It was 2016 when Dierks Bentley surprised a stadium full of fans by bringing Elle King on stage at the CMA Music Festival to perform their chart-topping “Different for Girls.” Moments like this helped the emerging artist reach new heights in her music career.
The friends get together now six years later to host CMA Fest on ABC. This popular summer event special brings the sights and sounds of the four-day 49th CMA Fest to viewers. Emanating from Nashville’s Nissan Stadium in June, the broadcast will feature 30 performances from the biggest names in country.
This includes standout duets including Bentley and Billy Ray Cyrus, Wynonna Judd and Carly Pearce; Dustin Lynch featuring MacKenzie Porter, Cole Swindell and Lainey Wilson; King and Ashley McBryde; Lady A featuring BRELAND; and Zac Brown Band with Darius Rucker. Rounding out the slate are heavy hitters Jason Aldean, Kelsea Ballerini, Brothers Osborne, Kane Brown, Luke Bryan, Luke Combs, Russell Dickerson, Parker McCollum, Old Dominion, Thomas Rhett, and Carrie Underwood.
Here, King previews the big show and what makes this year’s lineup a must-see.
Tell me about the first concert or festival you attended growing up.
Elle King: The first concert I went to was Kris Kross, and I fell asleep. I could sleep anywhere.
This year was a true return to form in a traditional sense since Covid put a damper on things. How would you describe the atmosphere?
From a logistical standpoint, there are still challenges to keep the show on the road, and we’ve experienced a few shows having to move due to Covid. When it comes to the shows, it feels like the fans are more excited than ever to get out and experience live music. You could feel this CMA Music Fest crowd was super excited to be back. You know it’s a great party when everyone arrives early, stays late, downs all the food and drink, and sings along to every song. Can’t wait till next year!
You and Dierks first performed together in 2016. Talk about how you’ve bonded over the years. Anything besides music you related to?
I will forever be indebted to Dierks for introducing me to the country audience. What could’ve been just a collaboration between artists has grown into a real friendship and now more opportunities to work together. Dierks is one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. He is kind and has a wicked sense of humor—we both really love to have a good time and laugh a lot. I also taught him how to ride a bike, and he’s gotten pretty good at that.
How would you describe your dynamic hosting with Dierks?
I would describe our dynamic as two good friends hosting the greatest party ever. We were just as excited to be there as the fans, and I think viewers will feel that.
What was it like coming together again for another collaboration for “Worth a Shot?”
I love working with Dierks, so having him on this song was a no-brainer. It was the least I could do after he’s been so good to me. Plus, it means more excuses for us to hang out. We had a blast getting dressed up and acting as Wild West bandits in the video. I appreciate that he’s always game for a wild idea.
How is it being back on the road now as a mom?
My days are a little different now that I’m a mother. I have my son out with me, so my days are devoted to spending time with him, which means no more sleeping in. The travel becomes a bit more complicated, but it’s worth it to have him with me. Plus, I love that Lucky gets to see how hard his mom works.
Are you bingeing any shows while on those buses and in the hotel rooms?
I watch more YouTube Kids than I want to admit.
Wynonna took the stage at CMA Fest not long after tragically losing her mother, the legendary Naomi Judd. How was that to see this surely emotional moment?
I think we’re all still emotional from losing Naomi. From the artists to the fans, country music is one big family, and when you lose kinfolk, everyone mourns. And everyone comes together and puts their arms around each other, so when Wynonna came out, it was like a big family hug!
What are some of your favorite performances you’re most excited for viewers to see?
I didn’t get to see a lot of the performances because I was working behind the scenes, but I’m really excited for everyone to see my friend Ashley McBryde join me on “Ex’s & Oh’s.” And Billy Ray Cyrus doing “Achy Breaky Heart” with Dierks is definitely a highlight!
CMA Fest, Wednesday, August 3, 8/7c, ABC