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CMA Music Festival 2017: 26 Best Things We Saw

From Miranda Lambert’s fiery main-stage return to Luke Combs’ star-making turn

CMA Music Festival 2017: 20 Best Things We Saw

Miranda Lambert and Luke Combs were highlights of the 2017 CMA Music Festival in Nashville.

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The atmosphere was especially electric for the 2017 CMA Music Festival, thanks to a perfect storm of abundant country stars and the Nashville Predators’ appearance in the Stanley Cup finals. While the Preds ultimately didn’t come away victorious, country fans won big, catching concerts from mainstream A-listers like Eric Church and Keith Urban, rising stars Luke Combs and RaeLynn, and slightly under-the-radar acts like Lillie Mae. Here are the 26 best things we saw at this year’s CMA Fest.

Aubrie Sellers

Jordan O'Donnell

Sara Evans and the Ladies of Country

As part of a three-night series of free concerts at the Cracker Barrel Country Roads Stage at Ascend Amphitheater, Sara Evans called up a few of her friends for “Ladies of Country,” a multi-artist show that featured a women-only bill. A number of up-and-coming artists took the stage for the packed show, with Danielle Bradbery and Aubrie Sellers each delivering sets that hinted at bigger stages in years to come. CMA veteran Kellie Pickler was also on hand, as were 3 Girls Rock Into a Bar, a trio featuring Kelleigh Bannen, Ruthie Collins and Natalie Stovall. Evans herself performed at the end of the evening, playing a number of fan favorites and her newly-released single “Marquee Sign.” B.M.

jamie kent, matthew szlachetka

Jamie Kent and Szlachetka

Not all of the must-see gigs at CMA Fest happen on the official stages. Some you have to seek out: like Jamie Kent and Matthew Szlachetka’s Durango Boots showcase inside the super cool InDo Nashville, a subterranean performance space a few blocks south of downtown. Two alumni of Rolling Stone Country‘s Artists You Need to Know, Kent and Szlachetka delivered folky but lively sets: Kent showcased his standout debut All-American Mutt, while Szlachetka previewed his Heart of My Hometown project. The highlight though – aside from Kent slinging his own All-American Mutt beer – was when the touring buddies teamed up on Kent’s show-closing “Be Your Man,” an Americana take on street-corner doo-wop. J.H. 

honey county

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Honey County

While crowds of cowboy-hatted pedestrians slowed traffic to a crawl outside, Honey County headed indoors for their Saturday afternoon set, playing a five-song set of originals on the Radio Disney Country stage. Tossed into the mix were acoustic versions of the trio’s power-ballad single “Love Someone” and the unreleased “Los Angeles,” whose minor-key melancholia and Fleetwood Mac-inspired harmonies paid tribute to the trio’s West Coast home. Performing without a rhythm section, Honey County refocused the spotlight on their layered voices, with honorary member Katie Pruitt standing in for permanent bandmate (and occasional Katy Perry sidewoman) Devon Jane. R.C. 

Jacob Davis

Hunter Airheart

Jacob Davis

It doesn’t seem like there would be much opportunity for edge at the Radio Disney stage, but newcomer Jacob Davis – a native of Shreveport, Louisiana – played songs about getting it on (and that morning-after breakfast) with a big smile on his face and a dynamic, velvety croon. With tracks like “What I Wanna Be” and “James Brown,” he showcased his blend of pop-country soul, which is at its best on his new tune “Back Me Up,” inspired by the music of Meghan Trainor. Like a softer, more polite version of Eric Church’s “Wrecking Ball,” it’s about those moments when you’re struggling to open the open the door and undo the buttons to get down to business – not exactly Disney material, but the best rides boast laughs for the kids and thrills for the adults, anyway. M.M. 

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