Fans brave a rainy night in Tennessee for the kickoff of CMA Fest 2019

Country Music Association

As CMA Fest kicked into high gear at Nashville's Nissan Stadium Thursday, there was only one thing to dampen fans' spirits -- and that was the rainy weather.

Kane Brown was in a reflective mood backstage, thinking how far he'd come in a relatively short twelve months.

"Last year when I went out onstage, I only had 'What Ifs' that I knew that at least the majority hopefully knew," he remembers. "And we went from 'What Ifs' to having four songs that hopefully people know."

Thomas Rhett's memory goes back even farther, to the days when he'd come to the festival with his singer/songwriter father, Rhett Akins.

"I can remember being maybe six or seven years old and it was called Fan Fair..." he recalls. "And I remember coming downtown with dad and watching him sign autographs for two hours, and playing at the Riverfront stages."

Several of the night's surprises involved performances from the REBOOT record, as Ashley McBryde and Brothers Osborne appeared to duet with Brooks & Dunn.

"I think you can see the health of the genre by the health of this festival," John Osborne noted. "There was a time where it was for a select few group of people... And now, it's like the international genre that we all know and that everyone across the world loves."

Florida Georgia Line planned to preview their Can't Say I Ain't Country Tour with some special guests.

"We love sharing a stage with anybody that'll come jam with us," Tyler Hubbard teased. "So, you know, HARDY, [Morgan] Wallen, maybe somebody for 'Meant to Be,' who knows?"

You can experience all the excitement for yourself, when the annual CMA Fest special airs Sunday, August 4 on ABC, hosted for the third year in a row by Thomas Rhett and Kelsea Ballerini.

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