For the 10th year, country music gets a coveted primetime slot on network television, as ABC premieres its CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock special on Tuesday, August 5th, at 8 p.m. ET. Hosted by Little Big Town, the concert, a collection of performances culled from last June’s four-day CMA Music Festival in Nashville, features appearances by Miranda Lambert with Carrie Underwood, Eric Church with Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and other country A-listers. Remarkably, the broadcast is afforded three hours, a time frame usually reserved for such high-profile event as the Academy Awards or the Grammys.
Justin Moore, who performs a more twang-heavy version of the Mötley Crüe power ballad “Home Sweet Home” with the metal band’s Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx, credits the generous airtime to country music’s mass appeal.
“It’s kind of a place where people can go to hear a lot of different stuff now,” says Moore, who despite dabbling in modern trends remains one of contemporary country’s more traditionally-minded artists. “So ABC dedicating this much airtime to country music is just another example of what I feel like has been building over the past few years. I think country music has taken over as the biggest genre in music.”
Jake Owen, the heir to Kenny Chesney’s country beach bum persona, performs his hit “Beachin'” in a Nashville club decked out in tiki-bar lights and surfboards for the special. A Florida native, he’s seen country’s cross-cultural appeal firsthand.
“Country music is a format for all ages, for our country. It’s the format for America. It has songs that a soccer mom driving in a minivan can put on to take her kids to school, and it’s the same format that kids partying on tailgates can drink beers and listen to with their friends,” Owen says. “It’s the same format that my mom and dad will ride down the road and listen to when I’m not even in the car with them! It offers a little bit of something for everybody.”
Owen says the genre is no longer a rural phenomenon. The guest-star lineup for CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock echoes certainly that, with the Crüe, Hale and Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, who performs Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” with the Zac Brown Band, all getting screen time.
“The word country, I think people sometimes associate with the rural life and riding on tractors and things like that, but when you go to Chicago, Illinois, which is my favorite place to place — they’ve been great to me my whole career — that’s far from rural,” Owen says. “There are people from all walks of life out there and I think they all are filtered through country music. These are real songs about real life situations. And it’s fun. People have a good time listening to it.”
Even the performers themselves. Owen recalls attending CMA Music Festival, which launched as Fan Fair in 1972, as a fan. As he began to carve out a career of his own, he found himself on the stadium stage of country’s version of Comic-Con.
“I introduced Hank Williams Jr. on the big stage at LP Field. I don’t know how that happened. Then a couple years ago, I was on tour with Keith Urban and he called me and said, ‘Hey, would you like to come out and sing one of your songs with me?'” says Owen, referencing his 2011 performance of “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You” with Urban. “I don’t care how big you are, you only get a certain amount of songs, but he took one of his songs out of his set in order for me to get up there and play. I have a picture from that night hanging on my wall.
“He didn’t have to do that and that’s one of the [reasons] why ABC devotes that much time to this format: because artists support other artists,” Owen continues, “the fans support the artists and it’s a format that will never die because of that.”