June 11, 2009 — "Is it early enough for you?" Darius Rucker asked a crowd in Nashville on Wednesday.
The CMA Music Festival didn't officially begin until today, but early birds were already on hand for a sold-out GAC CMA kick-off breakfast that showcased several artists, including Darius and Eric Church, at the landmark Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
The early birds had plenty to eat — bacon, eggs, potatoes, coffee, juice, Cheerios, biscuits and gravy — and plenty of music, even if the hour was unusual for the musicians, whose schedules are usually concentrated in the p.m. hours.
"I was tryin' to figure out," Eric joked, "why GAC was havin' breakfast at 8:00 at night."
Darius delivered his three country hits, plus a cover of Hank Williams Jr.'s "Family Tradition" — ap ropos since the Hall of Fame is currently showing an exhibit titled Family Tradition: The Williams Family Legacy. Eric referenced fishing in the lyrics of his current single, "Love Your Love The Most," just a day after winning the second annual Porter Wagoner Memorial Artists & Anglers Fishing Tournament. And he brought laughs to the sleepy-heads in the crowd with "She Wouldn't Leave My Willie Alone," a frisky song that claims to be about Willie Nelson.
Emily West filled the reverberant Hall of Fame atrium with a big voice; emcee Mark Wills trotted out his nostalgic "19 Somethin'"; newcomer Jesse Lee displayed a commanding, Southern resonance; and Lane Turner previewed his new single, "Where's A Sunset When You Need One," which debuts on GAC on Tuesday. The song's references to western movie stars Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and John Wayne was particularly timely: This week marks 30 years since the Duke passed away. Headline Country host Storme Warren and rodeo pro Tuff Hedeman also made appearances.
Nashville's downtown will be hopping with music fans and tourists through Sunday as the official CMA Festival concerts begin Thursday with more than 100 performers underscoring the reason Tennesse's capital is nicknamed Music City. Free daytime shows at Riverfront Park will feature Gretchen Wilson, James Otto, Randy Houser, the Oak Ridge Boys and Jo Dee Messina, among others. Four straight nightly concerts at LP Field will highlight more than 25 acts, including Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Reba McEntire, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley and Jason Aldean.