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CMA Summer Jam Sizzles In Nashville

Image courtesy of Country Music Association (CMA)

Two years in a row without CMA Fest may have left a gaping hole in the country music scene, but there was some relief with the introduction of CMA Summer Jam this week. The two night music event featured several of country’s top artists performing at Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater. Adding more heat to the super-hot lineup were record high temperatures and humidity, but that didn’t stop the sellout crowd from dancing both nights away, proving country music fans are a hardy bunch.

Storme Warren, morning host on Sirius XM’s The Highway kicked things off by thanking sponsor Chevrolet and welcoming the American Cancer Society. He also let everyone know CMA would be passing along every dollar from the event to the Country Music Foundation which keeps music education in our schools.

The first artist to hit the stage was Blake Shelton, who had a little fun poking fun at fellow artists Luke Bryan and Carrie Underwood. Telling the masses that Bryan and Underwood were already drunk and high, they could rest easy knowing the best act was right in front of them. The joke did its job as laughter filled the amphitheater. Shelton rocked the crowd with “Gonna,” “Ol’ Red,” “God’s Country,” “Boys ‘Round Here” and “Hillbilly Bone,” to which he quipped, “I always wanted to sing a ‘bone’ song in Nashville, Tennessee.”

Ditching his guitar and singing his heartfelt ballad “God Gave Me You,” Shelton showed his sentimental side beautifully.

Shelton introduced another special guest, Carly Pearce, during his set. Singing her hit song, “Next Girl,” Pearce was at the top of her game, leaving concert goers wishing she was given the chance to do at least one more number.

As we would learn, the advertised lineup was just a bit misleading. There were artists who played full sets and then there were “special guests” with each of those artists. Every artist on the bill didn’t play a full set. It certainly kept the show moving, but if anyone was expecting more than one song from everyone on the lineup, they were probably a little disappointed. Shelton’s other very special guest was his new bride, Gwen Stefani and together they performed their hit, “Happy Anywhere.” Without a doubt, Shelton knocked his set right out of the park. Looking genuinely glad to be there, hitting the mark on every song and truly engaging the audience gives Shelton my vote for best set of the night.

Photo courtesy of Hola!

Elaina of Nights With Elaina on Nashville’s country radio station 103.3 FM served as host and came out on stage, informing everyone that CMA Summer Jam sold out in an amazing four minutes. Proof that fans were more than ready for live music’s return. She also welcomed local Chevy dealers and the American Cancer Society. The Chevrolet push was on and its presence was quite noticeable at the festival.

Next up was Luke Bryan who opened with “I Don’t Want This Night To End,” jumping right into “Kick the Dust Up.” A fiery start to Bryan’s set was squashed down after he sang his latest hit, “Waves.” Blaming allergies and telling fans they had just witnessed a live allergy attack on stage, the less-than-perfect performance of the song had to be done over for the benefit of camera crews filming the show for ABC. Fortunately, take two proved to be successful.

Cole Swindell showed up during Luke Bryan’s set with his big number one, “Single Saturday Night.” The guests didn’t stop there. Lainey Wilson, clad in her trademark bellbottoms, came out to perform “Things A Man Oughta Know.” Time constraints aside, it would have been nice to have both these artists get at least two songs each.

Photo courtesy of Zimbio

Photo courtesy of Zimbio

Other songs in Bryan’s set included “Down” and “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” the latter of which finished things off with a bang.

Carrie Underwood closed out the evening. Dazzling in a black and white fringed outfit, Underwood started things off with her 2009 hit “Cowboy Casanova,” followed by the more recent “Southbound.” Underwood remarked, “It is a beautiful thing to be on this stage right now and looking at all of your beautiful faces,” letting those in the audience know artists are just as happy to have live music back as they are.

Keeping the favorites coming, Underwood’s set also included “Two Black Cadillacs,” “Blown Away” and “Church Bells,” all performed in high-energy fashion.

The one downfall with all of the sets was the lack of big screens to benefit those not blessed with seats right up front. In a venue as large as Ascend Amphitheater, it didn’t make sense to not have them. It would have been a much more enjoyable experience to actually see details. Even from my seat in row Q, the stage felt like it was a million miles away.

One of country music’s favorite sons, Dwight Yoakam, joined Carrie Underwood on stage, where they sang his hits “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere” and “Guitars, Cadillacs” to fans who were over-the-moon to see a more traditional artist on the bill. Underwood even threw on a sparkling sequined cowboy hat. Those who stuck out the humidity until the end were thanking themselves as Yoakam and Underwood rocked the stage.

Photo courtesy of Country Now

If it wasn’t hot enough outside on day one, it certainly was on day two. If anything, it seemed to get hotter with every passing hour, but that didn’t stop fans from filling the amphitheater once again. With a killer second day lineup, who could blame them?

