Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sugarland, Urban highlight day 2 at CMA Fest

By Lucas Hendrickson, Special for USA TODAY

NASHVILLE — Nashville’s status as the home of country music tends to leave people with the impression of a genteel Southern town that just happens to be a haven for the musically creative.

Which it is. But it’s also a fully functioning mid-sized American city, so when you take over a good portion of downtown with stages and exhibits and tractor trailers and tens of thousands of extra people wandering around, Friday afternoon commutes can get a little extra dicey.

Sugarland's Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles
strike up air guitars before playing CMA Music Festival.
(Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)
Still, CMA Music Festival, celebrating its 40th birthday and 10 years since the move into downtown Nashville, has proven itself a well-oiled machine, programming stages and events during the day that allow fans to easily transition from one place to the next before the exodus across the river to LP Field for the nightly concerts featuring some of country’s biggest names.

Some of Friday’s daytime highlights included both debuts and re-debuts, as Shania Twain made her CMA Fest return to sign copies of her new autobiography From This Moment On before introducing Sugarland at LP Field Friday night. Meanwhile, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina made their first stop at Fan Fair Hall, the artist/fan meetup hub within the Nashville Convention Center, signing and posing for almost two hours before heading off to the Grand Ole Opry to make their debut on the venerable radio show.

Stuck like glue — in your head: As much as today’s modern music business is reliant on numbers and research, artists who’ve been around the creative process long enough can pretty easily pick up on how a song will hit their fans. Hence, asking Sugarland if they knew while writing monster hit "Stuck Like Glue" that the song was going to be such a relentless … “Earworm?” says Jennifer Nettles, finishing the question. “Absolutely! When we were listening to it the first few times, Kristian (Bush, Nettles’ partner in the duo) was saying, ‘This makes me nervous, and I kind of like it!’ ” Bush remembers: “The wonderful thing I remember about recording it is that, no matter how many times I heard it, I felt like I needed to hear it again. It was like good candy. You think, ‘I want another piece.’ “

Taking the risk: Count Dierks Bentley among a select group of artists lucky enough to take a leap of musical faith and have it affect them positively in the long run. Even in this run-up season to the release of a new, mainstream country record titled Diamonds, Bentley thinks fondly of the risks taken and course charted on his roots/bluegrass 2010 release Up on the Ridge. “It’s left a permanent scar on me, for the better,” Bentley says. “It wasn’t just something you do and come back away from, which I discovered trying to make this new record. Up on the Ridge will always be a big part of who I am and a defining moment of my career.”

Tonight was a good, good night: For some, CMA Fest is very serious business. For bluegrass cover outfit The Cleverlys, which used its time playing during changeovers at Friday’s LP Field show to roll out their version of the Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling, among others, opportunity can be found in the most unlikely of places. “It’s been awesome to be included in this show with all these great people,” says frontman Digger Cleverly (even though his driver’s license reads “Paul Miller”). “But also we found stickless corn dogs at the convenience store, so it’s been a gold mine.”

Family tradition?: More than one artist commented on CMA Fest’s role as unofficial “family reunion” for fans and artists alike. If that’s the case, then what’s Jake Owen’s role within the familial unit? “I’m like the annoying cousin. I’m the guy where people are, like, ‘Really? He’s coming to Christmas dinner?’ ” Owen says, shortly before joining Keith Urban on the LP Field stage for a surprise appearance on Owen’s song Don’t Think I Can’t Love You. “You never know what you’re going to get out of me. Some days I just kind of float under the radar, eat my salad at the end of the table, but some days, I’m going to be the guy who spills his wine over the place.”

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