Over 60,000 fans were in attendance at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium on Saturday (June 9), for evening three of 2018 CMA Fest. The nightly stadium concert went past midnight with acts like Keith Urban, Chris Stapleton, Kelsea Ballerini, Sam Hunt, Dustin Lynch and Jon Pardi performing on the main stage.
Urban kicked off his headlining set with a one-two punch of “Never Comin’ Down” and “Somewhere In My Car.” With slick production and soaring guitar features, he had country fans on their feet well past midnight. While upbeat single “Coming Home” continued the energy, his No. 1 ballad “Blue Ain’t Your Color” had the singer effortlessly switching gears and showcasing his emotive vocals.
“So nice to be back at CMA Fest,” Urban said mid-set. “You look so good from up here, you have no idea. Should we come out and say hey? I think we should.”
He then walked off the stage and through a crowd of thousands of country fans on the field of the stadium. As he set up his microphone stand in the middle of the floor, he told the audience that he wanted them to help sing Carrie Underwood’s part on “The Fighter.”
“I think we have a few Carrie Underwood’s out here tonight,” he concluded, impressed at the audience’s vocals, before he closed his set with the memorable “Wasted Time.”
While Urban brought the party, Stapleton brought the musicianship with a standout performance that captivated all in attendance with his soulful vocals and masterful guitar interludes. The singer had the crowd screaming with set closer and fan favorite “Tennessee Whiskey” as his voice reverberated throughout the stadium. Additional highlights included the bluesy “Second One to Know,” where Stapleton’s guitar prowess was showcased, and what he referenced as his “hillbilly” song, “Hard Livin’.”
Lynch, meanwhile, made the most of his 20 minutes on stage and easily converted thousands of new fans with his blend of country, pop and urban influences. His first full-set on the main stage, Lynch’s excitement was evident and he more than delivered. Songs like the guitar heavy “Seein’ Red,” new single “Good Girl,” and infectious “Mind Reader” displayed his headliner status while his impressive cover of Drake’s “God’s Plan” had the crowd on its feet in approval.
Ahead of launching into his massive No. 1 hit “Small Town Boy,” Lynch thanked the audience of country fans for their support on the song. “Thank you guys so much for changing my life this past year with this song,” he said. “We will never forget this night.”
Additional highlights throughout Saturday’s stadium concert included a surprise appearance from Hunt, who performed his new single, “Downtown’s Dead.” The singer emerged from the stands at the start of the track and walked through the audience as he sang the song. He then finished “Downtown’s Dead” on a small stage in the middle of the floor audience much to their delight.
Ballerini, who serves as a co-host to the televised CMA Fest special alongside Thomas Rhett, also performed on the main stage. Her set heavily featured songs off her latest album, Unapologetically, including the title track, current single “I Hate Love Songs,” previous No. 1 hit “Legends,” and the production-heavy “Miss Me More.” She also had the audience singing along loudly for early hits “Yeah Boy,” “Love Me Like You Mean It” and “Peter Pan.”
While the night was heavy in slick production and a combination of urban and pop elements, Pardi reminded all that CMA Fest is, in fact, a country music festival. His traditional country flair was showcased throughout his performance, which integrated set opener “Paycheck” and the upbeat “Night Shift,” as well as new single “She Ain’t In It,” with a medley of his biggest hits to date including “Head Over Boots,” “Heartache On the Dance Floor” and “Dirt On My Boots.”
Appreciative of his timeslot on the main stage, Pardi thanked the audience for showing up early to catch his first-ever performance at Nissan Stadium as part of CMA Fest. “I’ve got some butterflies,” he confessed. “I’m pretty excited to be here on the big-deal stage. I worked six years to get here so thank you for making it happen tonight.”
CMA Fest 2018 runs through Sunday, June 10, in Nashville.