Thousands of country music fans traveled to Tennessee this week as CMA Fest returned to Nashville on Thursday (June 7). The annual country music festival features daily and nightly concerts from newcomers and headliners alike throughout Music City, as well as boasts countless opportunities for fans to meet their favorite artists. The four days of fan appreciation kicked off with a stacked roster at Nissan Stadium and included performances by Jason Aldean, Brothers Osborne, Darius Rucker, Dan + Shay, Carly Pearce, Kane Brown with Lauren Alaina, and Charles Esten alongside his Nashville castmates.
While well-known acts like Aldean, Rucker, and Brothers Osborne had the Nissan Stadium audience on their feet for the majority of the four-hour concert Thursday evening, it was first-time stadium performers Brown and Dan + Shay that captivated with their obvious excitement to be playing the coveted timeslot.
Brown, who debuted his new single “Lose It” off his recently announced upcoming Nov. 9 sophomore album, made the most of his 30-minute set. The singer, who has broken countless records with his self-titled 2016 debut album, commanded the stage like a seasoned performer. He kicked off his set with the sentimental “Found You” before sharing his difficult life story with the crowd of 60,000 people. Admitting that he had a rough childhood where he briefly lived in a car with his teenage mother, he grabbed the audience’s attention with his heartfelt tale.
“I used to live in a car for a while,” he told the stadium. “She used to feed me Cheerios. I was the happiest baby ever and then I had a little brother and this stepdad was, honestly, he was not a nice person. He did some things to me he shouldn’t have and my nana was a detective at the time. She got him locked up a couple weeks later.”
He then admitted that he regularly faced racism growing up in Georgia being biracial, and despite all these hurdles stacked against him, he continued to pursue his dream of music.
“I wrote this next song because I know everybody in here tonight has been through something in this life and I want to show you that no matter what you do, you can always overcome it and do whatever you want to,” he shared.
He then performed the poignant “Learning,” which further showcased Brown’s star power and knack at writing powerful songs that stick with the listener. His set also included his back-to-back No. 1 hits “Heaven” and “What Ifs” with Lauren Alaina. The former classmates had the audience screaming along during their memorable duet while Alaina’s powerhouse vocals emblazoned the venue.
“I was so nervous when I got up here,” Brown confessed at the end of his set. “This is the biggest stadium I’ve ever played. This is crazy. I’m living my dream.”
Dan + Shay also shared their disbelief at the massive stadium crowd throughout their set. Their performance launched with their debut single, “19 You + Me,” and followed with the infectious “Nothin’ Like You” and heartfelt “From the Ground Up.” Their harmonies soared effortlessly in the stadium, and at one point the duo hugged each other in disbelief at the receptive crowd.
“This is one of the most exciting nights of our entire lives,” Shay Mooney said.
Before ending their set with current single “Tequila,” Dan Smyers also marveled at the audience: “This has been an absolute dream come true for us,” he conceded.
Headliner Jason Aldean played a marathon set that included much of his chart-topping catalog. Opening with the appropriate “Lights Come On,” he then peppered his set with equal parts rowdy and sentimental. Aldean segued effortlessly between songs like the nostalgic “Any Ol’ Bar Stool” and “You Make It Easy” to the bombastic “She’s Country” and “My Kinda Party.”
Earlier in the evening, Brothers Osborne and Rucker brought the party as each act’s set highlighted their obvious staying power. While Rucker’s performance spanned feel-good tracks like set closer “Wagon Wheel” and the infectious “Homegrown Honey,” Brothers Osborne showcased exactly why they’re one of the most respected up-and-coming acts in the genre. The guitar slinging was prevalent on songs like “Ain’t My Fault” and “Drank Like Hank,” while new songs off their sophomore album, Port Saint Joe, including the sentimental “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)” and “Weed, Whiskey and Willie,” captivated.
Pearce, meanwhile, took the small stage to perform her current single, “Hide the Wine,” and charmed the audience while opener Charles Esten easily had the most fun of the evening. The actor, whose smile was prevalent throughout the entirety of his set, brought out four of his Nashville castmates to assist. Jonathan Jackson, Chris Carmack, and Lennon and Maisy Stella made their way to the stage and while each actor alternated on lead vocals throughout the performance, it was evident why the series has become one of the most beloved shows on television.
“God bless you all and God bless Nashville,” Esten said at the close of the set. A sentiment many country music fans can agree with during CMA Fest, Thursday was just the beginning of a four-day music extravaganza in Music City.
CMA Fest 2018 runs through Sunday, June 10, in Nashville.