Country fans showed a level of commitment only they could possess when thousands stood in the rain for opening night of 2019 CMA Fest on Thursday (June 6) at Nissan Stadium. Florida Georgia Line, Kelsea Ballerini, Brothers Osborne, Rascal Flatts, Kane Brown and Tanya Tucker braced the falling droplets to entertain fans for a four-hour set that included a handful of special guests.
Three songs in to their riveting set that included “Stay a Little Longer,” the gritty “Shoot Me Straight” and contemplative “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You),” Brothers Osborne made every country fan’s dream come true when they brought out Brooks & Dunn to perform a collaboration on “Hard Workin’ Man, marking the first time they’ve all played it live since recording a rendition for Brooks & Dunn’s Reboot album. The legendary duo’s presence on the stage sent a surge of energy through the stadium that proved to have staying power, as Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn were in full rock mode alongside Brothers Osborne.
The moment became even more sentimental when John and TJ Osborne devoted the next song in their set to the icons, taking a backseat to serve as support musicians, John on guitar and TJ taking tambourine, as Brooks & Dunn treated the crowd to the poignant “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.” But the iconic duo had their own surprise up their sleeves, inviting Ashley McBryde to the stage, who lent her stunning voice to the touching song. Still on a high, Brothers Osborne brought their set to a close with the intoxicating “It Ain’t My Fault,” a tidal wave of clapping on the track’s signature chorus moving like a wave through the stadium, making for a mesmerizing sight.
Ballerini also delivered a celebrated surprise when she brought out The Chainsmokers for a performance of their collaboration “This Feeling.” The announcement garnered elated cheers from the audience as Ballerini danced her way around the stage while The Chainsmokers’ Drew Taggart held down the fort on guitar and traded vocals with the country star. The pop-meets-EDM tune concluded a set where Ballerini charmed the crowd with hits like “Peter Pan,” “Yeah Boy” and “Legends” before delivering a speech about turning resentment after a failed relationship into positive energy that will help you become the person you’re meant to be. “I hope you always choose to miss yourself more,” she declared, launching into a fierce rendition of her current hit “Miss Me More.”
Following a strong opening set from Tanya Tucker, who filled in after Marty Stuart had to cancel last minute due to a personal family matter, Kane Brown lit up the venue with the stormy “Baby Come Back to Me” before the crowd echoed back the lyrics of “What Ifs.” Brown drew out the reflective nature of his songwriting when he dedicated “Homesick” to the military, his voice filling the stadium as he captured the tenderness of the lyrics. Making his way to the foot of the stage, Brown high-fived as many hands as possible as they sang “Good as You” back to him, following suit on “Heaven,” illuminating the vast space with flashlights in the air. The record-breaking star doused fans with good vibes on “Lose It,” bringing his set to an end with the rollicking track.
Though the rain began to fall harder later in the night, the loyal fans continued to show their dedication when Rascal Flatts graced the stage, their harmonies filling the stadium on “Back to Life.” The trio of Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney paused for reflection more than once throughout the six-song set, not only to recognize 19th anniversary of their self-titled debut album, but to honor the “best fans on the entire planet,” who joyously clapped and sang along as rain poured down on them during “Summer Nights” and “Yours If You Want It,” keeping their hands in the air for the duration of “Life is a Highway.” The evening came to rousing end when Florida Georgia Line engaged those who stayed to party with them in the rain with such rowdy numbers as “Y’all Boys,” “Cruise” and “This is How We Roll.”