(Written by Lisa Hendin)
There’s always a unique energy in the air on the last night of CMA Music Festival. That proved true again on Sunday, June 13, as fans filed into LP Field for the fourth and final time of the week, preparing to soak up their last hours of Country Music ecstasy before heading back to reality.
Following the national anthem by Mark Wills and comic interlude from Paul Harris of The Cleverlys, Arkansas native Justin Moore took the stage, sporting a cowboy hat and plaid shirt with just enough buttons undone to make much of the female contingent take notice. He prepped the audience with a question: “Anybody out there proud to be from a small town?” The answer was clearly positive, with cheers and screams filling the stadium as Moore launched into “Small Town USA.”
Moore expanded on this theme as he set up his closing tune. “We figured you can’t be from Small Town USA unless you grew up way out in the backwoods,” he proclaimed. The response, as he kicked into “Backwoods,” proved that everybody, regardless of how big or small their hometown, could connect with his message and music.
“I thought Justin did fantastic. I just want to know how he squats so low in those really tight jeans,” joked Katie Nordstrom, 25, who hails from central New Jersey.
Next up was Kellie Pickler. Rocking a red cocktail dress, she got the crowd going right away with “Best Days of Your Life.” Cameras flashed rapidly as she slowed things down with “Didn’t You Know How Much I Loved You,” a song she favors so much it’s on both of her albums. Before finishing with “Red High Heels,” Pickler stuck true to her reputation of speaking her mind as she announced to the delighted audience that she was “sweating like a hog” in the steamy summer heat.
Another artist known for humorous remarks, Blake Shelton entered next and opened with a saga of prison escape and hound-dog romance, “Ol’ Red.” Then, halfway into his set, Shelton decided to tell the audience a bit about himself.
“I’m a lover,” he proclaimed. “I love hunting. I love fishing. I love women. I love drinking. And I love Country Music, y’all!” Applause exploded throughout the sold-out stadium as he then dedicated his next song, “Kiss My Country Ass,” to anyone offended by what he believes.
Even those cheers paled, though, to the ovation that rose as Shelton’s fiancée, Miranda Lambert, joined her husband-to-be for a duet on his hit single “Home.” “It was so amazing to hear Miranda sing with Blake tonight because it’s something they don’t do often,” said Brooke Swenson of Kansas City, Mo. “They’re so perfect for each other. She brings out a soft side in him the public doesn’t often see.”
That tender moment vanished almost as quickly as it came when Trace Adkins joined Shelton for a stompin’ rendition of “Hillbilly Bone.” Then Adkins opened his own set with “Hot Mama,” after which he thanked his fans for “bringing their badonkadonks” to Nashville. Needless to say, he closed with “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” in a performance that inspired Amanda Breeden of Hedgesville, W.Va. to quip, “He sure knows how to shake it.”
CMA New Talent Award winner Darius Rucker took the crowd for a trip down memory lane, belting out “Only Wanna Be with You” and Prince’s “Purple Rain” from his Hootie & The Blowfish catalog. By the end of the set, the screams of the crowd confirmed once more that Rucker had found a true and new home in the Country community.
Anticipation and excitement escalated as the crowd braced for the finale of CMA Music Festival 2010. Emcee Evan Farmer, host of CMT’s “Top 20 Countdown,” attempted to introduce the final act, yet the screams erupting from the crowd muffled his comments completely. The throb of the bass and drums set tens of thousands of hands clapping as Brad Paisley made his entrance. The reigning CMA Male Vocalist of the Year was so overwhelmed by his reception that he even forgot the words to his opening song.
“Wait a minute,” he said, laughing, as the band kept the groove pumping. “What are the words? What’s the first line of this song? Does anybody know?” The audience shouted their cues back, and Paisley responded with a full 10-song set that included “Ticks,” “She’s Everything,” “Welcome to the Future” and other hits.
The highlight of the night came last, though, as Paisley invited Rucker, Moore and Chuck Wicks onto the stage to help him close the show with “Alcohol.” Laughter nearly shook the stadium as Rucker took on the line “helping white people dance,” accompanied by some moves of his own. Before the song had finished, the audience was on its feet, unleashing waves of appreciation that washed repeatedly over the stage. Shouting over their cheers, Paisley asked, “You glad you guys came this year?” Their reaction was unanimously and enthusiastically affirmative.