Still, the band — lead singer Kimberly Perry with brothers Reid and Neil Perry — proved up to the task. Kicking up the energy with toe-tappers “Miss You Being Gone,” “Independence,” and new song “Sugar, Sugar,” along with their latest chart-topper, the scorching “You Lie,” they even managed a seamless transition into a countrified version of “Amazing Grace. “We thought we’d have a little bit of church at Sunday in the Country,” Kimberly said.
Of course, the no. 1 hit, Grammy-nominated “If I Die Young,” drew the most intense ovation. “[This song] changed the lives of my brothers and me...this one belongs to you,” Kimberly said as she launched into the haunting, somber tune, clearly growing emotional when the audience sang back the third verse without missing a beat: “And maybe then you’ll hear the words I’ve been singing; funny, when you’re dead, how people start listening.”
Earlier in the day, 20-year-old solo artist Hunter Hayes (imagine a mix between Justin Bieber and Jason Mraz) kicked things off with his irresistibly catchy single, “Storm Warning,” and happily took video of the audience to post on Twitter. Newcomer Frankie Ballard tried to get the crowd to dance, while Brantley Gilbert (filling in for Easton Corbin, who canceled due to illness) cranked up the volume with Southern rock, including “Country Must Be Country Wide” and “Kick It in the Sticks”, and growling through his “Dirt Road Anthem” and “My Kinda Party,” made popular by Jason Aldean.