CMA Fest 2024: Top moments from the last night of country music's biggest party (2024)

As the 51st CMA Fest closed early Monday morning, it remained unclear what lay in store for the quintessential country music festival's next half-century − or for the genre itself.

That's not entirely a bad thing.

Country music of late has been combined with folk, hip-hop and rock, gaining commercial success and cultural reach. Now unified under a mainstream banner, the genre has become a forerunner of popular music.

This is evidenced by the crunching guitars and guttural wails of HARDY's blue-collar and rural fanbase-entrancing heavy metal, along with the emo ballads and radio-ready pop of under-30 pop-country darlings Megan Moroney and Bailey Zimmerman. Add to that traditionalists like Wyatt Flores, Carly Pearce and Zach Top, along with event hosts Jelly Roll and Ashley McBryde and it becomes clear that 2024s country music landscape is more sonically diverse than ever.

Megan Moroney highlights a growing catalog of hit material at Nissan Stadium

In a four-hour span, award-winning breakout country star Megan Moroney headlined at the Riverside Stage, then played in front of a crowd ten times larger at Nissan Stadium.

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Performing in front of country music's pinnacle audience occurred for the "Lucky" album vocalist almost exactly one month before the release of her sophom*ore album "Am I Okay?"

Moroney, 26, has such extraordinary visibility because she writes and performs songs with attention to conveying painfully earned youthful wisdom with a knowing tone that invites communal empathy.

On CMA Fest's stage, her growing confidence in her catalog of music and performance ability shined as brightly as her singing and songwriting.

Revved-up honky-tonker "Lucky" kicked off her set with rock and roll guitars directly from the era of the Fender Stratocaster's '50s era invention.

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That song being followed by "I'm Not Pretty" allowed young women in the crowd to roar in approval at her introduction: They got to sing along with the loudest voices heard yet at Nissan Stadium during CMA Fest 2024.

"Man On The Moon," the track released early off "Am I Okay," has been out for much less than a month, but passionate fans of the performer were already singing, "Houston, he's a problem/He's leaving then he's calling/He's a headache and a half and I can't win."

With a custom DanielXDiamond x Gibson rhinestoned acoustic guitar strapped to her, she invited her brother (who taught her how to play the guitar) to the stage to join for a duet on another recent single, "No Caller ID."

It's a modern, mournful country ballad delivered after a protagonist gets a late-night call following two months of therapy — but battling the self-betrayal of being unable to escape the lovelorn clutches of a toxic ex-boyfriend.

Singing along to Moroney's set is a bizarre, rapturous exercise in celebrating a glass that is perpetually half-empty.

She closed her set with "Tennessee Orange," her signature torch song delivered for peak, euphoric crowd reactions.

Moroney is aware that as an artist already developing a keenly beloved catalog, she could be scratching the surface of an incredible career.

"I feel very new to this, but I feel like we're building something very special."

Carly Pearce's set reveals a still-healing heart

Carly Pearce's day at CMA Fest began with her third annual Carly’s Closet pop-up shop, where fans were able to purchase handpicked items of clothing, shoes, and accessories from her personal collection to benefit the CMA Foundation.

The event, in quintessential Pearce fashion, reflected a lifetime of long-held passions ("all I dreamed about as a little girl was country music") and blended elements of country music roots with a modern twist — in this case,mimicking a 90s-era superstar's Fan Fair autograph booth installation at the Nashville Fairgrounds.

She then arrived onstage at Nissan Stadium, draped in glitter from torso to toe.

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The Grammy winner is knee-high boots-deep in the season surrounding the release of her fourth studio album, "hummingbird."

Like the set opener "rock paper scissors," the record's album cuts highlight what happens when a strong-willed person prematurely emerges from heartbreak.

Intriguingly, its follow-up Sunday night was 2021's "Next Girl": the immediate, caustic-toned reaction to heartbreak.

