The CMA Music Fest in Nashville is an annual event, but this year’s event, June 10-13, felt like anything but business as usual.
This time six weeks ago, LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans and host to the big multi-artist concerts held every night, was underwater. Whether the CMA Fest would take place this year was in question as the Cumberland River overflowed its banks, flooding the very streets where stages for outdoor festivities were to stand.
So this year’s festival felt very much like a triumph. While there is much rebuilding still to be done—3,000 families remain displaced from the massive flooding—a sense of joy, resolve, gratitude and strength permeated this year’s Festival.
Nowhere were those feelings more evident than during Keith Urban’s electrifying set on Friday night (among the other artists playing LP Field were Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Martina McBride, Carrie Underwood and Kid Rock). Urban was on fire from the start as he ripped through such hits as “Kissed a Girl,” “Days Go By,” “Sweet Thing,” and “Somebody Like You.”
But as he came to the close of his segment, the Nashville resident began talking eloquently about the flooding. He acknowledged the anguish and the loss, but focused on how strangers had risked their lives to help others and the everyday heroes who had stepped up during and after the flooding, He then broke into a masterful version of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” (arranged more like the Joe Cocker version than the Beatles’ original). He was joined by several of friends, including members of Little Big Town and Sarah Buxton. His wife, Nicole Kidman, was waiting in the wings and Taylor Swift had been roaming about backstage shortly before, but neither one of them took the stage.
Despite the stars on stage, the real power came from the marriage of the music and the images projected behind Urban on the massive stage of flooded streets underwater, high-risk rescues and relief workers. It was a sobering reminder of what the city had been through and how far it had come in such a short span of time. Add that emotional pinnacle to an already soaring performance and it added up to what many felt was the highlight of the festival.
I covered CMA Music Festival for MSN.com and spent most of my time with a camera crew in the bowels of LP Field with a camera crew interviewing artists before they took the stage. Those pieces will go up on msn.com shortly, but in the meantime, a few of our favorite interview moments came from Miranda Lambert, who wore a wrist cuff made from a Budweiser can and dangling rhinestones. It’s the latest in “hillbilly couture,” she told us with a laugh. She also admitted she "bawled for two hours," the first time she heard her current No. 1 smash, "The House that Built Me" (our favorite country song of the year so far). Also wearing fascinating jewelry was Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott, who had on a studded silver bracelet with spikes coming out of it that seemed straight out of Christina Aguilera’s “Not Myself Tonight” video---or a way to keep overfriendly fans at bay. Scott, who’s become quite the red carpet fashion plate, told us she would love to eventually start her own clothing line.
Jason Aldean lobbied for a spot on the final Brooks & Dunn tour, which lasts until Aug. 10. He said the duo have been short on career advice, but have been long on advising him on the best tequila to drink. Julianne Hough talked about how much she adored working with Cher on “Burlesque.” The Oscar-winning actress was down-to-earth and friendly and more than willing to dish about boys. Between takes, “every other word was about men or a curse word,” Hough said, laughing. Josh Turner admitted he passed on “In Color,” Jamey Johnson’s massive, award-winning hit.
Keith Urban taped an episode of CMT’s “Crossroads” with John Mayer that begins airing June 18. The two gunslingers got on famously, but when asked what he learned from Mayer, who seems to get in trouble every time he opens his mouth, Urban quipped “to say less.” But the most touching interview belonged to Trace Adkins. He may be huge and imposing, but get him talking about his visits to Walter Reed Hospital to visit injured soldiers and he practically wells up recounting the strength, bravery and determination the men and women he’s met with exhibit. He’s filled with both humility and pride that some service men and women have been so moved by his music that they have tattooed his lyrics on their bodies. When the end of his life comes, he said those were the moments that he would remember.