words and a few after that and call it a day.  CHRIS JANSON. I think this is the one guy we can call a complete maniac, and mean it in the most complimentary way ever.

I don’t know, but I’ve seen him many times now, and he never misses.  Never. He does it all. He plays the guitar, piano, harmonica, drums and he sings while doing it, and if he isn’t sitting at the piano or at the drum kit, there’s a good chance he’s racing around the stage.  How does he do this? It would be one thing if he was just wildly running and playing mediocre music, but this artist is a phenom! He shook up the stadium right from the start with “Redneck Life” and things really only slowed down for “Drunk Girl” where he had the entire place lit up with flashlights.  He played bartender with “Fix a Drink”, put us in a better mood with “Good Vibes” and let us sing along to “Truck Yeah”, the hit he wrote for superstar Tim McGraw.

Video courtesy of Patti McClintic, Think Country and YouTube

He didn’t leave us hanging on land either.  He gave fans the song they wanted to hear with “Buy Me a Boat”, the song he says changed his life.  He may not know it, but I belong to one of the Chris Janson fan groups on Facebook, and I can say that song probably changed the lives of a lot of other people too.  Those fans are die hards! They just love him to pieces. So, my two word idea went right out the window. When you say, “Chris Janson”, it’s hard to stop there.

During the next break, if you stayed at your seat, you were treated to a really special performance by the Andrew Jackson Elementary Eagle Honor Choir, directed by Franklin J. Willis.  They performed their own version, complete with choreography, of the Carrie Underwood hit, “The Champion”. The whole purpose of CMA Fest, aside from bringing country music fans from all over the world to Nashville to celebrate the genre, is to raise money for the CMA Foundation, which helps fund music education in schools all across the nation.  This choir is a shining example of how the CMA Foundation benefits schools. The kids were so entertaining. I wish they could have done another song!

Video courtesy of Eagle Honor Choir and YouTube (This is not video shot during CMA Fest, although it is the same group of children and the same song that was performed at Nissan Stadium)

It seems like they just keep pumping out songs. Just when I think I’ve almost got the lyrics down to their latest single, out comes another one.  I’m talking about Old Dominion. These guys are just everywhere. I remember seeing them at a Jake Owen parking lot party back in 2014 and they were relatively unknown, but now, forget about it.  I was looking at their upcoming tour schedule and they’ll be almost everywhere, well, everywhere except Nashville of course. We often get the short end of that stick. Music City secret. It’s out now.  They live here, they don’t want to play here. Just having a little fun there. They have no control over where they go. They get on a bus and land wherever the driver takes them. In all seriousness though, after seeing them at Nissan this time, I would love to see a full show.  What a band!

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

They performed much of their set from a B stage on the field.  Opening with “Snapback” and rolling right along with “Hotel Key”, “One Man Band”, “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart”, “Written in the Stars” and “Make it Sweet”, that was enough proof that these guys have accomplished a lot in a short time.  They could have kept going. People knew these songs. They were singing every last word and hanging on every note like these artists were old friends.

Video courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

I watched the crowd a lot during this set.  I’m a people watcher anyway, but it always interests me to sort of witness a band’s evolution.  I wasn’t right in the thick of it, but I was there at that parking lot party when Jake Owen introduced them, and people in the crowd were, as they usually are when they aren’t familiar with the music, lukewarm until they realized they might be hearing something good.  Not the case anymore. Old Dominion has arrived. They’ve laid down roots and they aren’t going anywhere. People are going to have to come to them. That’s really cool, isn’t it?

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

What else?  Oh… there was this.  I lost my phone. In a stadium.  During a country music festival. Try and do that.  Yeah. That happened. I missed Maren Morris’s set thanks to this “inconvenience”, except for what little I could see and hear from the front of the Logan’s concession stand.  To make this long story short, I got it back eventually. I would like to thank exactly three people for reuniting me and my device. My husband Bill, the lovely girl seated next to me in Section 212 and a random nice person named Mike who allowed me to use his phone (I actually walked up to Random Mike and asked him if he was a nice person first).  It was a nightmare. I survived. Let’s forget about that now.

