By Lucas Hendrickson, Special for USA Today
NASHVILLE – One of the most welcome changes at the 41st CMA Music Festival was out of anybody's control: The weekend weather was gorgeous. Country fans descended in droves, and the big stars and up-and-comers turned out — even if they weren't feeling their best.
(Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)
It's five o'clock (shadow) somewhere: Rumble-voiced fan favorite Josh Turner is anxiously awaiting Tuesday's release of fifth album Punching Bag, featuring first single Time Is Love, which he played for USA TODAY in an exclusive acoustic performance. The advent of new music isn't the only thing that can make Turner anxious. That honor goes to monitoring his facial stubble. "It actually kind of wears me out to try to keep it this way," he says. "When I'm clean-shaven, my face gets irritated, and when I grow it out too long, it gets itchy and exposes gray hairs. So I have to keep it this same length all the time."
Life of the party: Jason Aldean's new album is expected this fall, nearly two years after My Kinda Party vaulted the Georgia native to stardom. But that's not to say he doesn't think back on where he's been. "As a kid, watching concerts on TV, that was always the killer shot, that endless sea of people," he says. "And now to know those people are out there to see us, that's the coolest thing."
Whole bunch of nothin': Pretty much from the moment Carrie Underwood went on American Idol in 2005, her life has been in whirlwind mode. That gives the Oklahoma native impetus to shut it all down when she gets the chance. How does she decompress? "I do nothing," Underwood said Friday . "I stay home in my pajamas, I get together with friends and hang out with my husband (NHL star Mike Fisher)."
The family that sticks together: So how do the busy musical siblings (Kimberly, Reid and Neil) of The Band Perry interface with one another? "Our family interaction really hasn't changed since about fourth grade," Reid Perry says. Neil chimes in: "If one person is unhappy, then all three are unhappy, so we try to keep that in mind."
Not scared to give back: It's been a tough couple of years for Julie Roberts. The blond bombshell with the bluesy voice lost her home in the Nashville flood of 2010 and broke her ankle while being rescued — which put the fact that she'd just lost her label deal the same week into stark perspective. She continues to record (including current single Whiskey and You) on her own uniquely titled label, Ain't Skeerd Records. In college, "I'd send Mama e-mails saying, 'Maybe I should come back home,'" Roberts said Saturday, her day to perform the national anthem at LP Field. "But she'd send one back, she'd say, 'No … Remember, we ain't skeerd.'"
A Sunny Sunday: Fans usually trickle in for the fest Sunday morning, which suits Sunny Sweeney's hippie-chick country just fine. She feels emboldened enough to premiere new music on the Riverfront Park stage, saying, "I swore I'd never do a song onstage with just piano" before doing just that for Carolina Still on the Line, a tune about an increasingly longer-distance breakup call. "I love seeing the same faces every year (at the fest)," she tells the die-hards. "Because it means I haven't run y'all off yet."
A clash on the horizon?: Country music's continued march toward a more rock-influenced sound makes one wonder how much of a looming conflict there might be between the party-rockin' new stars and still-active, hit-making neo-traditionalists like Alan Jackson, who got some of the weekend's biggest cheers at LP Field. The outcome will be determined by one group of people, says Dierks Bentley, who creates music that speaks to both sides of the equation. "It all depends on what's going on with the fans," Bentley says. "Right now, there are a lot of guys and girls 17, 18, 19 years old — the same age I was when I got into country — really pushing things forward because they like those sounds in their country music. I listen to the radio and hear something that sounds really cutting-edge, then the next song is something old-school. And I think it still really works, even though it may sound like two different stations."
Two different worlds: For the fourth consecutive year, both CMA Music Festival and Bonnaroo took place the same weekend, bringing very different fan bases and artists to Middle Tennessee. Only two artists had sets in front of both the country fans and the 'Roonies: the venerable Kenny Rogers and former BR5-49 frontman Chuck Mead, taking his new band the Grassy Knoll Boys and new project Back at the Quonset Hut out to the farm in Manchester, Tenn. "It's fantastic," Mead says. "Lower Broad is a great place for people who are going to Bonnaroo or CMA to sit side by side and have a great time." It wasn't the only way in which Mead was living in two places this weekend, as he served alongside BBC Radio 2's Mark Hagen as a backstage interviewer for the British broadcaster's nightly coverage. "I'm not so much a journalist as a picker talking to another picker."
Some things never change: Even after a decade of relocation, expansion and a name change, there are still some who are going to refer to this event as "Fan Fair." "Always," says superstar singer Martina McBride. "I still catch myself." Part of that is because many artists' first Fan Fair experience left such an indelible mark. "All of a sudden there were these people who wanted to meet me and get my autograph," McBride says. "I'd never been to anything like that before, so it was really cool."