Review: Music City HitMakers at CMA Fest

What happens when you put two hit songwriters on a stage to sing their songs and add an orchestra to accompany them? You get an incredible show that highlights the stories behind the songs, while at the same time, pushes the boundaries of how you see country music. In other words, you get Music City Hit-Makers.

Music City Hit-Makers is the brainchild of Charles Dixon, a classically trained symphonic musician who together with award winning keyboardist and arranger Charles Judge, transform some of today’s greatest country songs all with the help of a symphony orchestra and the songwriters themselves. At this year’s CMA Fest they selected songwriters Brett James and Chris DeStefano to showcase their amazing songs backed by the Nashville Studio Symphony comprised of the area’s top studio musician and musicians of the Nashville Symphony. James and DeStefano have penned over 30 No. 1 songs between them so they were a perfect choice for the CMA Fest debut of this unique show. Dixon told CMChat that he has wanted to play CMA Fest for several years but the stage had to be right and the newly built Ascend Amphitheater was the perfect place for such a grand performance.

Throughout the show, James and DeStefano took turns singing some of their hit songs such as “Don’t Ya,” “I Hold On,” and “Something in the Water” made famous by singers Brett Eldredge, Dierks Bentley and Carrie Underwood, respectively. To the delight of the crowd, surprise guests Dan + Shay even showed up to sing a couple songs including their current single “From the Ground Up.” Not only did we get to hear these very well-known songs in a different way, but we also got to listen to the songwriters themselves tell the stories behind the writing sessions which made the stories extremely entertaining.

DeStefano says of his inspiration to write:

“It’s always different. It could be other songs; it could be a song I grew up listening to. I travel quite a bit so I love taking things away from the different places I’ve been. Life experience is probably the common thread through all of it.”

James added:

“It’s just fun being a writer. It’s like being a fiction writer. You get to play a different character every day.”

Music City Hit-Makers is a show that travels all over and each time they feature different songwriters and use different orchestras. Judge explains:

“We’ve played with symphony orchestras all over the country. The Boston Pops and a bunch of other ones, and we also do these more scaled down shows with a chamber orchestra.”

Many times people will hear a cover song and their mind immediately goes to the original. The great thing about this format is you know the songs but it is so different and so beautiful that you forget about the original and just enjoy the music. This particular performance of the Music City Hit-Makers featuring Brett James and Chris DeStefano was a truly unique highlight of the 2016 CMA Fest weekend.  The idea to rearrange country music using an orchestra and then pair it with songwriters telling their stories is a brilliant concept and one that will continue to grow and captivate audiences for many years to come.

Find out more about Music City Hit-Makers including future shows at

Author: Shannon Herrold

I'm a self-proclaimed music nerd from Oklahoma who enjoys all genres and can pretty much sing a snippet of any song you can think of. Being a mom of 2, a Zumba Instructor and a volunteer at my kids' school keeps me busy but I can never go to too many concerts. Live music is my passion and I love writing about those experiences.

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