Another hot summer, screaming fans in the distance, shoulder to shoulder foot traffic, familiar faces, one dollar water... another successful CMA Fest is in the books. This is the hottest country music festival in the nation. A place where you can see all of your favorite artists on multiple stages in the country music capital!
Ever since moving to Nashville, I have gained such great respect for country music. While I have met so many incredible artists, I have to say that I have absolutely been blown away by the women in country music. What you may not know is that women in country music have to fight even harder for their spot on a lineup, a spot on the radio, or even just some damn recognition. Why aren't we celebrating these incredible storytellers and performers more? Why is there such inequality? Well, this year, I decided to just focus on my girls and spotlight some of my favorite artists in the industry right now. Shall we start?
Lindsay Ell has been such a force that I have witnessed since moving to Nashville almost three years ago and she just keeps growing stronger. From her insane guitar shredding solos, to touring with Keith Urban and Brad Paisley, to her kind personality, Ell is paving the way to an incredible career for herself. This year's CMA Fest was particularly special because she headlined the Chevy Riverfront Stage on the first day and also made her Nissan Stadium debut with Brantly Gilbert to perform their song, "What Happens In A Small Town".
What can I say about Hannah Dasher? I can tell you she's one of the most hardworking, unique, rays of sunshine I've ever met. When asked about how personality and character can affect your work and career, Dasher says, "Personality definitely sets you apart as a songwriter and as an artist. If you're real, it's naturally going to show up in your music. I think personality is God-given, however. We have to be unique enough to be interesting to the public. I've always stuck out like a sore thumb and I didn't always fit in growing up. I learned to embrace the fact that I'm different than everybody else and I find confidence knowing God made me that way."
With hits such as, "Stoned Age" and "1990's Heartbreak", I'm sure you'll be hitting repeat. Hannah has had such a great year on the road so far opening for Lynryd Skynrd and signing as a recording artist to Sony Music Nashville!
Megan Jane is a name you need to know. Keeping the beat for artists such as Hannah Dasher, Lainey Wilson, Lauren Jenkins, Side Piece and many more, Jane is one of the best drummers in the business. She's humble, genuine, and if you need a conversation starter don't hesitate to ask her about her favorite pizza!
Speaking of amazing women in music, Annie Clements is currently on tour with Maren Morris, holding down the bass. Having played with Sugarland, Amos Lee and many more, Clements is highly respected and an absolute master at her craft. She is also a member of Side Piece, a collection of some of Nashville's best female musicians, which includes Megan Jane! Keep an eye on their schedule as they appear frequently at Redneck Riviera on Broadway.
Cassadee Pope headlined the Chevy Riverfront Stage, stunning in a champagne-colored romper that glistened in the sun with every twist and turn. Performing fan favorites such as "Take You Home" and "If My Heart Had A Heart", Pope played to a large crowd that could be heard singing the words right back to her. Pope also co-headlined the 2019 Next Women of Country Tour that made its way through eleven U.S. cities and five cities in the U.K.
Clare Dunn, also co-headliner of the 2019 Next Women of Country Tour, could be seen rocking the Chevy Breakout Stage on the first day of CMA Fest! Dunn is one of my favorite artists in country music because she always brings a high energy performance with gorgeous vocals while absolutely dominating the electric guitar. I love Dunn so much that I was on Broadway by 6:30 a.m. on the first day of CMA Fest and if you know me at all, you know that I am not a morning person. Kicking off a very early morning after the CMT Awards, Dunn stopped by Whiskey Row to hang out with The Ty Bentli Show. She performed a song about her father who had passed away, making me reflect on my own relationship with my dad. It was beautiful and I thank her for sharing that piece of her life with us.
Gabby Barrett, an American Idol Season 16 top-three contestant, absolutely killed the Maui Jim Broadway Stage in front of Bridgestone Arena. I honestly think she drew the largest crowd at that stage during the entire festival! With insane powerhouse vocals, Barrett definitely let us know she's here to rise to the top. The crowd burst into a sea of screams and cheers as the band started her current smash single, "I Hope". I was blown away by her performance and I can't wait to see everything this artist is working on.
Gone West is one of those bands that you put your hands together and say, "Thank God these four people decided to join forces!" Comprised of Colbie Caillat, Justin Young, Jason Reeves, and Nelly Joy, Gone West is that refreshing sound that really does make you want to take a road trip out west, driving with the windows down the entire way. The four played to a huge riverfront audience at, what I believe, is their first CMA Fest. Check their socials as they are currently on tour and possibly coming to a city near you!
The Wandering Hearts are new on my radar but I am so thrilled to have found them! This wonderful trio made up of Francesca "Chess" Whiffin, Tara Wilcox, and AJ Dean comes to us all the way from London bringing gorgeous harmonies and soothing melodies. It was such a pleasure to join them at the Blue Bird Cafe for their round enjoying an intimate evening of stories, laughs, and songs. Have a listen to their new song, "Nothing Breaks Like A Heart" and keep an eye on their tour dates as they still have a handful of shows left in the U.S.
