By Lacey Printz
Country fans were ready for rain, tweeting “I can handle a drizzle” and “Rain is a good thang” to the LP Field Jumbotron screens on the final night of the 2012 CMA Music Festival.
But when CMT’s Evan Farmer emerged to host the concert, the gray clouds had faded, leaving a pink tint to illuminate Festival attendees as they entered the stadium.
Fireworks burst in the air as Sarah Darling, dressed in a black dress and matching cowboy boots, kicked off the closing night’s concert with the national anthem.
After years of anticipation, fans erupted at the introduction of The Mavericks. The recently reunited quartet, consisting of original members Raúl Malo, Robert Reynolds, Paul Deakin and Eddie Perez, came dressed in vests, suits and other business attire as they opened with “Back in Your Arms Again.” They kept the crowd moving with their tejano rhythms as they sang their new single, “Born to Be Blue” and then closed with a familiar hit from their catalogue, “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down.”
Next up was a member of CMA’s Country Music Hall of Fame, “Whisperin’” Bill Anderson. He began by noting that although it was a little late in the week to say ‘welcome’ he still wanted to say ‘welcome’ anyway, and then he performed “Good Time Getting Here” and the tongue-in-cheek “Wherever She Is.” Fans showed their appreciation of Anderson’s sweet singing voice, hard work and contribution to Country Music with warm, meaningful applause.
Next up was “American Idol” winner Scotty McCreery. Looking like a true Country boy in his plaid shirt, he opened with his single, ”Walk in the Country.” His fans went crazy at the first notes of his debut single from “American Idol,” “I Love You This Big.” McCreery’s deep voice and sweet smile stirred loud cheers as he sang “The Trouble with Girls” and evoked his hometown roots with “Water Tower Town.”
Recently inducted in to the Grand Ole Opry, the next artist had the fans jumping and cheering as he walked onto the stage. Wearing a red T-shirt, Dierks Bentley led the crowd in his new single, “Cold Cans.” After a brief welcome, he asked if anyone wanted to get “a little bit sideways” with him tonight as he strummed the beginning chords of “Sideways” on his guitar. Calling out to the girls in the white tank tops in the far stadium seating, Bentley announced that he wrote a special third verse for the fans at the CMA Music Festival, which triggered another wave of cheering. He sang “5150” and “Up on the Ridge” before inviting Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild to join him on their recent duet, “When You Gonna Come Around.”
In his final song, Bentley stole the hearts of the audience with his reflection on the troops in Afghanistan. “When we think about those guys in Afghanistan who traveled west, they fly across that ocean and they see that eastern seaboard for the first time, wearing the American flag on their sleeves,” he said. “And those guys must thinking, ‘What’s that song?’ “Well this is ‘Home.’”
Everyone in LP Field sang along to his performance of “Home,” and then graciously applauded as he made his exit.
At nearly 10 PM, Rascal Flatts exploded onto the LP Field stage with their upbeat and catchy “Why Wait,” on which Gary LeVox soared through his shimmering upper vocal range. He then asked who was ready to get crazy and invited all to throw their hands in the air as they sang “Me and My Gang.” Numerous beach balls flew across the right side of the fan section as the Jumbotron screens displayed a new tweet: “Just got hit in the head with a beach ball at @ #CMAFEST, the beach has arrived in Nashville!”
LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney then slowed the pace with their new single, “Come Wake Me Up,” about a harsh breakup determined in a letter. The beat picked up with “Banjo” while fans captured the flying beach balls and waved them back and forth in sync with the singers before throwing them again. The tempo eased once more as LeVox sang “What Hurts the Most,” and then the group roared to a rousing conclusion with “Life Is a Highway.” As cheers echoed through the night, all three Rascals met midstage to bow and toss kisses in tandem toward their fans.
Introduced by Luke Bryan and Kimberly Perry, Alan Jackson entered in a plaid shirt and white cowboy hat to the beat of “Chattahoochee.” Pointing and waving, Alan Jackson commanded the stage with grace and then tossed his guitar pick into the crowd. Onlookers sang joyfully along as he performed “Little Bitty.”
At this point, Jackson shared a story of wanting to write a song in memory of his father. He recalled being a kid and only wanting to do one thing, and that was to be behind the wheel. As he began “Drive (For Daddy Gene),” listeners connected easily to his affectionate lyrics about his father.
“This next song has a little blood in it,” Jackson said, referring to the fact that his nephew, Adam Wright, wrote “You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore.” And when he broke into “Good Time,” a conga line formed and stretched across the stadium grounds. Jackson laughed as he sang, pointing out the number of signs being held up with the words “Good Time.” Then, after sharing a new song called “Dixie Highway,” Jackson thanked his band, tossed his last pick out toward his fans and bade everyone goodnight.
Attention shifted to the satellite stage in the back of the stadium, where Steel Magnolia played “Last Night Again” and “Keep On Lovin’ You.” Joshua Scott Jones, dressed in black, and Meghan Linsey, in a pink, white and black dress, drew applause as they bowed and thanked their supporters.
Temperatures were comfortable and the skies had cleared as Evan Farmer came back to introduce the final artist of 2012 CMA Music Festival. Rocking the harmonica, sporting black leather pants, Martina McBride hit the stage with a bang on “Love’s the Only House.” She emphasized its message of spreading love and sharing blessings with a vocal delivery that combined passion with a strong technique and imposing upper range.
Introducing her newest single “Whatcha Gonna Do,” she playfully warned, “It’s a little sassy. We all need a sassy song out there.” Afterwards, she drew laughter by adding, “Sometimes you’ve just got to lay down the law, right?”
“I’m Gonna Love You through It” was dedicated to cancer survivors and their support systems. Then McBride graciously introduced each member of her band, requesting applause for each one individually before taking listeners back with a steady finger snap and a jazzy feel to Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.” Another positive message, encouraging empowerment among women of all ages, drove her delivery of “This One’s for the Girls.”
When she finished “Broken Wing,” the long and adoring applause had its effect on McBride, who surrendered to tears. “All I’ve ever wanted to do since I was 4 years old was sing,” she said, emotionally. “Thank you for making my dreams come true.”
With images of flames burning on the background screen, McBride wrapped up the 2012 CMA Music Festival with the American classic, “Independence Day.” But even as they filed from the stadium, fans had the last word, expressing their appreciation through tweets to the Jumbotron screens:
“This has been the best four days ever!”
“I never want to leave Tennessee!”
“Looking forward to another amazing CMA Music Festival next year!”
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