It was another great day at the 2016 CMA Fest in downtown Nashville, as day 2 of the festival kept the excitement going. Here is our recap and photo gallery of all that we saw and heard.

 

Charles Esten

Charles Esten may play a fictional country star on the TV drama “Nashville,” but make no mistake―he’s a very real star to real country fans, as evidenced by the din of applause that met his arrival on the CMA Close Up Stage on Friday morning. In an opening scene so well-timed that it might have seemed scripted, Esten officially announced that Season 5 of “Nashville,” which had been dropped by ABC, would indeed be a reality thanks to CMT and Hulu, and the nearly 200,000 fans who led a campaign to keep the show alive. Esten spent most of his onstage time answering questions from the audience and country artist/NASH-FM radio personality Chuck Wicks, and performed a few tunes made popular on the TV show as well as a brand-new song, “Cold, Cold Comfort,” presumably intended for his long-awaited album as himself, not his character, Deacon Claybourne.

Charles Esten of "NASHVILLE" performing at CMA Fest in Nashville, Tenn. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Charles Esten of “Nashville” performing at CMA Fest in Nashville. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Esten, a longtime musician and singer, insightfully explained the artistic differences between himself and Deacon, allowing that there is “some overlap” and that both are definitely country singers. “Deacon’s lived a little bit tougher life than I have, and I think it shows up in his music. But then there’s places where we’re a little bit different. I might, at this point, rock out a little harder than Deacon does.” Apologizing to a fan who expressed well-meaning impatience with his delay in putting out his own music, Esten noted that he’s been occupied with the TV show as well as a bus tour to raise funds and awareness for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. (His daughter Addie, diagnosed before age 3, is a survivor now nearing 17.) Esten added that one of his favorite moments since moving to Nashville was walking with thousands of fellow LLS supporters for one of the national “Light the Night” events he helps to promote. Whatever may happen to Deacon Claybourne in the future, it appears that Charles Esten is here to stay.

 

Eric Paslay Exclusive Album Preview

Fans know Eric Paslay for popular songs like “Friday” and “Song About a Girl,” and the up and coming country star treated a crowd full of faithful supporters at the CMA Close Up Stage to a live preview of his new album “Dressed in Black.” The singer performed the lovely “Angels in This Town,” a humble and positive song that honors small town heroes who are always watching over us, with Eric saying how “there’s a lot of good in the world” that deserves to be recognized. He also performed another uplifting track called “Water Into Wine,” with sweet lyrics like “A little faith can turn water into wine” and “Somewhere, a miracle’s growing on a vine,” the latter of which is Eric’s personal favorite lyric from the song. Eric brought out the mellow vibe with “She Don’t Love You,” a somber track that is almost reminiscent of the George Jones classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today” as the young singer crooned “you can hold her in the moonlight, you can give her all the stars…she don’t love you, she’s just lonely.” The singer also sang “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” a song he co-wrote and was a No. 1 hit for Jake Owen. Eric closed out the show with his own hit, “Friday Night” that had the crowd singing right along with the promising musician. Based on his impressive songwriting skills and performing talent, we have no doubt that great success is in store for this burgeoning up and comer.

 

Music City Hit-Makers: Brett James & Chris DeStefano 

Perhaps one of the most unique shows that CMA Fest has to offer, highly accomplished songwriters Brett James and Chris DeStefano took the stage at Ascend Ampitheater to perform a string of hit songs as part of the Music City Hit-Makers show, where top songwriters perform some of their biggest hits accompanied by a symphony.

Brett and Chris have written for the likes of Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Brett Eldridge and countless more country music stars. The singer-songwriters were backed by the Nashville Studio Symphony, which added a beautiful dynamic to their already incredible songs. Chris performed a spot on rendition of Brett Eldridge’s “Don’t Ya,” telling the audience that it was at the No. 1 party for this song that he asked his future father-in-law for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He and Brett then dove into an incredible version of Carrie Underwood’s “Something in the Water,” a song they co-wrote together with Carrie, with Brett saying how she’s been “wonderful to both their careers.” Their strong voices, along with the presence of the symphony, made for a truly beautiful performance.