Dressed in a red-fringed cowgirl shirt and a denim mini-skirt, Miranda Lambert looked as country as could be. Lighting things up with her 2005 hit “Kerosene,” Lambert was in fine form.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Launching the crowd into a dancing frenzy were Lambert’s special guests Brothers Osborne, who played the popular “It Ain’t My Fault.”

Lambert brought the fun when she sang “Tequila Does,” prefacing the performance with, “I’m gonna sing you a sweet little love song.” Undoubtedly destined to become a country drinking anthem, it was clear fans in the audience have already adopted it as such.

Another special guest, Dierks Bentley, delivered a home run with his latest chart-topper, “Gone.” Bentley was then joined by Brothers Osborne and Miranda Lambert for a rousing version of The Allman Brothers classic, “Midnight Rider.” Lucky fans that saw this live will easily remember it as a golden moment in country music.

Photo courtesy of iHeartRadio

A super-slick guitar solo highlighted “Gunpowder & Lead,” followed by more Lambert hits including, “Little Red Wagon” and her recent collaboration with Elle King, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home).” It would have been a bonus to have King there too, but Lambert did quite well handling the current radio hit solo.

The evening’s host was singer/songwriter Kelleigh Bannen, who once again let us know all about Chevrolet being on board for the event, and mentioned a memory she had about Thomas Rhett, the next artist on deck. She told a story about seeing Thomas Rhett when she was a little girl back at the old Fan Fair. At that show, Rhett said he remembered being a young fan and watching shows from way up in the stands. Bannen then let everyone know the next “Thomas Rhett” could be sitting right next to them at Ascend. In a city overflowing with musicians, there was a whole lot of truth to that statement.

Thomas Rhett’s set included favorites including “Crash and Burn,” “Sixteen,” “Die A Happy Man,” and “Unforgettable.” Having watched Rhett perform live many times over the last several years, he’s truly become an entertainer. He brings enormous energy wherever it’s called for. On the flip side he can turn it way down for the ballads, always delivering them convincingly.

The shining moment of Rhett’s time on stage came when he sang his current single, “Country Again.” Every lyric was believable. Rhett even said it was kind of a “coming home” story for him.

Special guest Gabby Barrett did a spectacular job with her number one song, “The Good Ones.” Twice. Barrett had to repeat the number for filming purposes thanks to a technical issue. Rhett took the blame for that problem, saying he forgot to turn off a microphone before exiting the stage.

Florida Georgia Line came out with Thomas Rhett for “‘Round Here” which was a good time.

Photo courtesy of Zimbio

When it was time for Rhett to do “Beer Can’t Fix,” his collaboration with Jon Pardi, something was missing. Jon Pardi. Listed on the original lineup, Pardi couldn’t make it, so Rhett told the audience they’d have to sing Pardi’s parts. Of course, Rhett sang them too, but I’m sure there were many fans who were let down about Pardi’s absence.

Rhett rounded out his time with a lively performance of “T-Shirt,” which had the crowd singing along at the top of their voices and dancing in the aisles.

The last featured artist of the night was none other than Luke Combs. Combs, who has been racking up number ones so fast it’s hard to keep track, was the one many people were waiting for. He didn’t miss a beat either. With one of the tightest bands currently on the road, Combs kept the big hits coming, including his latest radio hit, “Cold As You.”

Photo courtesy of The Tennessean

The special guest for this last set was Jimmie Allen, dressed to kill and thrill, as he belted out “Freedom Was A Highway.” Recorded with Brad Paisley, the song lost nothing performed live by Allen alone. Allen is bound to be a country music legend one day thanks to his dynamic showmanship and incredible vocals.

Photo courtesy of Zimbio

Luke Combs, much of the time toting a red Solo cup, gave fans what they wanted by singing his current single, “Forever After All” and other favorites like “She Got the Best of Me,” “My Kinda Folk” and “1, 2 Many.” He even brought out a brand new one called “Good Old Days,” that waxed nostalgic about simpler times. Fans can look for it to be released soon.

Ending things on the very highest note, Combs played the one everyone knows, “When It Rains It Pours.” It was a perfect way to wrap up the two-night music event.

CMA Summer Jam wasn’t the massive extravaganza that CMA Fest always is, but it sure took the edge off for those who were missing the bigger festival. If this was a one-time thing it served its purpose. A scaled down event to give the people what they so badly wanted. A good deal of great music from their favorite artists in the city that does country best. If it’s going to continue and happen next year and beyond, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Not everyone can afford the big festival, or make it to Nashville at that particular time. It would provide another option for those fans.

If it does happen again, however, one note to the powers-that-be at CMA, throw up some big screens for the folks in the back, or better yet, get the big screens and create a CMA Fall Jam instead. The weather would be glorious for fans and artists alike. Better weather, better moods. Better moods, more money gets spent. More money gets spent, more music education in the schools. Country music doing good things to keep the music alive for future generations, what could be wrong with that?

Watch CMA Summer Jam on ABC Thursday, September 2nd.

Image courtesy of Country Music Association (CMA)

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*Featured image courtesy of CMA.


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