As the neon lights of the Las Vegas Strip twinkled behind them, some of country music's brightest stars descended on the desert for the three-day Route 91 Harvest Festival, which takes place in the middle of the famed boulevard. The festival, now in its third year, is a winner, living up to the expectations that it set in its previous years. Even the artists couldn't help but relish in the glitzy backdrop: Luke Bryan called it an "adult playground," while Chris Janson said it was "off the hook." And both singers, who will hit the road together on Bryan's upcoming Farm Tour, added their own bit of glitz to the stage. Here's the eight best things we saw at Route 91.
The mother of an 8-month-old daughter is on tour (she played Vegas on Friday and the North Georgia State Fair on Saturday) and currently burning up the dancefloor on ABC's Dancing with the Stars. So the "I Got the Boy" singer could be forgiven if she coasted through her Friday-night set. But that was hardly the case. Kramer sang and, boy, did she dance, even bringing up her DWTS partner Gleb Savchenko for a quick practice session. "So we are currently learning the foxtrot right now," said Kramer, as the two showed off their moves. "Between being a mom, being on Dancing with the Stars, I'm a dancer, I'm a mother, I'm a singer, I'm a lover, I'm a sinner," she said, introducing a choice cover: Meredith Brooks' girl-power anthem "Bitch." "Ladies, you and me both know we can all be a bitch."
Chris Janson was nearly an hour into his set and began playing his smash "Buy Me a Boat" when he spotted a little blond girl mouthing the words from atop her parent's shoulders. "Do you want to sing onstage?" Janson asked the tyke, who nodded. The little girl went on to tell the singer that her name was EmmyLou and she was 7 years old and in second grade. "Do you have a boyfriend?" Janson asked, to which the girl nodded. Quipped Janson: "Nevermind." The girl helped the energetic performer sing his biggest hit, which even to cynics was nothing short of adorable. "If you don't have kids, get you some," said Janson to the crowd.
Toby Keith didn't mince words when it came to his take on the presidential election. Onstage on Friday, the burly singer called Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump "whores" and blasted the entire election process, referring to it as a "Dumpster fire." "This is by far the best country you could ever live in and we picked these two candidates to be media whores and go out there and take care of the world, huh? You gotta pick one." He then said his solution for the country is "a few more cowboys" – the title of his new single. "I wrote this song and it's out right now, but you know why you're not hearing it? It's because it's country," said Keith. "This song ain't got no hip-hop in it. This is Grade A country."
Motown Philly was back again, when Boyz II Men showed up halfway through an afternoon set by Dan + Shay. One of the highest selling groups of all time joined the country duo to sing "I'll Make Love to You," which Dan + Shay regularly cover in their sets. During the song, both groups handed out roses to women, just as Boyz II Men does at its showroom residency at the Mirage in Vegas. "I think we should just quit the show right there," said an awestruck Shay Mooney.
Brad Paisley certainly needs no help when it comes to his performances, but he's become really good at collaborations. During his 90-minute set on Saturday, he was joined onstage by Lindsay Ell, who shredded guitar during "Alcohol." "I think my wife would agree that's the sexiest thing I've ever done, and it didn't have anything to do with me," he said as Ell exited. Shortly after that, tourmate Tyler Farr infiltrated Paisley's set to sing "I'm Still a Guy." Paisley thanked him by telling the crowd of about 25,000 that Farr, "forgets the words to my songs all the time." Even Carrie Underwood appeared – granted, on a screen behind Paisley for their duet "Remind Me."
Luke Bryan pulled out all the stops for the final performance of the festival, and it felt just like a party. The epitome of a headliner, Bryan played to the crowd, shook his hips and even passed out free beer, tossing them to fans. At one point, Dustin Lynch ran onstage carting a cooler of cold ones. Bryan and Lynch each partook, before giving the rest away. In fact, they gave the actual cooler away, too. Bryan also invited Little Big Town to the stage for shots of tequila. "You know what helps me find love on a Sunday night? Tequila," he said by way of a toast. "I'm going to keep drinking tequila till I sound better." To the appreciative audience, Bryan sounded perfect.
Tyler Farr has a veritable war chest of pals, including Jason Aldean, Randy Houser, Jerrod Niemann and Lee Brice. But to him, they're all "idiots," he joked. Before playing "Damn Good Friends," his duet with Aldean on 2015's Suffer in Peace, during his rousing hour-long performance, Farr introduced it as such. "How many of you are here with friends and when you're with them you don't know where the hell you'll end up tomorrow? They may be idiots, but you love them anyway," he said. "I happen to have them friends."
David Nail looked out over the Las Vegas Strip and appeared moved. He recounted that his grandfather began coming to Vegas in the Sixties and the city was "built up to be so big" in his mind. His grandfather can't travel much anymore, he said, before joking, "Every time I come out here I hope there are a lot of things that I hope he never finds out about." Nail's connection to the city resonated with the crowd, a mix of tourists and locals, especially when he admitted his own chances in the gambling mecca. "You let a small town kid in this big city? Hell, I ain't got a shot."