CMA Fest 2018 came to a close on Sunday (June 10), at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium with a night country fans will never forget. With countless surprise appearances from the Backstreet Boys, Dwight Yoakam and Brothers Osborne, the annual festival had artists and fans alike pronouncing 2018 their favorite year yet.
While each performance at the nightly stadium show impressed throughout the four-day festival, it was Sunday evening’s five-hour show that showcased the many standout collaborations within the country genre. No one’s set highlighted this more than Florida Georgia Line, who brought out three special guests.
Kicking their set off with their debut single and massive 2012 hit “Cruise,” Florida Georgia Line kept the party going with “This Is How We Roll.” Following their performance of new single “Simple,” the duo then launched into “God, Your Mama and Me,” their No. 1 hit with the Backstreet Boys. Hot on the heels of winning CMT Performance of the Year at the 2018 CMT Music Awards for their “Everybody” collaboration, FGL brought out the boy band to assist on the song. The moment the Backstreet Boys were spotted on stage, Nissan Stadium erupted in screams and their five-part harmonies were soon heard on the 2017 collaboration.
That wasn’t the only surprise Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley had in store for the audience though. Following BSB’s entrance, duet partner Morgan Wallen joined FGL for a performance of his current single “Up Down,” which features the duo.
“BK and I love to write songs and make music and every now and then something really special happens,” Hubbard said. “Every now and then you make a new friend because you gotta get really vulnerable to write music and it’s a beautiful thing. You can become best friends with somebody pretty dang quick in the studio. This next song is one of those examples of making a great friend and writing one song together and knowing you have something special.”
The duo then performed “Meant to Be,” their latest No. 1 hit with pop star Bebe Rexha, and one of the biggest songs of their career. Rexha was a natural on the main stage and stunned with her powerful vocals and blinged-out cowboy hat that featured 6,000 Swarovski crystals.
Florida Georgia Line weren’t the only ones who had a set filled with surprise guests. Dierks Bentley brought out one of his idols, Dwight Yoakam, for an energetic performance of the singer’s 1993 hit, “Fast As You.” While holding his guitar high in the air and showcasing his fancy footwork, Yoakam had the stadium mesmerized and Bentley declaring it his favorite CMA Fest in history.
“I got goose bumps all over my body,” Bentley admitted following their duet. “I’m his biggest fan. This is the best CMA Fest ever! We hope you’re having the best CMA Fest of your lives.”
His set also included the poignant “I Hold On” and recent single “Woman, Amen” as well as another surprise collaboration with Brothers Osborne on “Burning Man.” With an epic guitar jam that had the festival crowd on its feet, Bentley’s set proved his headliner status.
Thomas Rhett and Brett Eldredge also brought the energy on their hit-heavy sets. Rhett performed many tracks off his latest album, Life Changes, including the record’s title track, the heartfelt “Sixteen,” and No. 1 singles “Unforgettable” and “Marry Me.” In the middle of playing his career-defining single “Die a Happy Man,” he told the audience that he grew up watching CMA Fest in the cheap seats as a fan.
“I literally sat up there my whole high school career and most of my college days,” he recalled. “So, to be here singing for you tonight, I can’t even describe to you what a dream come true it is.”
Eldredge, meanwhile, had a lively set of back-to-back hits and upbeat numbers that had him running around the stadium stage. Highlights included the infectious “Beat of the Music,” the energetic “Lose My Mind” and the nostalgic “Wanna Be That Song,” which he said he wrote to have fans sing back to him during moments like CMA Fest.
Luke Bryan closed CMA Fest 2018 with a career-spanning set list that included a nod to Randy Travis, who was in attendance. While his 2011 chart topper “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” had country fans dancing along at the start of his performance, he later slowed things down for the thoughtful “Most People Are Good” and Travis covers of “On the Other Hand” and “Diggin’ Up Bones.” His set went well past midnight, closing what some regard as the most memorable CMA Fest to date.
CMA Fest 2018 was held June 7 – 10 in Nashville. The annual country music festival will be showcased on television later this summer as a concert special on ABC, airing Aug. 8.