Behind every song is an incredible writer and Erin Enderlin is one of those storytellers. Erin is a member of the 2018 CMT Next Women of Country and has written for Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, Lee Ann Womack and many more. She also released her own record, Whiskeytown Crier, in 2017. I asked Enderlin about the importance of a song and the story within and her answer was so special. "The saying goes that it all begins with a song and I agree. To me, my favorite songs are ones with a great story, the kind that you can see like a movie in your head. I’ve been lucky enough to see my songs connect with people in really special ways. For example, when my first cut, "Monday Morning Church" came out with Alan Jackson, a woman tracked down the address of my publishing company and sent me a letter. She said her husband had recently died and she couldn’t help but feel angry at God. She was devastated and confused. She said that my song had been a special comfort to her and it let her know she wasn’t alone. What a humbling feeling to be a little part of something that helps people in their darkest times." Wow. Isn't that what it's all about?
It has been so inspiring to see how far Carly Pearce has risen in even just the last year alone. She has been on tour non-stop playing dates with Kane Brown and Jason Aldean on the Ride All Night Tour along with dates at the Grand Ole Opry. Pearce's newest single, "Closer To You" is so fun, flirty and absolutely killing it on the radio. She has been working so hard for so long and her success is so well deserved.
Kassi Ashton's personality caught me first but then I heard her sing "Taxidermy" and it was unlike any country song I had ever heard. Since then, Ashton has collaborated with Keith Urban on "Drop Top", a song off of his album, Graffiti U. Budweiser also chose her to be the face of Reserve Copper Lager, a collaboration with Jim Beam Whiskey.
I had a moment to sit and talk with Ashton about female empowerment and community before her set on the Chevy Breakout stage. After asking about her take on the subject of equality in country music, she said, "In country music, I think the force that is female empowerment is unstoppable right now. Everyone is talking about it and they won't stop talking about it until it's changed. Women like Maren Morris have mentioned me in so many interviews. No one asked her to do that. We had never met officially before that and now I'm on her tour."
Ashton also shares that the members of Little Big Town have also been very supportive. "I'm just so grateful for these people who are just really kind of putting their necks out, walking out on a limb, to help me and all of my other new female artists. I hope to do the same when I have the opportunity." Ashton also played Nissan Stadium during the KixStart Performances!
Having toured with Aerosmith and recently opening dates for Toby Keith, The Sisterhood Band is making their name known across the globe. With an upbeat rock sound, I promise you'll be on your feet at every show as they perform hits such as, "Half Way", "13" and their two newest summer tracks, "Bullet" and "Get Up and Go". I couldn't miss these girls at CMA Fest as they embody such a warm, fun, powerful and inviting presence. I can't wait for all the new music the will be putting out in the future!
One of my favorite songs this year, especially for the summer, is "Goodbye Summer" by Danielle Bradbery. Bradbery has toured with Brett Eldredge and Thomas Rhett, including a number of country music festivals. Playing to a huge crowd this year at the Chevy Riverfront stage fans sang along to "Red Wine and White Couch", "Sway" and a cover of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's, "Shallow".
Lainey Wilson brought the southern rock and heat this summer to the Maui Jim Broadway stage. Fans and family showed up to dance and support as she gave a fun, crowd-engaging set to CMA Fest all while slaying a pair of bell bottoms! With a raw, honest personality and undeniable performance, Wilson is unquestionably one of CMT's 2019 Next Women of Country. With an upcoming string of US tour dates, Lainey will also be heading over to Europe later this summer!
Big Machine recording artist Lauren Jenkins captured her audience with songs like, "Running Out Of Road" and "Makers Mark and You". If you really listen to the lyrics I swear they'll grab you by the heartstrings. Chosen as a member of the “Class of 2019” by Bobby Bones, you're sure to understand why when you not only see her live but take a listen to her debut album, No Saint, available now!
You need to know Ashley McBryde, Tenille Townes, Trisha Yearwood, Rita Wilson, Lauren Alaina, Honey Country, Runaway June, Lucie Silvas, Hayley Orrantia, RaeLynn, Maddie and Tae, Caylee Hammack, Jillian Jacqueline, Rachel Wammack, Kalie Shorr, Alana Springstein and many more. If I made a physical, paper list of every woman in country music that I believe you should know, I could probably line a good block or two of broadway with it. Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris, Little Big Town, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Pistol Annies all headlined Nissan Stadium this CMA Fest. Brandi Carlile also surprised us twice joining Tanya Tucker during her set as well as joining Maren Morris to perform their song, "Common". Joan Jett shocked all of us when she joined Carrie Underwood on stage for massive rock classics such as "Bad Reputation" and "I Love Rock'N'Roll". I mean...Joan Jett, guys. What a show each of these women put on! I will never get over the vocals and presence of each of these artists and from the sounds of it neither will the more than 50,000 fans that witnessed each night.
Here's to the women in this industry from the lead singers, to the amazing band backing them, to the team behind the scenes holding everything together. We see you and we celebrate you. To the young girls and women that have dreamed to one day stand on a stage singing to thousands of faces looking back at them, you can do it and you have a sisterhood backing you.
If you didn't make it to this year's CMA Fest, that's okay! Come celebrate with us next year and until then you can support the music by buying songs, albums, concert tickets, merchandise and more. Support the art, support the stories, support the movement because it's happening and you should be here.