Kelly Clarkson and Trisha Yearwood cover Garth Brooks [Photo: Donn Jones/CMA]A whole lot of stars who aren't actually country music stars invaded Nashville's LP Field Saturday for the third night of the CMA Festival. Kelly Clarkson and the Duck Dynasty family were certainly warmly welcomed, since they share plenty of roots and pals with the genre in question.
But when it came to rocker Lenny Kravitz, many attendees were wondering why he got a half-hour set at the stadium that could have been allotted to someone with the slightest connection to Nashville.
A clear crowd favorite of the night came when Clarkson brought out Trisha Yearwood to duet on her set-closing cover of Garth Brooks' "Ain't Going Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)," in a pairing of Stronger and Newly Skinnier. The house was brought down, even if Kelly and Trisha weren't. The enthusiasm level for this surpassed even the mania that resulted when Clarkson introduced Jason Aldean for their already-a-standard ballad, "Don't You Wanna Stay."
Clarkson and Aldean at LP FieldClarkson would certainly win any award for the festival's most adorably garrulous performer. The subject of missing jewelry became a theme throughout her half-hour set. Introducing her brand new single "Tie It Up" — a galvanizingly hard-rocking pop song about marital bonds — Clarkson said, "It’s kind of about my life, because I’m getting married — boom! And I’m kind of freaking out because I have no idea where my rings are, and that’s not a joke. Brandon’s killing me. He’s back there going, what?" Later on: "I can’t believe I forgot my rings. I’m having a panic attack."
Lenny Kravitz and Jason Aldean, with guitarist Craig Ross [Photo: John Russell/CMA]Kravitz's appearance, on the other hand, had much of the audience going "What the...?" It was almost certainly the festival's attempt to bait Aldean, who didn't have a headlining set of his own this week, into showing up for more camera time that could come in handy for the ABC special recapping the festival in August.
On Wednesday night, Aldean had joined Kravitz to open the CMT Awards with the Guess Who's "American Woman" — a thematically as well as musically odd choice for a country music telecast, since it was originally written by the Canadian group as an anti-American protest song. But who's keeping track of lyrics, as long as country fans can feel honored that they're being visited by a washed-up rock refugee, right? Saturday night, they reprised that anti-U.S. rock anthem as well as joining up for Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way." When Kravitz did three numbers without his superstar country buddy, though, the crowd seemed disinterested. The rocker ran through the crowd and exhorted them to sing along with "Let Love Rule," but the cameras caught most of the attendees either sitting on their hands or absent and in the beer lines. Don't expect to see that number on TV in two months.
The Duck Dynasty clan was on hand for some introductions, and also to come backstage and announce to the press their very first musical release — an upcoming Christmas album, to be called Duck the Halls and released by Universal Nashville on October 29.
The Duck Dynasty family gets Christmasy [Chris Willman]Backstage, a reporter who seemed a bit incredulous that the family's vocal and instrumental talent had been hidden under a bushel heretofore asked: "Are you musical people?"
After a pause, Willie Robertson answered, "We got a record deal!"... which got a big laugh.
"I guess we'll all find out pretty soon," added Korie Robertson, which didn't sound like a great guarantee of the greatest Christmas album ever. "No, I went and saw our Christmas program last season where Missy sang 'Silent Night,' because she's our resident singer," and that's when the idea came together, apparently.
"I'll take all the credit and all the blame," said Missy Robertson.
Earlier in the day, members of the family had been involved in a Christmas-related competition that will undoubtedly be featured on a fall episode of their show, which resulted in some CMA Fest attendees being roped into putting on Santa costumes alongside the cast members.
Florida Georgia Line [Photo: Chris Willman]Also on the bill (not to be confused with duck bill) Saturday: Florida Georgia Line, whose Brian Kelley said backstage that it had been "a dream come true today just to sound-check in the stadium."
Nelly did not show up here to guest on "Cruise," as he had three nights earlier at the CMT Awards. Anyway, maybe there'll be a different star cameo at this time next year. "We've got a list of people that would be amazing to work with," said Tyler Hubbard. "We've always talked about working with Lil Wayne or Wiz Khalifa, for sure." Perhaps Weezy can get his own half-hour set at next year's fest!
Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, Brett Eldredge, and the Oak Ridge Boys rounded out the Saturday LP Field bill.
Dierks Bentley at the CMA Festival [Photo: Chris Willman]Bentley debuted his new single, "Bourbon in Kentucky." The guest vocalist on the recorded version, Kacey Musgraves, is out on tour with Kenny Chesney and was unavailable to recreate her studio part. In her place was one of the ballad's co-writers, hit tunesmith Hillary Lindsey.
Most of the performers who come backstage at the festival are asked about how it's changed since the days when it was called Fan Fair, but few are in a better position to really gage the changes than Bentley.
"I’m just shocked," said Dierks. "When I first moved to town a couple of decades ago, I got an internship with the CMA, and I was wearing a headset and running around. Jo Dee Messina was in the back of my golf cart and I was taking her to different booths and stuff. So I’ve seen this thing go from the fairgrounds to here. I remember when they said they were gonna move it up here and I thought, 'Aw, it’s too big a space, it’s not gonna work.' Now you can’t even move downtown... I think people who come here who don’t know anything about CMA Fest or country music are just shocked at the proximity of country singers to the fans and just the mutual respect and trust and love between the singers and fans... So (the growth) even shocks me, and I’ve been here 20 years."
Little Big Town came backstage to talk with the media Saturday night. Though they performed as headliners the night before, they'll be here all week — as they say in Las Vegas — because they're taping intros for the ABC special.
LBT does CMA [Photo: Chris Willman]There are probably some fans who came to town on a budget and are sleeping in their cars and haven't changed clothes all week. Although Little Big Town presumably have a hotel honorarium, they've been wearing the same duds for days too, and they aren't that thrilled about it.
"The only thing that I would do differently if we ever got to host again," said Karen Fairchild, "is I’d like to change clothes every night. Because we have to wear the same things for continuity. ABC, could we please not be continuous?"