Sure, it feels like a century since the last one, but remember something called "stadium concerts"? Remember how fun they were?
If you're in need of a memory jolt — and who isn't? — ABC has come to the rescue on Monday night with a three-hour special, CMA Best of the Fest. It's an exhilarating collection of live performances on arguably the most important stage (outside of awards shows) in country music: the star-packed concerts held each year in Nashville's Nissan Stadium during the city's CMA Fest.
The festival was canceled this year (see: global pandemic), but the Country Music Association, which each year distills the four nights of concerts into a much-anticipated TV special, was determined that the show must go on.
How to choose from 16 years of greatest hits, sensational collaborations and superstar surprises? Producer Robert Deaton, clearly sensing the doldrums of his concert-starved audience, has delivered 27 of the most high-energy, mood-elevating performances ever to grace the stadium's expansive stage.
You want career-making hits? Then get ready for Sam Hunt to cruise through "Body Like a Back Road" in 2017, the year that song became a chart juggernaut. And Dan + Shay with Shay Mooney's peerless pipes on "Tequila" in 2018. And Little Big Town, who kept the summer of 2012 afloat on their "Pontoon." And Luke Bryan, who brought all his party-hearty charisma — and shape-shifting hips — that same year to "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)."
You want all-time crowd favorites? You can't beat the Zac Brown Band's"Chicken Fried" in a delightful 2009 rendition that shows off Brown's crazy guitar skills. And Darius Rucker singing the joyous "Wagon Wheel" in 2014, the same year it won a Grammy for best country solo performance. And who can help but holler "Yeehaw!" watching Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins twang their way through "Hillbilly Bone" in 2010?
In all, the show features 27 performances from the CMA archives. For good measure, Bryan, the evening's host, enlists Rucker to help him perform a moving cover of John Mellencamp's "Small Town" in the empty Nashville stadium.
A total of 33 acts grace the stage for the special, several appearing in the one-of-a-kind collaborations that CMA Fest concert-goers have come to expect. From 2014, Eric Church delivers deep cut "That's Damn Rock & Roll" at his most volcanic with hard-rocker Lzzy Hale. From 2018, Dierks Bentley surprises the stadium with country icon Dwight Yoakam for a whirlwind version of Yoakam's "Fast As You." From 2019, country and rock goddesses Carrie Underwood and Joan Jett team up on hard-driving performances of Jett's "I Hate Myself for Loving You" and "I Love Rock 'N Roll." Also from last year, Billy Ray Cyrus and Little Nas X get help from Keith Urban, on the ganjo, for their megahit "Old Town Road."
Bryan, for one, is staying hopeful. "I know next year we'll be back in full force," he says near the show's end, "creating new memories that will last for the next two decades."
CMA Best of the Fest airs on ABC at 8 p.m. EDT/7 p.m. CDT on Monday.
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