By Ross Jones
Following a night of big surprises and emotional hometown returns, HARDY took to the Nissan Stadium stage at CMA Fest 2023 a little after midnight on Friday night (June 9) for a heavy as all hell set that cemented him as a festival headliner.
Stalking across the stage as the feedback laden intro of SOLD OUT begins, Hardy launches into the rip-roaring and unapologetic chorus; “I'm still the same old redneck fuck / don't give a damn / Ain't afraid to throw a dead buck on my Instagram”. From the off, it’s basically a massive metal show; HARDY actually sounding stronger when grating his voice against the microphone than on a softer, more laborious track.
He punches the air and screams as if he’s fronting a 2000s Nu-Metal band, sharing Bailey Zimmerman’s penchant for elaborate air fighting as he dips down and nods to the beat. As the dust settles a little for ‘Jack’ and ‘Truck bed’, the band descend into this spacey, atmospheric, heroin rock sound – like Limp Bizkit in their ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ era.
A lot of diehard HARDY fans in the crowd singalong, as the rest stumble out of the stadium at the end of the long night - “I can’t believe I’ve got to be up at 9”, hardy sings on ‘TRUCK BED’; those leaving thankful they don’t have to be.
Despite the heft of his live sound, Hardy’s live set loses none of the catchiness that made him so popular before The Mockingbird & THE CROW. He’s a bit of a chameleon, jumping between the metal of ‘Boots’ to the more traditional country of ‘Wait in The Truck’. While his rapping isn’t as strong, he’s constantly eviscerating the audience with this dense, melancholic beat.
“I sat way up there in the nosebleeds where y’all all at tonight” HARDY begins, “and I watched Blake Shelton sing a song called ‘Ole Red’. I thought to myself that’s the coolest dude in the room, and that’s the coolest song I’ve ever heard and I aspire to write a song that cool one day and, my god, I think I did it y’all”.
“I’m so so proud of this next song, it’s my second no.1 on my country music radio, and I just want you to know, if you’re a good ol’ boy who’s put your hands on a woman, out there somewhere there might be a good ole boy or redneck boy coming for your ass, so get ready for it”.
As expected, following her set earlier in the evening, Lainey Wilson joined HARDY for their aforementioned duet ‘Wait in The Truck’, a powerful and harrowing depiction of domestic abuse that’s become Hardy’s strongest statement to date. While it sounds pretty rough and ready live, it loses none of its oomph – the rushed nature of the collaboration giving it further gravitas in its honest expression.
“I just shook the nerves off, I’m feeling good” Hardy announces, before welcoming Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson for their huge hit, 'One Beer'. It’s perhaps Hardy’s most pop-orientated song of the night, but it fits neatly into the narrative and mood he’s cultivating in the short amount of time he's got.
Closing out the set by inviting the crowd to jump for ‘Kill Sh!t Till I Die’, Hardy secures his position as one of the biggest enigmas in the country music landscape today – something that’s going to pay dividends for him for a long while to come.
Taken from his headline set at CMA Fest 2023 at Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN on Friday, June 9, 2023.
For more coverage on CMA Fest 2023, see below: