It was the end of a wild three days that were unlike anything Nashville has seen before, as 27 drivers from the NTT Indycar Series turned the city streets into a blazing fast racecourse — with mind-boggling velocity, crazy crashes and more all included. And in the end, it was of course a concert which put a pure-Nashville exclamation point on things.
Taking place from August 6-8, 2021, the first ever Big Machine Music City GP was just as spectacular as it was ambitious. Transforming downtown and the area around Nissan Stadium into a full-on race track, cars reached speeds of over 180 miles per hour as they crossed over the Korean Veterans Bridge, before slowing down to around 30 for the next corner. Grandstands lined the roads and rescue divers were poised in the Cumberland River, just in case a car flew off the bridge, and the stadium parking lot was full of drivers and their teams — plus the carnival-like atmosphere of a major sporting event.
Nearly 115,000 fans are estimated to have visited over three days, enjoying the main event Sunday afternoon plus prelims in the days before. And along with the Indycars, there were other races, too, including ones for sophisticated sports cars (the SRO GT America class) and rowdy off-road trucks (the Stadium Super Trucks). Those mixed country music’s love of tailgates with Dukes of Hazzard-style driving, proving a crowd favorite. But that’s the stuff that takes place at any race, over any weekend, in any location on the schedule. What made it the Music City Grand Prix was the music.
Starting on Friday, multiple performance stages gave fans even more action to enjoy, and it focused on Nashville’s country tradition. Artists like Brooks & Dunn, Jamey Johnson and Tyler Farr kicked off the first night, and then it was honky-tonking hit maker Jon Pardi on Saturday, rocking a crowd of thousands before a massive fireworks display. Sunday’s post-race concert was more relaxed by comparison — but no less satisfying — and something akin to the cool-down lap drivers took after finally reaching the checkered flag.
Sweedish driver Marcus Ericsson actually reached that flag first — an incredible feat, considering he went airborne and crashed on one of the opening laps — and after hoisting his trophy high, a special broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry started up with Danielle Bradbery
Singing to an exhausted crowd, the former Voice contestant had just the right touch, giving fans something to sway to. With the Opry’s Bill Cody presenting and the Grand Ole Opry band sitting in, she worked with a decidedly mellow vibe, and that vibe would continue the whole night. Bradbery reeled off a trio of tracks like the new “Stop Draggin’ Your Boots,” before Cody called for the next act.
Alabama native Riley Green matched Bradbery’s relaxed style, looking just like his fans with a worn-in ball cap and the full mustache which has suddenly become on trend again — but with a few added pounds of muscle, for sure. The powerful-looking singer contrasted his look with a thoughtful touch, though, mixing country chest-thumpers with backroad wisdom. “That’s What I’ve Been Told” laid out some of that wisdom, while “I Wish Grandpa’s Never Died” gave voice to more timeless truth.
“A couple years ago I was building houses for a living in Northeast Alabama,” Riley said, thanking the crowd before his breakout Number One, “There Was This Girl.” “Now I’ve got songs on the radio.”
Meanwhile, newcomer Callista Clark impressed even the fans who were starting to lose steam, as darkness set in and the ring of racing engines faded from memory. Her vocal was a sweet enough sound to bring them back. Full of soul beyond her 17 years and showcasing a feisty, playful side, she declared her teenaged dreams and emotions to be worthy with “Real to Me,” and refused to back down from adversity with her debut single, “It’s ‘Cause I Am.” Being 17 and signed to Big Machine, Clark often draws comparisons to a young country talent who came before her, but here showed off an approach that felt a bit like Motown in Music City.
As the show continued, hit maker Justin Moore took the stage for few more songs, noting that he’s been blessed to travel the country for 14 years now — but seeming just as glad to do the job as always. Wearing a crisp white cowboy hat and simple white T-shirt, the Arkansas native favored more mellow tunes like the devoted “Til My Last Day,” but also got to celebrate a track that’s doing some racing of its own. Moore’s “We Didn’t Have Much” is currently climbing toward the pole position at country radio, and after Opry stars The Oak Ridge Boys came out to close the show, he returned for a cheerful run through their classic, “Elvira.”
It was a fitting end to a first-of-its-kind weekend, with Nashville’s past and future sharing the same stage. All in all, it seemed like fans at the end agreed: Count the Music City Grand Prix as a win.