The crowd was treated to even more excitement when superstar-bound duo Dan + Shay joined the guys on stage as a surprise guest. The up and comers performed their No. 1 hit they co-wrote with Chris titled “Nothin’ Like You,” sounding just as dreamy in person as they do on the radio. They also sang their current single “From the Ground Up,” a touching song about the beauty of two people in love building a life together, just as the title describes. Another highlight came when Brett told the story of how he got a call from a “buddy” on Christmas Eve one year asking what he was doing the day after next and if he wanted to go to the islands to write songs. That buddy was Kenny Chesney, and a phone call that led to a trip wherein the two partied a little to hard one night. The next day as Brett was sitting on the back porch with his guitar, Kenny poked his head around the sliding glass door and said “Brett, we. went. out. last. night.” And thus, another No. 1 song was born.

Bellamy Brothers

In typical style, Howard and David Bellamy let the music do the talking during their late-morning set at CMA Fest’s Durango Music Spot. With their slot lasting only a little under a half-hour, they kept mostly mum onstage but satisfied their enthusiastic overflow crowd with hit after hit after hit, eight numbers in all. Demonstrating the impressive versatility that has long been the Bellamy Brothers’ stock-in-trade, the siblings sounded as solid as ever on fan-pleasers including the straight-ahead country “Sugar Daddy,” the rock-guitar-fueled “Do You Love as Good as You Look” and the Mexicali-flavored No. 1 country hit “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me,” on which crowd members participated in a spirited sing-along. Their topical, still-potent “Kids of the Baby Boom” and its counterpart, “Old Hippie,” flanked the short set, connecting with the broad but older-leaning audience; certainly there were plenty of boomers on hand, and at least a few sporting long, graying hair. David Bellamy noted from the stage that this year marks the duo’s 40th anniversary as a hit-making act before the band kicked off the one that started it all, “Let Your Love Flow.” In response to David’s assertion that “It’s good to be at CMA Fest,” elder brother Howard, 70, dryly quipped, “It’s good to be anywhere.”

 

Lila McCann

It’s been 15 years since Lila McCann’s last album, and longer still since she’s put a single into the country Top 40. But there’s a welcome spot for her, and other artists like her, at CMA Fest, where die-hard fans don’t forget the songs and singers they’ve fallen for along the way. When McCann reprised her 1997 country hit “I Wanna Fall in Love,” which reached No. 3 when she was all of 16 years old, audience members could be seen mouthing the words along with her. McCann’s brief but well-received set on the Durango Music Spot Stager included her debut hit, “Down Came a Blackbird,” and showcased new material, her first in several years. This being Nashville, McCann’s friend and co-writer Bruce Wallace was called up from the crowd to share vocal duties on new co-written songs “I’m Not Mad” and “Repaint the Town,” the proposed title track for a new album expected in the fall. As always, the Fest is where the faithful fans can be found, and the appreciation was indeed mutual.

 

Confederate Railroad

Filling every seat in the vicinity of the Durango Music Spot inside the Music City Center, a guitar-fortified seven-piece version of Confederate Railroad hit the stage early Friday afternoon with its Southern-rock-flavored country fully intact. Featuring key founding members including lead vocalist Danny Shirley, the redneck-and-darned-proud-of-it bunch quickly won the crowd’s affection with sturdy renditions of “Elvis and Andy,” “Queen of Memphis,” the classically country-titled “Jesus and Mama,” “Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind” and more. The humorous, if less-successful latter-day single “White Trash With Money” proved to be a hit with listeners; as its singer/writer Danny Shirley pointed out, Toby Keith would later appropriate the song’s title (but not the song) for his 2006 album of that name. Sawyer Brown founding member and guitarist Bobby Randall, now with the Railroad, joined forces with fellow six-stringer Rusty Hendrix for a soaring dual lead-guitar break on the Johnny Paycheck-penned boogie-rocker “11 Months and 29 Days,” offering further evidence of the band’s authentic Southern-rock pedigree. Before closing the set with the band’s tongue-in-cheek 1993 hit “Trashy Women,” Shirley announced that a forthcoming remake of the song will feature guest spots from Willie Nelson, John Anderson and Colt Ford, vindicating the band and song, which Shirley told the crowd has evoked harsh words from critics. It’s all part of the Confederate Railroad way, of course―and, clearly, the fans still understand.