CMA Fest 2015 Recap: Thursday (Day 1)

Words by Annie Dineen, Photos by Ellis Frederick

Even if you were to clone yourself, it’d be absolutely impossible to attend every single piece of CMA Fest. So we picked some of the artists we’re most excited about, plus hit up the LP Field action at night. Let us know what other great sets we missed!

CMA Fest: Thursday (Day One)

We kicked off the day with Halfway to Hazard, the David Tolliver and Chad Warrix fronted band that first hit stride in 2007, opening for and being produced by Tim McGraw. The Southern rockers have reunited, hitting the Hard Rock stage for throwback hits like “Daisy” and new material alike. They then headed over to their fan club party, where they were joined by Lee Brice for a guest appearance.

Over at the CMA Close Up Stage, songwriters Jim Beavers, Sara Evans, Aimee Mayo, and Marcus Hummon gave Fan Fair X attendees a taste of a Nashville songwriters’ round, performing hits they’ve written and sharing the stories behind them.

If Fan Fair X is any indication of trends to come in country, then streaming is staking its claim – Pandora, Spotify, and even Tidal were in the house, with booths and partnerships. Jason Aldean played an exclusive show for Tidal subscribers at Acme Feed & Seed. Snapchat also got in on the action, with a set of special CMA Fest snap filters.


Post-round, we headed back into the heat to catch some of our favorite country ladies at the riverfront. Ashley Monroe, fresh off her #1 duet with Blake Shelton, “Lonely Tonight,” drew from new and old material, singing throwbacks like “Like A Rose,” her latest single “On To Something Good.” Monroe, who sounded stunning, even did a flawless rendition of her Miranda Lambert co-write, “Heart Like Mine,” which she said they wrote in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee when Monroe took Lambert to see Dollywood for the first time.

ashley monroe
Ashley Monroe

Maddie & Tae appeared next on the Riverfront Stage, singing their current single, “Fly,” and EP songs like the sassy “Sierra,” with highlights like their new song “Shut Up and Fish” – “this is a song about the time Maddie and I took two city boys fishing.”

Maddie & Tae
Maddie & Tae

While women may still be struggling to take over radio, they absolutely owned CMA Fest yesterday, with Courtney Cole up next at the Hard Rock Stage. Cole, who will hit the road as an opener for Miranda Lambert this summer, looked and sounded ready for a larger stage, with an at times sassy stage presence and killer vocals. She mixed genre worlds when her new song, “Shady,” transitioned to Destiny’s Child’s classic “Say My Name,” and while it’s hard to cover anything Beyonce had a hand in singing, Cole nailed it, doing the song justice while adding some fresh melodic choices that made it her own.

We stopped back by the Hard Rock Stage to check out a new favorite, Levi Hummon. Though the three year old played his first solo show just seven months ago in a conference room for Scott Borchetta (the mogul signed him to Big Machine a week and a half later), nothing about the 23-year-old reads novice. Hummon, who’s opened recently for Alabama, Dan & Shay, and David Nail, played his co-write with his father, Marcus Hummon, and Andrew Dorff, “Make It Love,” and debuted new material as well. With soulful vocals, sonic conviction, and pop sensibilities, Hummon is a sure hit, and his performance – which included a cover of Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up And Dance” – solidified his rising star status.

The night: LP Field

Country legend Alan Jackson kicked off the LP field festivities, setting a classic precedent for a not-so-classic follow-up, Sam Hunt. Hunt’s performance was polished and smooth, as he ran through #1 “Leave The Night On” and “Take Your Time.” Hunt is in the rare position of being a new artist with more hits than singles – all of the songs on his X2C EP charted, making songs like “Break Up In A Small Town” and the recently singled “House Party” crowd favorites despite their lack of label push. “Take Your Time” is also top 40 on airplay in the Hot AC, Adult Contemporary, and Pop formats. Hunt brought the heat as the night cooled, and fans were rapt.

Rascal Flatts took the stage next, mixing classics like wedding anthem “Bless The Broken Road,” which rolled into a gospel hymnal, and newer songs, like “Riot” and “Rewind.” The group are practiced entertainers, and their set balanced uptempo highs, like their closing “Life Is A Highway” with the more somber moments of “Bless The Broken Road.”

Dierks Bentley followed Hunt, starting off big with “What Was I Thinking” and “5-1-50” before settling later into his more reflective hits, like the stellar “I Hold On,” “Say You Do,” and upcoming single, “Riser.”

Dierks Bentley
Dierks Bentley

Florida Georgia Line followed with a set that was true-to-form, guns and stages blazing for a raucous and party-ready offering. While they seem to settle more and more into a parody of themselves with each passing single, the duo are entertainers, and the packed stadium of country lovers was entertained. From irresistibly catchy hits like “Cruise” to the duo’s latest single, “Anything Goes,” the crowd was there.

Jason Aldean closed out the night, playing newer singles “Burnin’ It Down” and “Tonight Looks Good On You” but also kicking it back to some of his classics, much to the crowd’s delight. Aldean kicked off the set with “Tattoos on this Town,” and dug into his classic jams, including “She’s Country,” “Dirt Road Anthem,” and “My Kinda Party.”

Jason Aldean
Jason Aldean

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