Each June tens of thousands of the country faithful travel from around the world to Nashville for the massive CMA Music Festival – and for good reason. Hundreds of stars gather in country music’s capital for four days of mostly-free music, capped off by nightly stadium concerts headlined by the genre’s biggest names. For fans who can’t make the pilgrimage – or just can’t score tickets to the in-demand Nissan Stadium shows – there’s the annual ABC special. CMA Fest (airing Wednesday, August 8th, at 8:00 p.m./ET) condenses those four nights of concerts into a crisp three-hour package, filled with fresh-take performances by Carrie Underwood, Sam Hunt, Dierks Bentley with Dwight Yoakam, and more. Here are the six can’t-miss performances of ABC’s CMA Fest special.
Carrie Underwood, “Cry Pretty”
Coming back from some time out of the spotlight after a scary tumble down some stairs that required surgery, Carrie Underwood knows it’s sometimes impossible to fake a smile — which she sings about candidly in the stunning “Cry Pretty.” Her CMA Fest performance of her current single, complete with soul-stirring vocal runs and a stadium-sized chorus crescendo, was one of the highlights of the entire festival.
Chris Stapleton, “Millionaire”
Likely to go down as one of country’s greatest all-time vocalists, Chris Stapleton delivers a stand-out performance pretty much every time he gets onstage. Still, it never fails to amaze. Here, he’s at his best on “Millionaire,” off From A Room: Volume 2, fusing a gritty sandpaper growl with soft-touch lyrics.
Dierks Bentley with Dwight Yoakam, “Fast As You”
What do you get when you pair one of modern country’s best-natured stars with a straight-up Nineties legend? Just the feel-good moment of the festival. When Dierks Bentley and Dwight Yoakam teamed up to break hearts on Yoakam’s twangy “Fast As You,” the smiles and hip swiveling extended to the upper decks.
Midland, “Burn Out”
While the CMA Fest special focuses mainly on the stadium concerts, the producers also stage some intimate showcases, just for broadcast. Retro favorites Midland deliver a glorious dose of honky-tonk throwback at the HGTV Lodge stage, offering their latest single “Burn Out” with neon lit two-steppers and 10 gallon hats.
Carly Pearce, “Hide the Wine”
After breaking out with the heartbroken chart-topper “Every Little Thing” in 2017, Carly Pearce was one of the new faces on the main-stage lineup of this year’s CMA Music Festival, and she made the most of it, with her frisky “Hide the Wine” coming off like a playful descendant of Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine.”
Sam Hunt, “Downtown’s Dead”
It’s safe to say a large portion of the Nissan Stadium crowd was pumped to see superstar Sam Hunt, and producers wisely put him right in the middle of the action on a satellite stage to perform “Downotwn’s Dead,” his latest fusion of country, pop and hip-hop.