CMA Fest was a rousing success this past weekend in Nashville, with four days of country music megastars and up-and-comers taking over the downtown area. Day 1 was a highlight reel of itself, starting with a festival-opening set from Jimmie Allen and ending with Keith Urban performing for tens of thousands at Nissan Stadium. But there were plenty of big moments and experiences in between.
The 2022 CMA Fest was actually this PopCulture.com's editor's first CMA Fest. (That's right, despite living in Tennessee my whole life, I've never bothered with the massive country music festival. I'm usually more of a Bonnaroo or Beale Street Music Festival guy, sue me.) I tried to make the most of it, checking out daytime sets, visiting some of the various experiences and checking out the stadium shows each night. (I even ate complimentary mashed potatoes that were being handed out for some reason?) For Day 1, the music was our main focus; here are the high points we loved:
Jimmie Allen Kicks off the Weekend
Jimmie Allen kicked off CMA Fest with a burst of energy and plenty of special guests. The country star gave eager fans — who all got up early to see the free concert and battled some blistering sunshine — exactly what they wanted out of CMA Fest. He played plenty of his fan-favorite songs like "Make Me Want To" and "Big in a Small Town" but also provided a bit of spectacle with a fleet of special guests.
American Idol Season 20 winner Noah Thompson and runner-up Huntergirl were among them. Thompson, 20, seemed a bit nervous, but Huntergirl shined, even laughing off being given a way-too-tall mic stand with charm. Elsewhere in the set, Allen brought out Camille Parker, Neon Union, Chuck Adams and Lindsay Ell for collaborations. (Ell would also go on to play a roaring set on the same stage later in the day.)prevnext
Marcus King Stands Out
There were plenty of memorable guest appearances throughout the weekend at CMA Fest, but Marcus King was one of the best. King, the 26-year-old singer/guitarist, isn't someone you'd expect to see at the mainstream-country-centric CMA Fest, despite being one of Americana's most exciting artists. However, Zac Brown Band helped bridge the gap between the two sides of the country music world by inviting King out to perform their collaboration "Stubborn Pride" during their Thursday night Nissan Stadium set. King was absolutely stellar, delivering soulful vocals and a phenomenal guitar solo. He found definitely some new fans that wouldn't have heard him otherwise.prevnext
Priscilla Block's Big Moment
Priscilla Block is a rising young country star, part of a recent batch of performers that have blown up on social media. She has 1.3 million followers on TikTok, and while it's not as easy as one would think to turn that stat into big country success, Block is well on her way. Her abbreviated performance Thursday night at Nissan Stadium's Platform Stage (a very small stage located in the elevated VIP section towards one end of the field) was the latest step on her journey to superstardom. Block's vocals and personality were perfectly showcased in the two-song set, with the 26-year-old star even crying a bit while reminiscing on her humble beginnings. (She recently told NASHtoday that she previously performed on Nashville sidewalks during past CMA Fests, going as far as editing festival logos onto her photos to make it seem more official.)prevnext
Keith Urban Is on Another Level
Keith Urban wrapped up the first night of CMA Fest 2022 with Nissan Stadium set that proved he is on another level. Urban has been one of the faces of pop country for decades, and he just keeps getting better. He's carved out a distinctive position apart from his peers, even giving off a more youthful vibe than many other much younger performers. He made the most of his seven-song set, delivering stadium-ready hits like "Days Go By" and "Wild Hearts." Urban also provided magical concert moments, heading in the middle of the crowd (using a very small additional floor stage) and having the crowd light up the entire stadium using only the lights from their phones. It's touches like those that can elevate a live performance, even one that has to be crammed into CMA Fest's typical 45-minute set window.prevnext
Random Takeaways From Day 1
- The Riverfront Stage was unbearably hot and annoying to find a spot in. We didn't return after catching Allen and Ell's Thursday performances.
- Ell absolutely shreds, once again making us feel stupid for not getting into her music sooner.
- Tom Hanks was watching his wife Rita Wilson's set at the remarkably low-key Chevy Vibes stage, and we later spotted the couple casually watching Urban's set from the stands.
- Darius Rucker puts on a hell of a fun show, even if we just watched him live a few days beforehand. Shoutout to Hootie!
- I'm really no fan of Jason Aldean, but I have to admit, the man has major star power. His Nissan Stadium performance had fans absolutely enamored and he commanded the stage with ease.
- The walk back from Nissan Stadium to the PopCulture.com office after the show made me regret every single decision I had made that day.