The 5 best moments of the 2016 iHeartCountry Fest

The third annual iHeartCountry Fest just finished at the Frank Erwin Center, but the show’s 11 acts will surely have fans talking for a while. Whether it was the opening pyrotechnics of Florida Georgia Line, Miranda Lambert’s closing set or Zac Brown Band’s blistering musicianship, there was something for everyone at this year’s show.

Miranda Lambert arrives at the iHeartCountry Fest red carpet at the Frank Erwin Center Sarutday, April 30.

Miranda Lambert arrives at the iHeartCountry Fest red carpet at the Frank Erwin Center Sarutday, April 30. (Jake Harris/Austin American-Statesman)

Below are the top 5 moments from Saturday night. Be sure to look for a full review online tomorrow.

5. Florida Georgia Line makes the audience pay attention

Say what you want about the value of their songs or about bro country in general; this border-crossing, genre-bending duo knows how to put on a show. For their first song, “This Is How We Roll,” they brought out the pyrotechnics. Two songs later, the iHeartCountry fest veterans revealed why they had planted a white light-up wristband in every seat for fans to wear. During their new single “H.O.L.Y.,” (an acronym for “High On Loving You”) the wristbands lit up, forgoing the need for cell phone lights or, y’know, actual lighters.

The crowd ate it up, and the band used the gimmick during their set closer, their first No. 1 “Cruise.” If the audience wasn’t paying attention at first, they were by the end of the set.

4. Cassadee Pope joins Chris Young onstage for “Think of You”

When former “The Voice” winner Cassadee Pope stepped on to the red carpet Saturday, the biggest question on every reporter’s mind was: Will she sing “Think of You” with Chris Young tonight? The reporters (and fans, to rapturous applause) got their answer three-fourths of the way into Young’s set, when Pope walked on stage. The ensuing duet showcased both singers’ powerhouse vocals. No wonder it’s on its way to the top of the country charts.

3. Keith Urban shows off his guitar skills

It’s no secret Keith Urban is a great guitarist. Of the current crop of mainstream country artists, there aren’t many solo acts who are better at playing the instrument, except for Brad Paisley. Urban put his skills on display during “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16,” starting off slapping the bass and then switching to a six-string guitar halfway through the song.

He ended the song with a blistering guitar solo, naturally.

2. Zac Brown Band pays homage to Prince

On a night where most of the sets consisted of a lot of new songs and little looking back (Merle Haggard didn’t even get a mention), Zac Brown Band energized the crowd with a rousing rendition of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” The crowd lost it at the first “Dearly beloved…” and didn’t calm down until the final guitar solo was over.

Of course, ZBB isn’t the first country group to perform a Prince tune in the wake of his death. Many have done so in the past week, but this performance felt more like a celebration than a mourning. And it wouldn’t have fit coming from any other band— the tune felt right at home in ZBB’s hands.

1. Miranda Lambert shows the crowd what she’s made of

When she entered the media room for the red carpet Saturday night, Lambert refused to answer any questions from the media, probably because many of those questions would have revolved around ex-husband Blake Shelton’s new relationship with his former “The Voice” co-host Gwen Stefani. After watching Lambert perform, the reason for her silence became apparent. She let her setlist do the talking for her.

Blaring through hits old and new, Lambert played the following songs: “Fastest Girl in Town,” “Baggage Claim,” “Mama’s Broken Heart,” “Little Red Wagon,” “White Liar” (which also saw the night’s only use of a steel guitar) and “Gunpowder and Lead.” Miranda Lambert answers to nobody but herself, and she made that abundantly clear on stage.

Judging by audience reaction, Lambert was the biggest draw for this year’s iHeartCountry ticket. Her specific brand of badassery is fun to watch, and she looked like the performer who had the most fun Saturday night.  She left the audience in good spirits as the arena’s near-sellout crowd made the mass exodus onto Red River Street.

A lot more than just those five moments happened Saturday night. Be sure to check back later for a full review of the show.


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