Both songs could be weighed down by their subject matter. However, Pearce's veteran band of rocking bluegrassdelivered it with effervescent joy.

Next up was the mandolin-aided "What He Didn't Do," another heartbreak ballad about an ex-partner incapable of emotionalavailability in a relationship. However, its chorus sounds ideal when delivered by screaming voices in a National Football League stadium.

Pearce's "hummingbird" material plays like a "Part II: Greatest Hits" of country music history. "truck on fire" hits like "Before He Cheats" doused in "Kerosene."

Pearce followed with a solo version of her Chris Stapleton duet "We Don't Fight Anymore" and an unaided take on her Lee Brice single "I Hope You’re Happy Now."

Bailey Zimmerman performs his biggest CMA Fest set yet, ends 'Religiously'

Bailey Zimmerman's ecstatic approach to achieving a chart-topping country hit every six months over the past two years finds the most gleeful ways to emerge in his live concert sets.

The 24-year-old native of small-town Southern Illinois highlighted to The Tennessean before performing that he's looking for love while still occasionally traveling on tour with Morgan Wallen, accompanied by his mother and beloved golden retriever Marley May.

That backdrop allows his material to sound like he's a mix of a rural faith healer and an Instagram influencer.

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Starting his set with the 2023 hit "Religiously," he quickly set the record for the most ear-piercing squeals in one song into a set during CMA Fest weekend.

The crowd knew every word to chart-topper "Where It Ends" and waved their phone flashlights to the heartfelt ballad "Rock and A Hard Place."

Five years have elapsed since Zimmerman was a gas pipeline builder and truck suspension-lifting non-singer-songwriter.

He's now a lovelorn and godfearingfestival performer moved to tears by the chances he has to fall in love and change his station in life via the power of a song.

"I'll be back next year," he stated, in awe of everything.

HARDY rocks country's ultimate crowd to close CMA Fest

More than a half-dozen Billboard charts have seen HARDY's name on top of them in the past half-decade.

A year ago, the mainstream country singer-songwriter's desire to double down on his love of mid-2000s radio and CD-ready hard rock caused Nissan Stadium attendees to flood the exits.

Now, playing what has become chart-topping pop music as if it were charged with nitroglycerine, the Philadelphia, Mississippinative ripped into his single "ROCKSTAR" to kick off his CMA Fest 2024-closing offerings.

The crowd roared.

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"JACK" followed. The song is an ode to the perils of alcohol addiction. In January 2023, he told The Tennessean that alcohol could be replaced with cocaine, fentanyl or any other substance in understanding the song's impact.

This isn't necessarily head-banging-worthy material.

However, HARDY noted to The Tennessean prior to taking the stage that he believed many pop-country fans had a deeply held need to exorcise the emotions that exist at the subgenre's harder, guitar-driven edge.

As soon as the Drop D riffs, huge drum fills and screamed choruses reigned supreme, Nissan Stadium'senergy profoundly shifted.

The caustic ballad "PSYCHO" caused seated fans to scream in mock antagonism at their friends while singing about dreadfully toxic relationships.

HARDY's not ever one to rest on any laurels.

Thus, to celebrate 20 years since the release of the timeless rock-ready country jam "Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy," he introduced Big & Rich to the stage.

John Rich, notably, was dressed in a floor-length fur coat and black cowboy hat.

The crowd, stunned by the moment, screamed for three consecutive minutes.

HARDY's country hits "One Beer" (featuring Lauren Alaina) and "wait in the truck" (featuring Carly Pearce instead of a back-on-tour Lainey Wilson) followed.

If anything, the duo of performances highlighted how HARDY is as valuable to country's mainstream as a collaborator as he is a chart-topping solo singer-songwriter.

His final anthem of the night, TRUCK BED, highlighted the level of partying possible in country's hit-making future.

Then, as if on cue, HARDY shotgunned a beer as he stormed offstage with a confident swagger.

CMA Fest 2024: Top moments from the last night of country music's biggest party (2024)
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