Night three of 2019 CMA Fest brought a diverse range of sounds to Nissan Stadium on Saturday (June 8) as Billy Ray Cyrus and Keith Urban teamed up with Lil Nas X for a memorable performance of “Old Town Road,” while Miranda Lambert and Luke Combs delivered power-packed sets that proved their striking stage presence.
Cyrus kicked off the night by opening with covers of Johnny Cash’s legendary “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” originally a hit by southern rock group The Georgia Satellites before it was recorded by Hank Williams, Jr. He then took us to a more somber place with the 1992 track he wrote about a Vietnam War veteran, honoring servicemen and women with “Some Gave All.” After closing his set with his 90s country staple “Achy Breaky Heart,” he left fans in a state of anticipation, as they were expecting an appearance from his all-star collaborator Lil Nas X and began to chant “Old Town Road.”
He’d later fulfill those requests, the opening banjo notes of the song sending an eruption of cheers through the crowd, which only got louder as Lil Nas X entered the stage, along with a surprise appearance by Keith Urban on banjo. Thousands of fans chanted the wildly popular words as the thumping country trap beat permeated through the packed stadium. Urban took on the song’s second verse that famously references Gucci cowboy hats and Wrangler jeans, adding his own flair with a banjo solo before the trio ended the show-stopping performance with an a Capella reprise of the chorus.
After Brett Young delighted with “Sleep Without You,” “In Case You Didn’t Know” and “Mercy,” Miranda Lambert brought her bold and brazen energy to an eight-song set that began with the theme of female empowerment alongside Pistol Annies companions Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley. The trio’s harmonies were as fierce as the fearless women they sing about, commanding the massive stage with their signature sass and confidence that led into “Sugar Daddy.” Lambert then lit up the stadium solo with a series of her biggest hits and the debut of a new song. “Kerosene” was the telltale sign that she was going to put her boldest foot forward, which she continued to do with the debut of “Locomotive,” marking the first time she’d played it live. The country superstar introduced the song by describing it as the type women will appreciate, as the fast-paced rocker highlights all the badass elements of herself, almost as if the woman from “Gunpowder and Lead” were to meet the “Fastest Girl in Town.” She ended her set with a triage of powerhouse hits “Gunpowder and Lead,” “Mama’s Broken Heart” and “White Liar.”
Combs stayed in the powerful lane of energy Lambert created with his voice and beloved hits awe-inspiring enough to fill the stadium. After a warm introduction from This is Us star Chrissy Metz, Combs wasted no time in getting to the songs that made him a burgeoning superstar, opening with “She Got the Best of Me” before transitioning to new music with the 90s country tinged “Lovin’ On You.” Though Combs dedicated “Beautiful Crazy” to the woman who inspired it, his fiancée Nicole Hocking, the crowd sang to it as if it was their own personal love song. “I feel like I could stand up here and sing for y’all for the rest of my life,” he said, preluding “One Number Away,” “Hurricane” and a song that’s bound to be his next hit “Beer Never Broke My Heart.”
Meanwhile, Dierks Bentley combined career hits with thoughtful messages, following the brilliant “Burning Man” with the grateful “Women, Amen.” The latter served as a tribute to the “fierce, badass country women” in the audience, Bentley leading a choral chant with the song’s opening notes. He continued to share reflective words with “Livin’” before making Nissan Stadium his beach as the audience swayed along like waves in the ocean to “Somewhere on a Beach.”
He brought us all to a humble place when he compassionately dedicated the strength and courage of “I Hold On” to Granger Smith, who’s 3-year-old son River died in a tragic drowning accident days before. Continuing in this theme of empathy, Bentley again proved himself to be an ally to his female counterparts in their quest for equality in country radio when he invited tourmate Tenille Townes to the stage. After she sang snippets of Trisha Yearwood’s “She’s in Love With a Boy” and Deana Carter’s classic “Strawberry Wine,” Bentley acknowledged the lack of support for women on radio and encouraged finding a balance of voices, referring to the 90s when women were a dominant force. After Townes lent her one-of-a-kind voice to “Different For Girls,” Bentley closed out his set by transporting fans 30,000 feet in the air for Mardi Gras in the sky with “Drunk on a Plane.”
The evening culminated with a performance by Tim McGraw, who turned his set into a rock show by opening with the rowdy “Truck Yeah.” Despite audio issues, McGraw powered through several career-defining hits including “Something Like That” and “Southern Voice” and united generations of country music when he brought Combs back to the stage for a duet on “Real Good Man.” Combs was clearly elated to be singing with the country icon as a smile rarely left his face. “Damn that boy can sing,” McGraw proclaimed, ending with the hit that helped launch him into stardom 25 years ago, “Indian Outlaw.”