by The Spin
We did it! We logged four straight nights of red-blooded stadium twang, watered down our disposable income with $8 lite beers, suffered tailgaters, got tan lines, witnessed felonies against fashion and even risked life, limb and a lightning storm (not really) to be there. (Though who wouldn’t wanna die doing something they're so passionate about, like tweeting dick jokes during a The Band Perry Performance?)
And we did it all without getting converted to the Tennessee GOP. Not only that, we actually kinda had fun! Even if arriving to the stadium just in time to hear (but not see) the legendary Lee Greenwood bellowing his nationalistic anthem gave us a panic attack on the “was that Molly or heroin” at Bonnaroo level. “This is really happening! This is really happening!” It was like a Radiohead song, but set to very different music.
You know how we know the CMA Fest attendees are wonderful people? They don’t listen to Lenny Kravitz. That’s got to be a start. Kravitz was a surprise performer on Saturday night, puzzling the crowd who tried to figure out what tacit relationship he has to country. He knows Jason Aldean? Aldean “rocked” with Kravitz on “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” And the crowd answered with a resounding no, later leaving Lenny out to dry, as his ‘80s semi-hit “Let Love Rule” (which the crowd was collectively totally unfamiliar with) was as awkward an attempt to inspire a stadium-wide sing-along as any in rock, err, country-music history. Seriously, dude got the kind of reaction we’d imagine George W. Bush getting were he to stroll into a Colorado pot dispensary wearing a Fugazi T-shirt.
Anyway, here were our highlights: Kelly Clarkson opening her impossibly pitch-perfect set with “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” A killer pop song that only sounded all the more epic coming out of stories-high PA stacks. If that’s what they call country music these days, we like it!
But perhaps no CMA performer captured the true spirit of country as completely as Sunday night’s festival headliner Carrie Underwood, who sounded more like Axl Rose than Axl Rose on a remarkably faithful cover of Guns N’ Roses “Paradise City,” which was especially faithful in that Underwood’s backing band featured no original members of Guns N’ Roses — though Brad Paisley did play with both Underwood and Charlie Daniels, and that qualifies him as the Slash of country music.
Hunter Hayes was also great. Don’t get us wrong now: We’d still probably rather slather ourselves in peanut butter and then wrestle with days-starved wild boars than be stuck on a desert island long enough to make it through one full listen of Hunter’s record. But we agree with our Jewish mother: The kid’s got talent. And he enraptured the crowd something fierce — it was impressive. The fact that Hayes also managed to trot out deplorably irrelevant popsmith Jason Mraz and not end up on The Spin’s hit list is commendable. Here’s the thing about Hunter Hayes: All we can say is get used to it, because, barring any kind of force majeure, this wunderkind ain’t going anywhere — he’s a mini-John Mayer packaged in a Bieber body and peddled to the country crowd (though the crossover is inevitable, if it hasn’t already started). Years ago, this Spinster made similar predictions about John Mayer upon first seeing him, and now look: Dude compares his dick to David Duke and he STILL has a career playing blues for people who’ve never heard of Freddie King. In fairness to Hunter Hayes, at least he doesn’t sound like wheezing toddler on Codeine when he sings.
That said, Jay-May is a regular ol' Freddie Mercury-meets-Levon Helm when it comes to the goddamn crime against humanity that is Florida Georgia Line, whose horrifying masterclass in douchetardom — which, musically, sounded like Def Leppard meets Uncle Kracker meets Master P, and which fashionably looks like Def Leppard meets Uncle Kracker meets Master P meets Baptist roofie dealers from the Jersey Shore — was harder to watch than an hours-long ASPCA ad. The guitarist with the spacers ... ugh.
Speaking of guitarists, we’re pretty sure we haven’t seen that many Paul Reed Smith custom axes on one stage since … actually, we’ve never seen that many Paul Reed Smith guitars in one place. (No, The Spin has never been to a Santana concert, and never will.)
But wait, we were talking about things we liked at CMA Fest. Let’s pick up with Keith Urban, who — despite having to cut his set short to abide curfew (until Sunday nigh, performances consistently ran behind schedule) — made the best, most star-worthy stage exit we’ve ever fucking seen. To put things in perspective, dude — who really can wail on a guitar, like, in a good way — was able to trump a Fourth of July-worthy fireworks show (which accompanied set-closing rocker “You Look Good in My Shirt”) by exiting the stage via the crowd, walking down the stadium floor aisles, getting mobbed by fans, signing his guitar and handing it off to an audience member, before getting in his pick-up truck and driving out of the arena via the tunnel, presumably off to go neck with Nicole Kidman at the top of Love Circle or something. It was pretty badass.
Our hard hearts totally melted when 9- and 13-year-old precocious sister act Lennon and Maisy Stella — you know them as Rayna’s daughters on Nashville — made a surprise appearance to sing their cover of that uber-ubiquitous Lumineers song. It was seriously the most adorable thing we’ve seen since the bowling alley scene in There Will Be Blood.
Blake Shelton also performed.