Backstage at CMA Fest 2017: Garth, Dierks, Brett Eldredge and more prove Nashville is the place to be

CMAWith the first nightly concert of CMA Fest 2017 kicking off at Nissan Stadium, the home team competing for hockey’s most coveted prize, and one of the most popular non-country festivals on the planet just miles away, perhaps Brett Eldredge said it best. There was no better place to be Thursday night than Music City.

“I feel like this is the coolest place in the U.S. right now,” Brett asserted. “We've got CMA Fest, we've got Stanley Cup, we've got Bonnaroo not too far away from here. We've got all this crazy stuff. People are really seeing how awesome Nashville is.”

For his second CMA Fest performance in a row, Cole Swindell was a little nervous he couldn’t top his 2016 experience.

“I've been talking about last year for a year now,” he confessed. “That was literally, no joke, the highlight of my career, performing onstage, singing 'You Should Be Here' in this stadium.”

“This year, I'm anxious,” Cole went on. “I'm ready to get out there because it's going to be hard to top that. So we're gonna be bringing the energy, we're going to be trying to make sure they have a good time.”

Cole also brought a special guest. Lauren Alaina’s just had her first #1 with “Road Less Traveled” and picked up a CMT Music Award. She was feeling a lot like Cole did twelve months ago.

“About two years ago I sat down and wrote down a list with my manager Trisha,” Lauren recalled, “and we made all of these goals. And we have literally, when we got our #1 -- I mean, she's gonna cry and so am I -- that was the last thing on the list,” she said tearfully. “So we have to make a new list!”

The night even had CMA Fest veteran Dierks Bentley in awe.

“I just bumped into my opening act out there, who's going on before me tonight, Garth Brooks,” he joked. “I told that to Garth. 'You're going on before me tonight, so technically that means you're opening for me.'”

“Just walking backstage, honestly, and having a five minute conversation with Garth Brooks, who's one of the first guys who got me turned on to country music back in Arizona when I saw him play, that's just -- it's surreal,” Dierks reflected.

Sure enough, surprise guest Garth Brooks didn’t disappoint.

“I couldn't hear anything out there but them,” the CMA Entertainer of the Year said of the crowd, as he evaluated his performance. “They were fantastic. [The] 'Thunder' [Rolls] they just took, and once they took 'Thunder,' then it was like, 'Okay, game on!' Now it's gonna be fun. We're gonna follow that with [Callin’] 'Baton Rouge.'”

“I was really, really scared to death about the new song sitting in there,” he said of his latest single, “Ask Me How I Know, “and here they are… That's sweet. That makes you relax, that makes you feel good. 'Cause all you want to do this week is make country music proud."

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