Judging from the reaction of a record-breaking live crowd lining the streets of downtown Nashville Wednesday night, the city’s sixth annual Jack Daniel’s Bash on Broadway was “freakin’ awesome,” as Lady Antebellum sang.
The country trio was one 40 acts who appeared on ABC’s Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve ’15 With Ryan Seacrest, the iconic TV special that has been helping the calendar turn for four decades. Nearly 130,000 people showed up in 29-degree temperatures to ring in 2015 Nashville-style, a dramatic increase from the 85,000 revelers last year.
The first of the two live broadcasts from Nashville featured pop singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw, who played “Finest Hour,” first urging fans to “act like this is the song you danced to in high school,” before the national cameras turned to his adopted hometown of Nashville. “Finest Hour” is the title track from the singer’s greatest hits album that released this fall.
Growing up in Upstate New York, DeGraw watched the show to ring in the new year as a kid, while his grandfather told him he should head to Nashville someday. “Now, here I am. I am floored to be invited to play New Year’s Eve,” he said of the show that he describes as “part of our DNA.” DeGraw is part owner of a bar on Nashville’s famed Lower Broadway, the honky-tonk lined street which was packed sidewalk-to-sidewalk with revelers wearing Happy New Year hats.
While only “Finest Hour” was broadcast nationally, DeGraw entertained the growing crowd in Music City for nearly an hour, with a high-energy performance that included some high-fiving through the audience.
Less than an hour later, the live broadcast returned to the Central Time Zone when Lady Antebellum played “Freestyle” from 747 (one of our picks for the top country albums of 2014), complete with horn accompanists and the crowd-pleasing paraphrasing of Macklemore. Next, Hillary Scott’s vocals were highlighted with “Bartender,” as curtains behind the musicians opened so the world could see Nashville’s riverfront.
ABC’s Nashville star Charles “Chip” Esten was the emcee for the nationally televised parts of the evening, while Great American Country’s Storme Warren did the honors the rest of the night. This was the first year that Nashville was featured as one the cities on the ABC special, an effort that took five years of negotiations, according to Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp.
DeGraw and Lady A were not the only stars with country cred on the small screen. Florida Georgia Line and country-gone-pop phenom Taylor Swift played from New York. “It makes sense,” DeGraw says. “Country music is the original American music.”
After Lady A’s two-song live broadcast, Nashville’s Apache Relay played to their hometown audience (rocker Kristen Capolino kicked off the show before DeGraw). Then Lady Antebellum returned to the stage to play a longer set and aid in the countdown to midnight. As a giant, 15-foot musical note dropped from a height of 130 feet and fireworks lit the sky, the evening’s other performers joined Lady Antebellum back on stage. After the traditional “Auld Lang Syne,” the group offered “something special for Nashville,” singing “Amazing Grace.”
As some of the almost 130,000 fans started streaming away from the stage, others formed a conga line down Lower Broad to the group’s rendition of “All Night Long,” giving the South its own city that never sleeps.