The Coronavirus pandemic has canceled live music events all over the world, including the beloved CMA Fest that takes place every summer in Nashville, Tennessee. Although we couldn’t physically be there this year, we got to re-live all the best moments of the four-day event from the past two decades in ABC’s “Best of Fest” television special. Country superstar, Luke Bryan hosted from the field at Nissan Stadium, the venue in which the festival always takes place.
The show started with a fiery performance from Carrie Underwood singing “Last Name” in 2010. It was followed by Sam Hunt’s performance of “Body Like a Backroad” from 2017. He shared his first CMA Fest experience with us before the clip was shown. “My first CMA Fest was my second time in Nashville. I came up with some buddies and we went over to the stadium to watch the concert,” Hunt recalled. “We got to see Alan Jackson play that night who I am a big fan of — I grew up listening to his music. I was really inspired by that night and decided to move to Nashville and pursue music after college.”
After a 2012 clip of Little Big Town performing “Pontoon,” Luke Combs discussed what it was like standing on the CMA stage for the first time. “You’ll never forget walking out on the stage seeing 60,000 people there,” he stated before viewers saw his video of “When It Rains, It Pours” from 2018. “I remember being a fan there myself and just sitting way up in the top section and thinking, ‘Man, what if that was me one day?’” They then showed Thomas Rhett performing “Life Changes” from the same year. They threw it back to 2007 with the next performance — Miranda Lambert rocking out to her hit song “Kerosene”.
From one strong female voice to another, Maren Morris’ 2019 performance of “GIRL” was featured in the special. Also from 2019, we got to re-live the epic collaboration of Keith Urban joining Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X on their record-breaking song “Old Town Road.”
Fellow American Idol host, Lionel Richie introduced Luke Bryan, as his 2012 performance of “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” was featured on the show. After that, fans got to see Garth Brooks’ 2017 melody of all his biggest hits. Before ‘taking the stage,’ he shared his memories from that unforgettable night. “They introduce me, I walk out there and that crowd was like 1,000 times louder than I was ready for,” Brooks admitted. “I couldn’t hear the track, couldn’t hear nothing so I knew we were gonna blow that entrance.”
We flashbacked to 2014 and 2010 with Darius Rucker performing “Wagon Wheel” and Brad Paisley performing “American Saturday Night,” respectively. Paisley was introduced by his good friend and future Hall of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning, who joked that he was actually the one who taught Paisley how to play guitar.
Back to 2018, Dan + Shay performed their smash hit, “Tequila” that earned them a Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. Later, the special featured Kelsea Ballerini’s 2017 performance of “Yeah Boy.” She shared what it felt like to go from a CMA Fest fan to a performer.
“My mom would buy me tickets for Christmas and we would hop in the car from Knoxville with some friends and drive down and spend the afternoons waiting on line to meet my favorite artists at the time and then at night, of course, go to the stadium and sit up in the nose bleeds and absolutely lose my mind over my favorite artists,” Ballerini confessed. “Now that I get to be on that stage, I don’t take it for granted – it’s my favorite thing to do.”
The show reminisced on many more collaborations from past CMA Fests. Carrie Underwood shared that one of her favorite CMA moments was from last year when Joan Jett joined her on stage to perform “I Love Rock n’ Roll” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” Dwight Yoakam joined Dierks Bentley on stage to sing Yoakam’s “Fast As You,” Little Big Town joined Rascal Flatts to cover Kansas’ “Carry On My Wayward Son” in 2011 and Trace Adkins joined Blake Shelton to sing their number one hit, “Hillbilly Bone.”
We went back to Lady A’s first-ever CMA performance in 2008. It featured their debut single, “Love Don’t Live Here.” Comedian, Jim Gaffigan called Zach Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried” “the perfect country song,” as they showed their performance of it from 2009, next. After Tim McGraw’s 2010 performance of “Something Like That,” we saw more collaborations, such as Brooks and Dunn and Brothers Osbourne performing “Hard Working Man” last year, Kane Brown and Lauren Alaina singing their number one song, “What Ifs” in 2018, and Eric Church and Lizzie Hale shredding out to Church’s “That’s Damn Rock n’ Roll” from 2014.
The show ended with Luke Bryan and Darius Rucker joining together (six feet apart, of course) to sing a cover a John Mellencamp’s “Small Town” from the field at Nissan Stadium, followed by a clip from Keith Urban’s 2017 performance of “Wasted Time.”
Although it hurt not having CMA Fest this year, we are thankful we had this special to re-live some of the most memorable performances from past years and are hopeful that 2021’s festival will be the best one yet! As we all are yearning for concerts to return, the only thing we can do is follow the guidelines our health officials have set for us, like wearing our masks and social distancing. The better we comply, the faster we can return to normal, which means a return for live music and country concerts!
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