If Luke Bryan or Sam Hunt has ever proved their traditional country-loving naysayers wrong, it was at Tuesday’s All for the Hall show in Nashville. Both country chart-toppers used their short sets to pay tribute to the late Merle Haggard, in what were two of the night’s most awe inspiring performances.
Bryan seemed to actually change his set list on stage, telling the band he was going to play the Hag’s “Big City.” Bandleaders (and the night’s organizers) Vince Gill and Keith Urban easily rolled with the punches, helping Bryan pull off what was one of the most memorable performances of the evening.
Hunt’s Haggard salute, on the other hand, was planned — but equally poignant. He went from his high-energy “House Party” to an acoustic, soulful rendition of “The Way I Am.”
Other Haggard covers through the night included Emmylou Harris with “Kern River,” Gill with “The Bottle Let Me Down” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” and the entire bill with a closing ensemble performance of “Mama Tried.”
Cover songs were arguably the most ovation-inducing elements of the fundraising show. Maren Morris dazzled with a gritty cover of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” Maddie and Tae showcased incredible harmonies on Lee Ann Womack’s “Never Again Again.” Chris Janson tore through Rodney Crowell’s “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This.” Tracy Lawrence took his set for a bluesy turn with Joe Cocker’s “Now That the Magic Has Gone.” Jason Isbell gave his guitar a workout with Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” And even rock icon Peter Frampton tipped his hat to an early influence, playing Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue.”
Led by Urban and Gill every year since 2009, All for the Hall has raised $3.5 million for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.