More than 80,000 people attended the CMA Music Festival in Nashville this past weekend, and country music's biggest stars were out in full force performing, signing autographs and getting up close and personal with their biggest fans.
Lady Antebellum opened the CMA Music Festival Thursday cutting the ribbon on the Fan Fair X event at Nashville's brand-new Music City Center. They went on to host a weekend-long ping pong tournament at Fan Fair X to raise money for their charity organization, Lady Aid. Little Big Town showed up in matching, red jumpsuits to take on Lady A's Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood in a game of ping pong that first day. Though Charles admits Little Big Town beat them in the fashion department, Dave adds, "We beat 'em."
Lady A's Hillary Scott will deliver her first child next month, so she was thankful for the moderate temperatures during their Friday night performance at Nashville's LP Field.
She said backstage before the show, "When I looked at the forecast for tonight, I was like, 'This is a direct gift from God to me.' It's gonna be 68 degrees. So, I really appreciate that."
Fans at the nightly LP Field shows enjoyed plenty of surprise performances, including Jason Aldean and Lenny Kravitz reprising their performance of "American Woman" from the 2013 CMT Music Awards. Lenny went on to perform a full set for the LP Field crowd. Kelly Clarkson welcomed Trisha Yearwood for a high-energy rendition of "Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)," which was originally a hit for Trisha's hubby Garth Brooks . Kelly also debuted her new country single, "Tie It Up," for the crowd.
Tim McGraw and Keith Urban joined Taylor Swift for "Highway Don't Care" during her opening night set, and Brad Paisley welcomed Charlie Daniels to perform their collaboration, "Karate." Little Big Town also made a special appearance with Sheryl Crow to help her out on "Soak Up the Sun." Little Big Town's Phillip Sweet says he's glad to see country music's borders expanding into other genres at this festival.
He explains, "I think it says a lot about country music that all these other artists wanna come and be a part and collaborate. It's pretty awesome to see."
Hunter Hayes got in the collaborative spirit too. Pop star Jason Mraz made a surprise appearance with him at LP Field to sing "Everybody's Got Somebody but Me," which will appear on Hunter's expanded (Encore) edition of his debut album, due out June 18. Hunter introduced himself to Jason at the Grammy Awards earlier this year and pitched him on the idea of collaborating on the song.
Says Hunter, "Next thing I knew, I had tracks in my inbox, and it was vocal tracks from the one and only. So, it was pretty cool to get that in and kinda give it that, I mean, totally new life on the song, totally new perspective. The song has a whole new meaning in my opinion now."
Hunter had another surprise for his fans with his unannounced, free performance at the Riverfront stage Saturday afternoon.
Dierks Bentley has fond memories of the CMA Music Festival's former home at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in Nashville. He interned for the CMA when he first moved to town and drove a few of the stars around in golf carts to different signing booths. Now that the festival has taken over LP Field and all of downtown Nashville, Dierks is amazed at how much the festival has grown.
"You go there today, and it's like, just, you can't even move downtown," Dierks says. "They've shut down Broadway."
What makes the CMA Music Festival so unique is how close fans get to the stars at different fan club events and signing booths inside the Fan Fair X event at Music City Center.
Says Dierks, "I think people that come here that don't know anything really about CMA Music Fest or country music are just shocked at the proximity of the country singers to the fans and just the mutual respect and trust and kind of love between the singers and the fans."
Carrie Underwood , Brad Paisley , The Band Perry and Jake Owen were among the stars playing the CMA Music Festival's closing night at LP Field Sunday.
If you couldn't make it to the big event this year, watch the CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock special August 12 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Little Big Town hosts the three-hour program highlighting the festival's biggest performances.
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