Confession.  I really like Keith Urban.  Oh, I think I said that last year.  I think I said it the year before too.  Well, it makes me feel better to let you know I haven’t jumped off the KU bandwagon yet, and if you’re new to my ramblings, now you know, I’m a Keith Urban fan, so if I say his set ranked high as one of my favorites of the Nissan shows, it’s because I’m a fan.  There. I said it.

Now, while I may be a fan of Keith Urban, let’s not ignore the fact that he’s a musician that deserves a lot more credit than me saying he’s talented.  What I say means nothing, because once you’ve seen this man play live, it’s like hypnosis, you are sucked right into a spellbound mess.  You just can’t look away.  It’s not just his guitar wizardry that’s impressive, that’s a given.  It’s how he makes people want to watch him play, even people that have no idea how to play guitar themselves want to watch.   In fact, I wouldn’t doubt there’s a conversation taking place somewhere in the world right now that sounds something like, “Hey, what do you want to watch?  Netflix?  HBO?”  “Nah.  Let’s watch Keith Urban videos on YouTube.”  If you’ve seen him, am I right, or what? 

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

It didn’t take more than a few seconds for Urban to propel the crowd to their feet when he launched into “Never Comin’ Down” off his Graffiti U album.  He jumped right into “The Fighter” and had the crowd sing Carrie Underwood’s part with him. He seemed to have a little difficulty spitting out, and I’m paraphrasing, “I’m sure we have some Carrie Underwoods in the crowd tonight.”  Yes, this is Nashville, and I’ll bet there were a lot of good singers in that building, but some Carries?  I don’t know.  Once again, I hoped the real Carrie Underwood might show up and sing it with him, and once again, she did not, so all of us impostors stood in.  Thankfully, as a whole, we didn’t sound half bad.

Video courtesy of Patti McClintic, Think Country and YouTube

It was awesome to hear Urban play his latest single, “We Were”.  Members of the radio and media community were given a chance to hear it back on Valentine’s Day at The Ryman, during CRS (Country Radio Seminar), when Urban gave it a “test run” of sorts.  He had to start and stop a time or two because it was so new to him, but it still sounded good. It sounded even better at Nissan, now that he had it totally down.

Life doesn’t get much better than Keith Urban singing “Blue Ain’t Your Color” to a stadium full of devoted country music fans.  It just doesn’t. If you were in that audience, you understand. If you weren’t, by all means, buy tickets and hope Keith Urban is in the lineup next year.  Then hope even harder that he continues to keep this song in his set. The bluesy vibe of this ballad paired with the blue lighting just creates a peaceful kind of magic that you have to experience.  

Video courtesy of Patti McClintic, Think Country and YouTube

Urban risked life and limb as he always does, and went out into the masses during “Wasted Time”.  I mean, he had security guys all over him as he braved the hysteria, so it wasn’t like he just took a walk out on the field by himself or anything, he was, and always is, well protected.  I think we’ll all know something has gone quite awry in the Keith Urban camp the day he stops making these treks into the legions of screaming fans. They’ve come to expect it.

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

Bottom line?  If Eric Church hadn’t shown up everyone with his kick ass, acoustic hit-medley-for-days, Keith Urban would have won again.  It almost pains me to type this, but let it be known that CMA Fest 2019 came in with its wind and rain, and blew the crown right off Keith Urban’s head.  God Save the New King, Eric Church.

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country

With that, I’m out.  I’m having a “Record Year”.

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country

 

 

For more information on CMA Fest 2020, visit:  https://cmafest.com

 

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Patti McClintic
I’m Patti. Rock music is my first love. My daughter, who was a country fan as a teenager, dragged me in when I'd drive her to school and we would have radio wars in the car. I'd have on my rock station and she would switch it to the country station. Guess who always won? As they say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, so I did. patti@thinkcountrymusic.com First it was all modern country, but my parents were big Merle Haggard fans. I went along with them to a Merle Haggard/Phil Vassar show at the local fair and that was it. I was hooked on the Hag. Since that day, I've become a fan of bluegrass and I continue to explore all facets of the country genre. I guess you could say, I'm all in. When I'm not up to my neck in any kind of music, I enjoy genealogy, history, my granddaughters and my addiction, SongPop. I guess it could be worse, right? I'm a Buffalo, New York girl living in a Nashville, Tennessee world, and I'm livin' the dream with my husband, my dog and my two cats.
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