Watch: CMA Fest Returns to Nashville’s Nissan Stadium on Perfect Night With Zac Brown, Darius Rucker, Jason Aldean, Keith Urban & More

by Jim Casey

CMA Fest returned to Nashville’s Nissan Stadium on June 9, after two years of pandemic-forced silence. For the first time since 2019, thousands and thousands of fans packed Nissan Stadium for Night 1 of CMA Fest’s headlining showcase. And, the performers—Shenandoah, Darius Rucker, Zac Brown Band, Jason Aldean, and Keith Urban—set a pretty high musical bar on what was a perfect night by weather standards.

If there’s a downside to CMA Fest, it’s usually the sauna-like 90-degree Nashville heat that keeps patrons pouring sweat. But not this year, at least not on Night 1. The perfect nighttime weather hovered between the mid-70s and mid-60s.

Let’s tackle this recap blog-style, with some top takeaways from Night 1.

8 p.m. – Shenandoah

Shenandoah started off the evening by throwing it back to their radio-charting heyday (late ’80s thru mid-’90s). Even at 62 years of age, frontman Marty Raybon proved he still has the pipes—and shirt and hair—to belt out the hits, including “Next to You, Next to Me,” “If Bubba Can Dance (I Can Too),” and crowd-favorite “Two Dozen Roses.”

8:30 – Darius Rucker

What can I say about Darius Rucker that hasn’t already been said? Nothing. He’s the nicest guy in country music—and it comes across on stage. It’s joyous. Of course, he treated fans to a sampling of his rockin’ Hootie repertoire (while sporting a Rolling Stones 1975 North American Tour tee) in addition to his country catalog. Highlights included Hootie’s “Only Wanna Be With You” and “Hold My Hand,” as well as “Alright” and “Come Back Song.” And no surprise, Darius closed with his 9X Platinum smash, “Wagon Wheel.”

9:30 – Zac Brown Band

Zac Brown looked and sounded rejuvenated. He gave the crowd a boost with “Toes,” “Colder Weather,” and a cover of the Eagles’ hit “Take It To the Limit.” But he gave some fellow artists an even bigger boost on country music’s biggest stage. In addition to featuring Caroline Jones in his on-stage band (as an “honorary” member, which has become the norm as of late), he brought King Calaway out to perform “See You When I Get Home (Zac produced their upcoming album). In addition, Zac summoned guitar guru Marcus King for a scorching rendition of “Stubborn Pride.” Finally, Zac beckoned Darius Rucker back to the stage to close his set with “Chicken Fried.”

10:30 – Jason Aldean

It was abundantly clear that plenty of folks inside Nissan Stadium were there to drink the Jason Aldean Kool-Aid. He worked the crowd into a frenzy with “My Kinda Party” and “Dirt Road Anthem.” In addition, prior to performing “That’s What Tequila Does,” Jason revealed it will be his new single, following multi-week chart-topper, “Trouble With a Heartbreak,” which he also performed. And, Jason donned an exceptionally fantastic shirt.

Jason Aldean sporting a Dolly Parton shirt at CMA Fest (photo by Outsider).

11:40 – Keith Urban

Keith closed the showcase by ushering in the midnight hour with renditions of “Days Go By,” “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” “Wild Hearts,” “You’ll Think of Me,” and more. Keith’s on-stage appreciation of the crowd was palpable to the thousands in attendance. It was also tangible to many in the front row, as he continually greeted them throughout the show. While I’m sure all the night’s artists missed performing in front of live crowds during the pandemic, perhaps none so more than Keith. It was fitting he closed Night 1.