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CMA Fest 2019: 20 Best Artists and Shows We Saw

From emergent superstar Luke Combs to rising talent like Kassi Ashton, the highlights of Nashville’s annual country music festival

Luke Combs

Luke Combs commanded the Nissan Stadium crowd during CMA Fest in Nashville.

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Despite a weather system that delayed sets, evacuated stages and, in some cases, canceled shows altogether, the 2019 CMA Fest in Nashville featured some of the most memorable performances and artists in years. Women reigned on stages of all sizes (including the massive Nissan Stadium, where names like Brandi Carlile and Tenille Townes appeared on the bill next to the genre’s male stars) and artists of color (like Jimmie Allen and the irrepressible Lil Nas X) cultivated both buzz and energetic crowds. Then there was Luke Combs, the everyman singer who never met a cold beer he didn’t sing about and who emerged as the genre’s next superstar. From Carlile to Combs, here’s the 20 best artists we saw.

Emily Ann Roberts

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Emily Ann Roberts

Knoxville, Tennessee, native Emily Ann Roberts drew a standing-room-only crowd to her Sunday afternoon performance at the indoor Acoustic Corner stage, likely thanks to her time on Season 9 of The Voice. With support from a scaled-down band, Roberts showed off some serious vocal firepower, stretching out stratospheric notes and tossing in tricky runs with the easy confidence of a pro athlete. But with clever, hyper-melodic songs like “Stuck on Me & You,” Roberts also showed she’s got plenty of other weapons in her arsenal. J.F.

Little Big Town

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Women of Nashville Brunch

So what if Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman forgot to warn everyone at their Women of Nashville brunch, which they hosted with Kelsea Ballerini, that their new Day Drinking canned wines actually contained two full glasses? It would be hard to blame anyone for needing a hefty drink before the CMA festivities began, even at noon, but Tuesday’s event was about celebrating the women that keep Nashville’s musical community thriving, even if they aren’t always recognized on the radio. “I’m here to raise up the army of girls that I know are making compelling music and to fight the fight together,” Fairchild told the crowd at the Thompson Hotel before launching into an acoustic version of “Girl Crush” with Ballerini joining in. The latter helped push that fight further his week, as her single “Miss Me More” has now hit Number One. M.M.

Rachel Wammack

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Rachel Wammack

There is no shortage of cover songs at CMA Fest — they’re surefire crowd-pleasers and an easy way to engage an audience who may not be entirely familiar with your repertoire (or just got too drunk to remember it). Rachel Wammack strayed from the usual country classics to pick from some more modern selections: on Thursday at the Chevy Breakout Stage, she offered a spitfire rendition of Brothers Osborne’s “Ain’t My Fault,” but really hit her stride on a version of Maggie Rogers’ “Light On” at the Spotify House on Friday, which showcased both her breathy breaks and soulful belt. M.M.

Jimmie Allen

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Jimmie Allen

Decked out in animal print, a Queen shirt and a guitar strap bearing the name of his beloved grandmother Bettie, Jimmie Allen got points at the HGTV Lodge on Thursday for the most clever mash-up of the festival, blending together his hit debut single “Best Shot” with Coldplay’s “Fix You.” Allen loaded his set with even more sentimentality, including nods to how Bettie inspired him and a new song, “Still on Fire,” about the strength of long-term love that proved how romantic dedication can sound just as fresh as a clever breakup anthem. M.M.