Photography by Laura Ord
It feels ridiculous that this was Cody Johnson’s first ever CMA Fest.
One of Texas country’s finest exports, Cody Johnson has become a hugely popular artist who spent many tough years working away to make a name for himself in the Lone Star state. Now, with a freshly gleaming Grammy and CMT Award under his belt buckle, to say that all those hard yards have paid off feels like somewhat of an understatement.
Striding onto the stage and raising his Stetson to the Nissan Stadium crowd in immediate triumph, Cody's band waltzed into the broad, expansive-sounding ‘Let's Build A Fire’ for the thousands in attendance.
They brewed up an absolute Honky Tonk storm, Jody Bartula’s fiddle and Jake Mears pacing around the stage like rabid dogs as Cody conducted the mayhem from the front with the crowd.
While it would be easy to compare Cody Johnson to his Texan icons, he actually possesses the sort of aura and command of a stadium stage that made Garth so immensely popular. He's an audacious, encompassing presence, an artist that riles up the crowd into a frenzy and gets them onside before offering his point of view.
“Are you here because you like country music?” Cody Johnson demanded, receiving a fervent reception from those on the field up to fans in the bleeders. It was the most reciprocal the crowd have been all weekend, even after Luke Combs’ performance the night before.
It’s a heavy, emotionally weighted set – from the off, Cody Johnson was candid, opinionated and assured as he opened up about his flaws and imperfections.
“I’ve wanted to chase a lot of dreams, but country music was the dream that always seemed to come back to the forefront for me in my life. I owe everything I’ve got tonight to my lord and saviour, Jesus Christ, for giving me the ability to be here” Cody Johnson began, to massive cheers from the crowd.
Photography by Laura Ord
“I’m the most imperfect Christian in this room; I got more problems than you do, I promise you, I’ll bet on it any day of the week. But that doesn’t mean I’m scared to stand up here in front of y’all and say ‘Hey, I’m happy to be here playing country music at CMA Fest’”.
“We’re all trying to work this out,” he offered, after dedicating ‘Long Haired Country Boy’ to all the military and front-line workers putting their lives on the line for those in attendance and around the country.
Turning his attention to the acoustic guitar, Cody launched into his raw and sorrowful cover of ‘Whoever’s In New England’, the stripped back nature losing none of its intimacy in the cavernous stadium. As he delved into the second verse, one of the biggest surprises of the night took place; Reba walked onto the stage, microphone in hand, causing the 50,000 in attendance to become unglued.
It was a delightful appearance – the crowd’s love and appreciation for both acts making for a memorable moment on the 50th anniversary of the event. In a night of many surprises, including Miranda bringing out her new best friend Avril Lavigne, the collaboration between Reba and Cody hit home the most; a beautiful passing of the torch in neo-traditional country.
Closing out with his massive, Grammy-winning ‘Til You Can’t’, Cody Johnson reminded everyone exactly why he deserves to be on this stage – he’s become one of country’s most beloved outlaws, placing each massive stadium and festival he plays in the palm of his hand.
Cody Johnson - Setlist
Taken from his set at CMA Fest 2023 at Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN on Friday, June 9, 2023.
For more on CMA Fest 2023, see below: