It was truly a “girls night out” during the second night of performances at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium for the 2022 CMA Fest on Friday (June 10).
From Deana Carter, Wynonna Judd, Kelsea Ballerini, Lainey Wilson, Maddie & Tae, Lily Rose, Gabby Barrett and Carly Pearce, the evening was filled with performances from female artists, each singing their respective truths — the stories of their love, heartbreaks, ambitions, life-affirming moments, and everything in between.
Of course, the night also featured some stellar performances from the guys, as Cole Swindell performed his new release “She Had Me at Heads Carolina” (a nod to Jo Dee Messina‘s 1996 hit “Heads Carolina, Tails California”), while Thomas Rhett and Kane Brown each turned in hit-filled sets.
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Here, we look at six sterling moments from the Friday night show.
Wynonna Judd and Carly Pearce Steal the Show
It was Judd and Pearce who brought the evening’s most buzzed-about highlight. After performing her new release, “What He Didn’t Do” earlier in the evening, Pearce told the crowd, “We lost one of our pillars in country music earlier this year … my first concert was to see Wynonna and I’ve always loved all of the music that the Judds made and just feel that is a representation of the best of country music. So CMA Fest, please make welcome Wynonna Judd!” Judd walked onstage, smiling and bowing slightly to the crowd, saying, “Let’s go back to the ’80s,” and later adding, “Let’s do this for mama.” Judd joined fellow Kentucky native Pearce onstage as the two sang The Judds’ 1984 hit “Why Not Me,” just weeks after the passing of The Judds’ matriarch Naomi Judd on April 30, one day before The Judds were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. At Nissan Stadium, Pearce’s pure soprano was solid match with Judd’s show-stopping, soulful growl. “We need more celebrations,” Wynonna told the crowd. “Thank you for tonight.”
Deana Carter Offers a Set of Timeless Hits
Similar to the Thursday evening lineup at Nissan Stadium, Friday’s CMA Fest evening show started with a nod to the ’80s/’90s era of country music. Carter recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of her 1995 album, Did I Shave My Legs for This?, and the Nashville native’s all-too-brief, five-song set was filled with compositions from that project, including “Count Me In,” “How Do I Get There,” and her signature hit “Strawberry Wine.” “It’s about throwing your cares to the wind and having fun, which is what we are doing tonight!” she told the crowd, before launching into another timeless tune, “We Danced Anyway.”
Kelsea Ballerini’s Acoustic Moment
Ballerini launched her set with the self-affirming pop vibe of “Miss Me More,” before offering an intricate mashup of three of her hits, “Love Me Like You Mean It,” “Dibs” and “Yeah Boy.” But it was Ballerini being vulnerable in speaking of her own struggles with anxiety and opening up space for self-acceptance — paired with an acoustic performance of “homecoming queen” — that had the audience lighting up their cell phones all around the stadium. Ballerini rounded out her performance by donning a sparkly cowgirl hat and performing “hole in the bottle.”
Lainey Wilson Continues Her Star-Making Turn
Building on two Billboard Country Airplay No. 1 hits (“Things a Man Oughta Know” and her duet with Swindell on “Never Say Never”), several awards recognitions and performances at this year’s Country Radio Seminar New Faces show and Stagecoach, Wilson reached another milestone and bringing her brand of “bell bottom country” to her first performance at Nissan Stadium for CMA Fest. She joined Swindell for “Never Say Never,” taking her turn in the spotlight with ease.
Thomas Rhett Revs the Crowd with “Vacation”
Rhett may be best known for songs such as his 2015 ballad “Die a Happy Man,” which he did perform during his Nissan Stadium set, but it was the frenetic pace of “Vacation” — a song that barely cracked the top 30 on country radio — that instantly turned the massive stadium into a club scene, with the audience cheering, jumping and dancing in their seats. Rhett’s set also included hits including “Craving You” (sans duet partner Maren Morris), “Slow Down Summer,” and “Country Again.”
Kane Brown Packs in the Hits
Early in his set, Brown recalled that his previous performances during CMA Fest had been limited to a handful of songs. However, on Friday night, Brown proved why he has become a concert powerhouse, packing out arenas on his Blessed & Free tour and is set for an international tour later this year. Even with a 45-minute set, Brown couldn’t fit in all of the hits he’s earned since notching his first Country Airplay chart leader back in 2017 with “What Ifs.” His Nissan Stadium set included “Homesick,” “Good as You,” “One Mississippi,” “One Thing Right,” and “What Ifs.” Since 2017, Brown’s earned seven No. 1 Country Airplay hits and has developed a performance style that is at once engaging, energetic and personal. Traversing the stage and moving to get closer to the crowd, during several songs he balanced performing with taking fans’ phones to snap selfies and videos, much to the delight of fans. He also offered a few songs from his upcoming album, including “Riot,” and kept the evening’s nods to classic country eras going with his new release “Like I Love Country Music.”
CMA Fest runs from June 9-12 in downtown Nashville.