Craig Morgan took the stage next, looking confident and in total control of his band and music. He made the most of his short performance slot, crisscrossing the stage with his mic stand and turning his easy-going smile and charming demeanor on the crowd. He was in strong voice as he took a turn at his recent hit, "International Harvester" before delivering "Little Bit of Life" and a new ballad "Love Remembered." Morgan served a 10-year stint in the military and did not fail to mention how proud he was of Americans serving overseas in the armed forces. Morgan ended his set with "Redneck Yacht Club," jumping into the crowd and shaking hands until well after the song was over.
Harmony group Little Big Town were enthusiastically welcomed as they launched into new songs "Taking Your Sweet Time," "Firebird Fly" and a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way." The quartet worked well together, trading off harmony and melody lines with ease. Each member had solo-worthy vocals, and put them to good use here, going from pop-country to southern rock standards. They ended with a soulful version of their hit, "Boondocks."
Darryl Worley and singer/songwriter Jamey Johnson (who wrote "Honkytonk Badonkadonk" for Trace Adkins) gave acoustic performances. Johnson sang his George Strait hit "Give It Away," and his own single, "In Color." Worley treated the crowd to a new song "Tequila on Ice," and his post-9/11 anthem "Have You Forgotten," which got a standing ovation from this patriotic crowd.
Platinum-selling Rodney Atkins got the crowd into party mode with "These Are My People," holding up a deer light and shining it on the crowd. "This next song is 'Butterfly Kisses' meets 'Country Boy Can Survive' and is for all you dads and daughters out there," he quipped before introducing "Cleaning My Gun." He also gave the crowd the two songs they expected from Atkins, "Watching You" and his megahit "If You're Going Through Hell" before introducing his first ballad, "Invisibly Shaken." Atkins' voice was surprisingly strong and supple during the ballad, and it's nice to hear he can slow things down a bit and sound just as good.
Trace Adkins certainly had his "Game On" during his performance, coming out to shouts of "We Want Trace!" and standing center stage with his larger-than-life presence. He swaggered his way through "Swing" and gave an earnest performance of the nostalgic ballad "You're Gonna Miss This" before getting all nearly 50,000 people up shaking their "Badonkadonks."
Long tall Georgian Alan Jackson sauntered easily onstage, humbly basking in the audience's applause before tearing into a medley of "Gone Country," "Little Bitty" and "Small Town Southern Man." Stone-cold country Jackson, much like his hero George Strait, rarely strayed from the center stage mic, preferring to let the songs do the entertaining. He introduced his new single, "Good Time" before getting the crowd singing along to "5 O'Clock Somewhere" (no Jimmy Buffet appearance, unfortunately). Dozens of couples swayed along in the aisles to his romantic ballad, "Remember When." The whole crowd was then on their feet, cell phones in the air, singing along to Jackson's post-9/11 hit, "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning." Jackson, like Morgan, thanked all the soldiers who serve overseas. His final song, "Where I Come From," was filled with southern pride as he ad-libbed lyrics praising sweet tea and church on Sunday before waving good bye to fans and leaving them shouting for more.
Headliner Kenny Rogers took the stage around 11 p.m. His mic was not working well at first, letting his vocals fade in and out as he opened with "Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town." After several decades in the music business (and more than 70 singles on radio), Rogers voice has aged a bit, but still sounds as warm and inviting as ever. His onstage demeanor was sincere and laidback, never working too hard to get the crowd's attention. "About half of you weren't even born when these songs were hits," he quipped, looking out over the crowd. He then launched into a sting of hits, including "What Condition My Condition Was In," "The Rose," "Through the Years" and "The Gambler." The younger people in the crowd began dispersing early after the first few songs, but most of the audience took the gamble of staying for the whole set, enjoying a rare performance from this vocal legend.