Belles and Gals – CMA Fest Highlights – 7th-11th June 2018

As you all know, the biggest annual festival in country music, CMA Fest, has just been and gone and we’re all missing our social media feeds being filled with our favourite artists drinking wine together backstage after wowing the 70,000 strong Nissan crowd. Well, it was slightly different for me this year, I was lucky enough to make the trip to Nashville to actually attend (arrrgghh), no more dreaming from afar for me. Two of the Belles and Gals team members took over Nashville, representing girl power of course, so go over and check out Katie’s highlights first (, then get back over here and read mine. As Katie mentions, the appearances of our favourite ladies was incredibly sparse in the stadium, with only five females, two of which were only entitled to one song. I know, it’s completely crazy. As you can imagine here at Belles and Gals, that got our blood boiling, so we made it our mission to see as many of our country women on the pop up stages.

Right, let’s kick it off with a bang, do you like The Dixie Chicks? Pistol Annies? Well, we have a new fiery trio making their mark on the scene, Runaway June. I loved the two songs I’d heard before seeing them live, their radio hits ‘Lipstick’ and ‘Wild West’ but I was not expecting to LOVE them as much as I did seeing them live. They conduct such loose, confident personas on stage, they all take their own roles and for a new-ish band it’s like they’ve been performing together for years and years. Treating us to a new unreleased song ‘I can buy my own drinks’, which they admitted had only been played out 3 or 4 times.The title is girl power enough, but to introduce it with, “I can buy my own drinks… I just don’t want to”. I mean, seriously! How bloomin’ cool are they?! I’d get in there now with these girls, they are about to be huuuggee, they’ve just got it all.

I couldn’t go all the way to Nashville without seeing my girl, Stephanie Quayle now, could I? This lady is the brightest ray of sunshine, and even when it does rain, it rains rhinestones over her. Yep, have you ever seen one of her interviews? She’ll have you in stitches within thirty seconds, you can’t help but love her! Then, you see her perform and she knows how to get a crowd going, that’s for sure. Making The Hard Rock Stage her own, she even managed to get passers-by involved, and was visibly taken aback when a gent passing by actioned ‘call me’. One of the moments that stood out for me throughout her performance, was during her song ‘Ugly’ and the lyric ‘I’m telling you girls it’s a beautiful thing, trust me, it’s far from Ugly’, she motioned to her ‘Flock of Quayle’ at the front, as if to say ‘trust me’, trust her. It was a very, very touching moment. It completely accentuated how big a heart Stephanie has and how the best place for her to emphasise that is on stage, her rightful home.

One of my most anticipated performers of the week, perhaps the most premature artist I’ve discussed, Ruthie Collins. She played The Acoustic Corner Stage. I actually chose Ruthie as my Belles and Gals USA artist to watch a few weeks back ( After obsessing over this album for the past few months, I had set a pretty high bar, and Ruthie floated over it with ultimate ease. Her performance was so beautiful and her voice so sensitive, which glues with her delicate songs seamlessly. I did notice, there were a fair few Brits at Ruthie’s performance, maybe this will draw her to the UK sometime soon, fingers crossed, because there’s definitely room for this Western Belle, that’s for sure.

My final highlight, is my ultimate highlight, Ashley Monroe. When the initial line up was announced for CMA Fest 2018, I was utterly distraught that she wasn’t scheduled to play. The gods must’ve heard my cries of desperation, as out of nowhere, a songwriter session at the Country Music Hall of Fame was announced, I actually couldn’t believe it. The hour entailed a one on one interview with Ashley and she played a good handful of songs from her new album ‘Sparrow’ acoustically. It was pure magic. There’s always a worry when you’re put in such an intimate setting with someone you look up to and appreciate so much, in that they won’t succeed your expectations. Ashley was faultless, she was hysterical in the interview portion of the session and I can guarantee everyone at some point shed a tear and experienced shivers when Monroe produced those spine tingling, sweet Southern vocal runs. I was completely star struck. It just comes to show, no matter the lights, the stadiums, the big productions, country music comes down to the song and Ashley Monroe represented that precisely.

Well, it seems our ladies did us proud, am I right? Let’s hope next year they get the representation they deserve. CMA Fest is a time in Country Music when everyone comes together, when the ‘best’ on the scene is utilised to represent the genre. Country Music may seem like a ‘sausage fest’ (as it’s called), but as in general life, when you peel back the layers, that’s where you find the magic. We may still have a few more layers to go, but we’re nearly there, I can feel it.

Shannon Hynes

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