The first celebrity I saw at the CMA Music Festival wasn’t a country star.
It was my favorite Tennessee Titan, Cortland Finnegan, playing for the Opry team at the 20th annual City of Hope Celebrity Softball Challenge on Monday evening at Greer Stadium (6/7). He was kidding around with Luke Bryan, who was playing for the After MidNite with Blair Garner team. Luke was upset that he’d been “traded,” since he played on the Opry squad last year. But he brightened up when he saw Cortland.
“He’s the only guy here who talks more country than I do,” said Georgia-bred Luke.
Also suiting up for the charity game were the likes of Carrie Underwood, Vince Gill, Chuck Wicks, Joe Nichols, Craig Morgan, Jason Aldean and Mallary Hope.
On Tuesday (6/8), CAA held its 18th annual CAA BBQ at its West End headquarters. That evening, the Tennessee State Museum hosted a reception to open its exhibit of paintings by William Lee Golden.
Wednesday morning (6/9, Tracy Lawrence became one of the first to host a Fan Club party. His was at the Mercy Lounge. Then it was downtown for the 6th annual CMA Music Festival Kick-Off Parade (6/9). When we arrived, host Stormie Warren was leading the sizable sidewalk crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to teen-age fans named Sable and Jessie.
“I want to see some stars!” wailed Jim Bessman in eager anticipation. He didn’t have long to wait.
The U.S. Marine Corps color guard marched by, to the accompaniment of a female bagpiper. Equestrian cops, assorted police vehicles, the Army color guard and a music-note giant balloon preceded red-garbed Grand Marshall Brenda Lee waving merrily from a vintage silver Corvette convertible. The parade is sponsored by Chevrolet, so almost everyone was either in a Corvette or a Chevy pickup. After the Music City Drum & Bugle Corps, for instance, Rodney Atkins and his dog glided by in the bed of a Chevy truck. The fans squealed.
Gloriana, Pam Tillis, Danielle Peck, The Band Perry, Trent Tomlinson, Lynn Anderson, Fast Ryde, James Wesley, James Otto and Point of Grace were all there, along with more bands balloons, tractors, T-Rac (the Titans mascot), cheerleaders, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts (It seems that Stormie was once an Eagle Scout. Who knew?) Ronnie McCoury was trying to cross Broadway to get to Bridgestone Arena for a Sirius XM radio appearance with Dierks Bentley. We wished him luck.
The 5th annual Block Party was scheduled for that afternoon (6/9) with David Nail, Chuck Wicks, Jerrod Neimann, Joe Nichols and Randy Houser. But we had a lunch date on Music Row with Marty Stuart. Marty was previewing an extraordinary project for Sugar Hill Records titled Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions.
“This is a cathedral of country music,” said Marty of RCA Studio B, which is now operated as a museum attraction by the Country Music Hall of Fame. “It’s a bit intimidating because of its legacy.”
Marty’s first Nashville recording session was held there, when he was a teenage member of Lester Flatt’s band. And he returned there with his Fabulous Superlatives band to create his new collection.
“Ghost Train is an album of traditional country music,” Marty stated simply. “It’s the music that still melts me and touches my heart.”
The listening session was one audio delight after another. Don Reno’s “Country Boy Rock & Roll” recalled the sound of Marty’s classic hits. Warner Mack’s “Bridge Washed Out” is also splendidly revived on the set. Attendee Ralph Mooney beamed when we heartily applauded his steel-guitar instrumental “Crazy Arms,” which he co-wrote. Enthusiastic shouts followed the Marty & Connie Smith duet “I Run to You,” which they co-wrote. Marty held up his wife’s hand proudly.
Marty wrote seven of the songs, including two instrumentals and the striking recitation “Porter Wagoner’s Grave.” He and Connie co-wrote “A World Without You, and he and Ralph co-wrote the rocking “Little Heartbreaker.” The grim “Hangman” was co-written by Marty and Johnny Cash just four days before the Man in Black died.
Listening and lunching were Jon Weissberger, Duane Allen, Peter Cooper, Bob Paxman, Brad Paul, Craig Havighurst, Marc Dottore, Vernell Hackett, Phyllis Stark, Tom Roland, Gary Paczosa and Mary Hilliard Harrington, plus Fabulous Superlatives Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Paul Martin.
Just up the street (6/9), SunTrusst Bank’s 12th annual Hot Dog Day was in full swing. The Festival doesn’t “officially” start until Thursday, June 10. But make no mistake, we are well underway.