By Lucas Hendrickson, Special for USA TODAY
NASHVILLE — Sunday at CMA Music Festival featured a break in the weather — if you call closer to 90 degrees than 100 a break — but hardly a let-up in the star power or array of musical styles featured within the event.
|The JaneDear girls play CMA Music|
Festival's LP Field Stage.
Hello, Dolly! Sunday’s festivities marked superstar Dolly Parton’s return to the fan festival, signing autographs for a select group of 40 contest winners — befitting the event’s 40th anniversary — as throngs of onlookers snapped photos within Fan Fair Hall inside the Nashville Convention Center. Parton had last taken part in an autograph session at the event in its earliest days in the mid-’70s.
Gone like that: Josh Kelley— brother of Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and husband of actress Katherine Heigl— praised the resiliency of the CMA Fest crowd while introducing latest single Gone Like That during his Sunday afternoon Riverfront Park set. “You’re tanned, you’ve got smiles on your faces — and you’re hammered.”
Size apparently matters: Last year at this time, the JaneDear girls — Susie Brown and Danelle Leverett — were playing a CMA Fest stage outside Nashville’s Hard Rock Cafe. This year, they snagged one of the coveted new artist slots on the main stage at LP Field Sunday, on the strength of their hit Wildflower. “I have to admit, when we went on stage for soundcheck, I did a little dance because I was so excited,” Brown said. “This is by far the biggest stage we’ve ever played on.”
A good problem to have: Three CMA Fests into his tenure as a country hitmaker, Darius Rucker sees the ratio of fans who know him in this sphere coming closer to the ones who know him as the frontman for Hootie & the Blowfish, which still plays a number of shows during the year. “There’s a lot of young people who have no idea what they’re hearing when we play a Hootie song,” Rucker says. “Then, at the Hootie shows, the country fans complain about not hearing the country hits, but we do throw a few of them in there.”
Don’t get comfortable: Even within a musical unit made up of family members, roles change, sometimes dramatically. Such was the case with The Band Perry, which moved brother Neil upfront for a couple of fairly important showbiz reasons. “He started out as a drummer, but we pulled him to the front of the stage because he likes to flirt with the ladies and he’s a pretty good dancer,” says lead singer Kimberly Perry. “So he’s had to make the biggest adjustment.”