CMA Fest is an incredible fan-centered festival of country music held every year in Nashville. It can be extremely overwhelming to a first-timer with more than 10 stages and things going on all day long, including special performances, meet and greets, games and activities. Many people go to CMA Fest to see the bigger names in country music, but I would like to highlight a few stand-out performances by artists you may not know about now, but you can expect big things from them really soon.
If you don’t know the name Tara Thompson yet, you should get familiar. She released her debut EP Someone to Take Your Place the day before she performed at her very first CMA Fest as an artist. She said about prior CMA Fests:
“I’ve always worked (the festival) in the bars while the whole thing is going on. I always had to compete with trying to keep my little bar show with the big stage outside.”
But this time she played on the Chevrolet Cruze Park Stage and that “hillbilly,” as she calls herself, won over the crowd with her pure country sound. She sang several of her songs from her EP including her attempt at a love song called “Jail” which includes the lyrics “love me like you just got out of jail.” Thompson explains her affection for the song:
“I love (the song) ‘Jail.’ I really want to do a prison tour one day. If Johnny Cash can do it so can I and that song kind of reminds me of Johnny Cash. Women’s prison here I come!”
Tara Thompson is a little spit fire and if you are looking for fun, real life, country songs that don’t take life too seriously, she’s your gal. Be sure to follow Tara Thompson on Twittter.
Brother duo High Valley has had many hits in Canada and are now making their mark on American radio. They closed out the Chevrolet Riverfront Stage on Friday to a large crowd of adoring fans including many who cheered when their home country of Canada was mentioned. They have a country sound unlike anyone else on the radio right now with bluegrass and gospel routes. The energy they had on stage was infectious and although it was extremely hot, the crowd danced along to their songs, including their hit single “Make You Mine.” They even led the crowd in a foot-stomping rendition of the traditional gospel song “I’ll Fly Away.” High Valley is extremely entertaining and I really hope they achieve the same success in the States that they have seen in Canada. Make sure you are following High Valley on Twitter.
While this wasn’t an official CMA Fest concert, a couple hundred people still showed up to see Ryan Hurd perform at Tin Roof on Thursday afternoon. Hurd has been known as the writer behind many hit songs including the No. 1 “Lonely Tonight” by Blake Shelton and Ashley Monroe, but he is trying his hand on the stage now. Although it seemed to take him a few songs to get comfortable, once he found his groove, the stage was his playground. He brought out a bottle of champagne because, as he put it, “I like to party.” That was followed by his song “Champagne” which was just plain fun. Hurd has a few new songs already recorded and he mentioned that he has new music coming soon and he is excited to share it with his fans. Ryan Hurd is a name you need to pay attention to. If he can turn out hit songs for others, chances are he’ll rise to the top as his own artist. Give Ryan Hurd a follow on Twitter.
I’m giving a special mention here for newcomer Ben Gallaher. He wasn’t on my list of must-sees but as I was walking past his show on the Gildan Broadway Stage at Hard Rock Café I was stopped in my tracks. There was something about him. He had a unique sound to his voice and when I finally got close enough to see him, he had incredible stage presence. Gallaher is currently working with Sony to put together his first album and I can’t wait to hear it. If his current single “Last Train” is any indication of what he can do, this guy will go far. Follow Ben Gallaher on Twitter.
From the superstars at Nissan Stadium to the up and comers on the small stages, CMA Fest is four days of music and fun. I encourage you, and not just at CMA Fest, but at any music festival, to take time to go to the smaller stages and find someone you may have never heard about. You might be surprised and end up a life-long fan.
Tweet me @shanherrold with your favorite performance of CMA Fest 2016.