CMA Fest’s Friday Night Nissan Stadium Shows: 5 Top Moments

Shortly into his set at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium on Friday night (June 7), two-time CMA Award winner Cody Johnson laid down a challenge for the crowd with one simple question: “Are you ready for some country music tonight?”

For more than three hours, approximately 70,000 fans filling the stadium answered that question with a resounding ‘Yes.’ As the four-day country music extravaganza CMA Fest reached its halfway mark, the Friday night lineup at Nissan Stadium offered a triple shot of Texas country, thanks to a lineup that included Johnson, Parker McCollum, and Jon Pardi.

Women artists also made a strong showing Friday night, with the lineup featuring the “Redneck Woman” herself, Gretchen Wilson, as well as “Austin” hitmaker Dasha, singer-songwriter K. Michelle’s soulful set on the platform stage, and Kelsea Ballerini, who just announced her added gig as a coach on The Voice.

In the process of the cavalcade of artists taking the stage, night two at Nissan Stadium showcased the country music industry’s continued economic power and international draw, with die-hard country music fans attending from all 50 states and numerous countries. Night two also highlighted the power of songs that break through to the core of deep-seated emotions — whether heartbreak, remorse, love, or celebration — to fuel fan-connecting, headliner-status careers.

Throughout the evening, the songs that poured from the two stages highlighted enduring country classics, some of the biggest hits of the moment, party-ready fare, and moments of self-reflection and heartbreak — with those spectrum-spanning emotions sometimes wrapped into a single song.

As the clock reached midnight, two-time CMA entertainer of the year winner Luke Bryan launched his show, asking the crowd, “Ready to take this into the next morning?” He then proceeded to fill his midnight set with a string of hits he’s piled up over the past decade-plus, including “My Kind of Night” and “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Everyday.” The bulk of the concertgoers stayed, ready to continue an already hours-long, music-filled day in downtown Nashville into the wee hours of the morning at Nissan Stadium.

Here, we look at five top moments from night two of CMA Fest.

• **Dasha Takes Nashville to “Austin”**

Dasha played her first stadium gig on Friday night and she made the most of it, turning in a brief-yet-impactful two-song performance on the platform stage, surrounded by audience members. She offered up her global hit “Austin,” bringing a defiant, line-dance groove perfect for a stadium packed with boot-wearing revelers.

“I wrote this song last year and it changed my life,” Dasha said. Indeed.

• **Jon Pardi and Clint Black Offer a Shot of ’90s Country**

Texas native Pardi prowled the far reaches of the massive stage with swagger on Friday night. He launched into hits including “Dirt on My Boots,” “Head Over Boots,” and “Heartache on the Dance Floor,” bolstered by careening rock guitar and sonic slabs of fiddle. Pardi’s own music puts his ’80s and ‘90s country inspirations on display, but his set got an extra shot of ‘90s country bona fides when he welcomed triple threat guitarist-vocalist-songwriter and four-time CMA Award winner Clint Black to the stage, ratcheting the crowd’s excitement, which surged another notch. Calling Black “one of my heroes,” Pardi joined Black for “Killin’ Time,” with the crowd singing along as if the heartbreaker hit had been released in recent years, not more than three decades ago.

• **Little Big Town Brings a ‘Crush’ to CMA Fest**

Little Big Town celebrates 25 years as a group this year, and made a surprise appearance on Friday night, bringing in a moment of sultry angst when they performed their hit “Girl Crush.” Flanked by her bandmates Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook, and Philip Sweet, Karen Fairchild offered up a flawlessly pleading lead vocal, bolstered by the group’s signature swirl of tightly-stacked harmonies. Though their appearance at Nissan Stadium on Friday night consisted of only one song, this group is always a standout.

• **Kelsea Ballerini’s Cathartic Songs Make for a Fan-Bonding Moment**

Appearing on the Nissan Stadium’s main stage before a backdrop of columns of light, Ballerini took fans on a trip down memory lane during the initial moments of her set with a trio of songs from her first album: “Love Me Like You Mean It,” “Dibs,” and “Yeah Boy.” From there, the Knoxville, Tennessee, native showcased a decade of artistic growth with songs from her recent project Rolling Up the Welcome Mat.

Calling her life “unrecognizable” from what it was two years ago, she acknowledged that she’s “had some hard things to walk through,” but maintained, “I’ve never been so proud to just be exactly where I’m at.”

“We are in earshot of the penthouse,” she hinted, offering up an emotionally cathartic performance of songs from that Grammy-nominated set, starting with the breakup anthem “Penthouse.” Arriving at the pivotal lyric “You got half,” the crowd screamed along with gusto, as they did when she offered up lyrics from the “healed version” of the song, with women in the crowd cheering to the freeing lyric “Now I don’t care where you’re sleeping.” She offered a double-punch of heart-wrenching songs with the blistering callout of “Blindsided,” as the crowd poured its pain and venom into the sarcastic line “Yeah, sure, OK.”

“Well, that was therapy,” she quipped.

• **Cody Johnson Brings Texas to Tennessee, Teams With Jelly Roll**

Texas native Johnson launched his set with a tribute to the Lone Star State in “That’s Texas,” turning Nissan Stadium into a massive honky-tonk for a night. A tribute to The Charlie Daniels Band followed via a rendition of “Long Haired Country Boy” (a staple in Johnson’s live show) as did renditions of his current single, the sterling ballad “Dirt Cheap,” and a fist-pumping performance of his first Billboard Country Airplay No. 1, “’Til You Can’t.”

But one of the defining moments of Johnson’s set came when he teamed up with four-time Country Airplay chart-topper Jelly Roll for their heart-tugging ballad of remorse that leads to essential life shifts in “Whiskey Bent.” Solid songcraft, plus two of country music’s most expressive, unfiltered vocalists made for one of the night’s most engaging moments.