I was lucky enough to experience my second CMA Festival this year. CMA Fest week is probably the biggest week in country music. All the artists we love band together to support music education in schools. Downtown Nashville becomes even more of a musical centre, queues for bars are overflowing onto the packed streets of broadway, which as you walk along you hear songs disperse into more songs, but most of all, people are happy and partying away at 10am. This side of it, of course was great, I loved the outside pop-up stages, specifically one of my highlight performances this year was Lauren Alaina on the Riverfront Stage. She oozed in confidence, interacting with the audience and her performance was as colourful as her tastefully elegant outfit. Now, branching off this, in my opinion Alaina’s performance was stadium worthy. She was ‘on the bill’ last year and I was mortified to discover it was for one song with Kane Brown, their hit single ‘What ifs’.
For this article I will be focusing mainly on the stadium line up, as this is where my issue lies. Now, don’t get me wrong, there were more women on the line up than last year, with 7 women announced on the initial roster, eventually there being 12 female appearances (not including the anthems), this is a huge step up from last year. What I was astounded to discover though, was the reaction from the crowd when these women were on the stage. Let’s start with my biggest disappointment. If you’ve read any of my reviews before or follow me on social media, you will probably know I am the biggest Pistol Annies fan, like ever! So, when I saw they were announced I was completely ecstatic, talking to the Brits at home, the conversation came up of how desperate we are to get them across the pond. So, what I was expecting when they came on stage, was the most magnificent roar of the crowd cheering – I couldn’t have been more wrong. Considering the capacity of Nissan Stadium is almost 70,000 people, it was astonishingly quiet. There wasn’t an ounce of atmosphere around where we were sitting on the floor, I was completely and utterly gobsmacked by the response they got. There was nothing wrong with the performance they gave, their harmonies were expectedly perfect and each personality radiated through the performance and their feminist lyrics. The only thing I would say is ‘Sugar Daddy’ was a bad song choice, I mean, I love it, but it’s not a single, so I can’t say the same for the Americans. I think their latest single ‘Got My Name Changed Back’ along with ‘Hell on Heels’ may have gone down a bit better. At the end of the day, I don’t think it was the crowd that didn’t like them, I genuinely just don’t think anyone really knew their music. To me, that is unbelievable, as in my opinion they are 3 of the best songwriters in country music and I was completely under the impression everyone knew and loved them, clearly I was wrong. Is this because they don’t get radio play? We’ll be going more into this a little later.
This turns me onto another well known artist and quite frankly a legend, Trisha Yearwood. Trisha was the first artist I saw on the first day of CMA Fest on The Close Up Stage, it was kind of like a ‘An Hour with Trisha Yearwood’ show, she obviously blew me away. She had 3 other female songwriters on stage with her, Lucie Silvas, Ashley McBryde and Karyn Rochelle, whom all sang a song in which Trisha had announced as her favourite song from each of them, then Trisha ended with some requests and her new single ‘Every Girl In This Town.’ The crowd for this intimate show was dominated by women, looking around I would say 80% of the crowd was women. Which completely defeats the “saying” – ‘women don’t like to hear women’. After this show I was overwhelmingly excited to see her perform again in the stadium on Sunday. She was only given one song (her new single) on the little stage in the centre of the stadium. Now, I like how CMA are supporting her new music as this performance will be aired on the CMA Fest TV showing. I also do understand Yearwood hasn’t released music in 10 years, but then I state, Garth Brooks also hasn’t released music in a while, and I could guarantee he would be given a full set.
Okay, let’s look a little on the brighter side of things now – one of my favourite moments during the whole time in the stadium was in fact Dierks Bentley’s performance. His whole set was fantastic and I am a big fan of Dierks anyway, as an artist in his own right and because of everything he does for women in country music, just listen to his songs such as ‘Women, Amen’ and ‘Different for Girls’. A perfect example of his continuous actions towards women, was when he brought out new artist Tenille Townes during his set at Nissan. What he allowed Tenille to do was such a statement. He allowed her to showcase the talent that lies in and behind her expressive and unique voice by playfully challenging Dierks musically. They then went on to perform a remarkable rendition of ‘Different for Girls’. Townes is going down an absolute storm in the UK, but putting it in to perspective, strangely we are a step ahead of the States, so Tenille is still slightly unknown in the US, therefore I wasn’t massively surprised she didn’t get a huge reaction.
I know I am discussing crowd reception a lot, but at the end of the day, that is why artists make music. I really got to understand this huge issue women are faced with, whilst standing amongst this enormous American crowd in the middle of Tennessee. I thought I very much understood it anyway, but this years CMA Fest was like a punch in the gut for me, it sunk so much deeper. One of the things that put it into perspective for me – I am an artist, a new artist, trying to do all the ‘new artist’ things, like, get played on the radio. Obviously it is deeming difficult. Because I am a new artist, I have to work my way up from the bottom. But imagine it being difficult just because you’re a woman. That is something I can not imagine feeling. It’s completely wrong and insane and just damn right baffling in fact, especially this day and age, 2019.
Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris were two of the female artists who I noticed did have some fandom, Maren and Kelsea are two of the front runners in country music at the moment, they took to the stage with powerful sexuality and independence. Maren in fact, for me was one of the best performances in the stadium the whole weekend, I felt like she had the crowd in the palm of her hand, even though she didn’t get half the feedback the likes of Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line got, only when she sang her mahoosive pop hit ‘The Middle’. She was unapologetically herself -if you like me, you like me, if you don’t, you don’t. These women are endlessly speaking out about their support for each other and other female artists. Two pivotal moments with these two specific women happened coming to the end of CMA Fest week. Kelsea Ballerini was the first women in 15 months (can you believe it?!) to go to number 1 with ‘Miss Me More’ and Maren Morris announced a Playboy shoot and interview. Now, if you haven’t yet read this, please go and read it here: https://www.playboy.com/read/20q-maren-morris. It’s an interview that is important not just for women to read but any human in all honesty. These are both pivotal moments in female country music history, these women are doing everything they can, to rip away the stereotype that women are weak and emotional beings.
I do believe people are paying attention, but I think more attention can be paid, by radio, by music listeners, by TV and by male artists, more can be done. Music award show performances in 2019 should not have women dancing around the male artist wearing a bikini top and booty shorts, I won’t mention any names, but just go and watch the 2019 CMT awards. I can’t quite understand why things are changing so slowly, especially as these women are shouting so relentlessly.
I always like to end on a positive note, this one is coming from me as a woman and how these women inspire me, they teach me how to be confident, authoritative and strong, in my music, as an artist, as a songwriter and in my every day life, whilst still showcasing my vulnerability and sensitivity. Most of the time I chose to listen to female artists, as usually it is a song that I have lived or I can connect with. These women are writing real life, real experiences and real feelings. Isn’t that what country music is?
Article written by Shannon Hynes (twitter.com/s_hynesmusic)
Picture Credits: Luke Allison and Shannon Hynes