If May saw the near destruction of Nashville — due to biblical-proportion flooding that swallowed up much of Music City — the annual CMA Music Festival in June brought the community's rebirth. More than 250,000 people descended on Nashville over the four-day event, a whirlwind long weekend of artist meet-and-greets, celebrity softball games and live concerts. Consider it Comic-Con for country geeks.
"They're the most die-hard fans you will ever see," says Charles Kelley of vocal trio Lady Antebellum, who are featured prominently in tonight's three-hour special of festival highlights. The reigning CMA Vocal Group of the Year, rounded out by Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood, is followed as they harmonize, hug screaming fans and ink autographs. "We've signed it all: babies, pregnant bellies and every body part you can imagine," says Kelley, laughing. "We sign a lot of cell phones. I guess that's a product of the times."
Fans certainly had their camera phones out during the festival's nightly concerts at LP Field, where acts like Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire, Kid Rock, Tim McGraw (who hosts ABC's coverage) and Lady A all performed. "There's really not a better venue
to play," says Kelley. Still, not all of tonight's highlights occur in the Tennessee Titans' football stadium. Dierks Bentley is seen singing with Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson in a downtown honky-tonk, while Taylor Swift treats a group of fans to a performance of her new single, "Mine."
Kelley says it's that proximity that defines the festival. "The country music stars are a little more hands-on. You even develop relationships with fans you see over and over," he reveals. "You start to say, 'Good to see you again, Tom. How's your kids?'" Ah, good ol' Southern hospitality.
The CMA Music Festival airs tonight at 8/7c on ABC.