Cody Johnson Makes CMA Fest Debut With Electrifying Performance And Surprise Duet With Reba McEntire

“I think it wound up being perfect, just she and I and a guitar,” Johnson shared of the performance.


Country Now Staff

| Posted on

July 19, 2023

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Reba McEntire, Cody Johnson; Photo by Andrew Wendowski

Texas came to Tennessee when Cody Johnson brought his energetic live performance to the main stage of CMA Fest for the first time ever. 

Johnson had fans in the palm of his hands during his performances of “‘Til You Can’t” and “Human,” and their excitement went through the roof when he was joined by Reba McEntire for a duet of her breakthrough hit, “Whoever’s In New England.” 

Ahead of their duet, Johnson opened up about collaborating with Reba and shared his gratitude for their working relationship.  

“Reba’s going to be on stage with me tonight. Today was the first day we’ve sang in the studio together when we recorded ‘Dear Rodeo,’ which was really incredible,” he said. “That was the first time I’d ever met Reba, and since then we’ve developed a really good working professional relationship to where she’s the kind of person where if I need something, I can pick up the phone. And she answers, and that’s a huge deal because she’s Reba and I am nowhere near that.” 

He went on to explain that he has been working with Reba and her team to perfect their CMA Fest performance for quite some time. 

“We’d gone back and forth for six weeks about key and tempo and all the different things that we’re going to do for this song, and I think it wound up being perfect, just she and I and a guitar,” Johnson shared. 

Reba McEntire, Cody Johnson; Photo by Andrew Wendowski
Reba McEntire, Cody Johnson; Photo by Andrew Wendowski

The CMA Fest special also featured Johnson’s inspiring performance of “‘Til You Can’t,” which drew an incredible response from the crowd. 

 “‘Til You Can’t” was crowned CMA Single of the Year at the 56th Annual CMA Awards in the fall of 2022.

Produced by Trent Willmon and co-written by Ben Stennis and Matthew J. Rogers, “‘Til You Can’t” was the lead single off Johnson’s, Human: The Double Album. The song became Johnson’s first No. 1 and first multi-week No. 1 when it reached the top of the charts last year. 

“I chose to record ”Til You Can’t’ first because of the positivity in the message of the song. In our world today, we could use more positivity,” the Texas native previously shared. “Secondly, because of how dynamic the melody was. I took it and ran with it.”

Cody Johnson; Photo by Andrew Wendowski
Cody Johnson; Photo by Andrew Wendowski

The three-hour CMA Fest special was hosted by Dierks Bentley, Elle King, and Lainey Wilson and aired on ABC on Wednesday, July 19. 

Dubbed “the music event of summer,” the special featured 30+ performances and surprise collaborations from some of Country music’s hottest stars, including Alabama, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Leon Bridges, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Dan + Shay, Jordan Davis, Vince Gill, HARDY, Tyler Hubbard, Jelly Roll, Cody Johnson, Elle King, Miranda Lambert, Avril Lavigne, Little Big Town, Ashley McBryde, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Jo Dee Messina, Old Dominion, Jon Pardi, Carly Pearce, Darius Rucker, Tanya Tucker, Keith Urban, and Lainey Wilson.  

CMA Fest marked its 50th Anniversary with a record-breaking celebration in Nashville, June 8 through June 11. 

The four-day event hosted an estimated daily attendance of over 90,000, a 12% increase from 2022, according to the Country Music Association. Additionally, the nightly concerts at Nissan Stadium saw 10% growth from 2022.

The festival also hosted fans from all 50 states as well as a record-breaking 51 countries.

Lainey Wilson, Dierks Bentley and Elle King.; Photo by ABC/Robby Klein
Lainey Wilson, Dierks Bentley and Elle King.; Photo by ABC/Robby Klein

“What a weekend! As we’ve spent the past year reflecting on this milestone celebration, one theme has persisted—the incredible connection between Country Music fans and the artists,” Sarah Trahern, CMA Chief Executive Officer, shared in a statement. “It’s magical because it still matters after all these years. From first-timers to legends, so many artists started as fans—some as far back as Fan Fair. Almost every artist who performs during the festival has had their own experience as a fan, so for many of them, taking the stage at CMA Fest is a full-circle moment. We only get the chance to celebrate our 50th anniversary once, and to do so in such an impactful way has meant the world to us. Thank you, Country Music!”   

More than 300 acts took part in CMA Fest this year, including performances at the Chevy Riverfront Stage, Dr Pepper Amp Stage, Chevy Vibes Stage, Maui Jim Reverb Stage and the Hard Rock Stage as well at Fan Fair X inside Music City Center.

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