It was a night full of surprises at CMA Fest on Friday night (June 9), as Jelly Roll took the stage for an unannounced appearance to the delight of the 50,000 plus in attendance.
After Miranda Lambert had shocked the audience by bringing out Avril Lavigne during ‘Kerosene’, Jelly walked out to the square stage at the center of the Nissan Stadium field before Keith Urban’s set.
With film recording taking place for the CMA Fest TV Special, presenter and host Dierks Bentley hyped up the crowd, insisting they give Jelly some love upon introducing him.
Unsurprisingly, they needed no encouragement, with even the most traditionalist of country fans having fallen in love with Jelly Roll's inspirational story, following the release of his own Hulu TV special, Jelly Roll: Save Me, named after his haunting Lainey Wilson collaboration.
Performing two of his most popular hits, his first ever Country Radio No. 1, ‘Son of A Sinner’, and new fan-favourite ‘Need a Favor’, Jelly delivered a rasping, heartfelt performance that ached with raw sentiment as the crowd sang along to every word.
Raising his trademark cap to the air in appreciation after performing ‘Need A Favor’, the artist otherwise known as Jason DeFord was visibly moved by the opportunity presented to him.
As the crowd began a huge, stadium-wide chant of his name, the sheer love and support they offered him caused the singer to break down and wipe the tears from his face.
“I grew up right here in Nashville, Tennessee, baby” Jelly Roll explains to his fans. “Tonight, I’m living two dreams: I’m living the dream of a man who is performing at a Fan Fair he’s been coming to for 34 years. I’m also getting to perform at the stadium I’ve been coming to since the Tennessee Titans gamed here. For all my people up there in the 300s, I love y’all, baby, that’s where I was”.
“I want to give a special shout out to the kids in juvenile next door, because I was one of them. It’s proof that you can change your life, as I’m standing on this stage right now. We’re also celebrating tonight, y’all, we have the No. 3 album in the country”.
Although Jelly Roll's debut CMA Fest performance was only two songs long, that was all the time the genre-blending powerhouse needed to showcase why the rapper-turned-rocker-turned-country-star has enjoyed an explosion of popularity over the past twelve months.
It's not just that Jelly Roll has an incredible, heartening story, or that he has an irresistibly warm, welcoming presence whenever he speaks on-stage or in interviews.
It's that he's managed to find a way of boiling down, expressing and translating his journey and personality into three-minute sermons, which in turn resonate with fans of all walks of life.
There seems to be no better way to describe his performance than by using a lyric from the man himself - it's a ‘Backroad Baptism’, and no pew was left empty in the Nissan Stadium during Jelly Roll's unexpected CMA Fest set on Friday night.
Jelly Roll - 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: