CMA Fest Recap: Day 1


Mark Wills

Mark-Wills-CMA Fest

Mark Wills kicked off the morning festivities at the Budweiser Forever Country stage with his debut single, "Jacob's Ladder." During my first trip to CMA Fest, he was the person that I absolutely had to see...some things never change. He also performed "Wish You Were Here," "Don't Laugh At Me," and "Night Ain’t Even Over Yet" - the latter, a song that I’ve been all about since I heard him perform it at the Opry a few years ago. I was happily surprised when he launched into "Loving Every Minute," - a top twenty single from 2001 that had an incredible music video. Vocally, it's one of the greatest things he’s ever done. He concluded his set with the mega "19 Somethin'" - 2003's most-played song on radio.

Joe Diffie


Joe Diffie hit the stage next with "Third Rock From the Sun.” Remember when labels would release extended remix versions during the 90s? This was the one I was obsessed with as a child and the cassette rarely left my Sony Walkman. It was cool to hear him sing, "Next Thing Smoking" - another throwback from 1992. He's got some real gems in his catalog, the pinnacle being "Ships That Don't Come In," which he performed next. He asked if anyone had requests and all sorts of songs were yelled out. He obliged and entertained the crowd with some country rap on "Girl Ridin’ Shotgun." Afterwards he said, "Don't ask me to do that one again," which got a lot of laughs. The staple of every CD I burned in the early 2000s - "John Deere Green" - was the finale and had the entire crowd singing along.


Bryan White

Clutching my “Between Now & Forever” album jacket, I made my way to Bryan White’s signing inside Fan Fair Hall. We talked about “That’s Another Song” and he mentioned that it was always one of his favorites.


Tanya Tucker

A light rain didn't dampen festivities as the nightly concert at Nissan Stadium got underway. The spitfire known as Tanya Tucker got things rolling with "It's A Little Too Late." Only 24 hours earlier she was commanding the stage at the CMT Awards with her performance of the night that left me in tears. And apparently I will never be over it. Once again, she brought onstage Brandi Carlisle, her co-producer on “Wheels of Laredo.” The record is set for release in August and I’m waiting to get my hands on the bubble gum pink vinyl edition. "While I'm Still Living" has to be the best country song that I've heard all year. Flawless. One of my favorite moments of my life will forever be from this evening as the rain poured and Tanya belted "Delta Dawn." The quintessential entertainer. She's got it. She owns it.


  • It’s A Little Too Late

  • Wheels of Laredo

  • Bring Me Flowers

  • Delta Dawn

Kane Brown

The rain was a bit heavier by the time Kane Brown took the stage, but no one seemed to mind. He breezed through his deep cuts and radio singles. The highlight was his offering of "Homesick," a track off his latest album. His song, "Short Skirt Weather," was tailor made for this crowd - it's reminiscent of 90s country with fiddle sounds.


  • Baby Come Back To Me

  • What Ifs

  • Short Skirt Weather

  • Homesick

  • Good As You

  • Heaven

  • Lose It

Kelsea Ballernini

Kelsea Ballerini, co-host of CMA's Night to Rock on ABC, performed next. She brought out a surprise guest, The Chainsmokers, for their “This Feeling" collaboration. Of all artists to debut in the last few years, Kelsea has achieved such an artistic and personal growth. She has this alluring confidence and songs that mirror her life.


  • Peter Pan

  • Get Over Yourself

  • Yeah Boy

  • Legends

  • Miss Me More

  • This Feeling (with The Chainsmokers)

Brothers Osborne


Five years ago, I saw Brothers Obsorne play a 7:00 am (heroes, right?) CMA Fest breakfast event to a small crowd. Seeing them not only play the stadium, but as the reigning CMA Vocal Duo winners, is so beyond words. They are proof that paying your dues and staying true to yourself is the only way to do things. They brought out legends Brooks & Dunn for their rendition of "Hard Workin' Man" from the "Reboot" album released earlier this year. Following that, Ashley McBryde offered her take on "You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone." Class act musicians.


  • Stay A Little Longer

  • Shoot Me Straight

  • I Don’t Remember Me (Before You)

  • Hard Workin’ Man (with Brooks & Dunn)

  • You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone (featuring Ashley McBryde and Brooks & Dunn)

  • It Ain’t My Fault