BOBBY KARL Works The Room–CMA 6/10

Carrie Underwood at Thursday's LP Field concert. Photo: John Russell, provided by CMA.

Chapter 339—My kingdom for a parking space.

Downtown Nashville is a sea of humanity. If this year’s CMA Music Festival doesn’t set another attendance record, I will be very much surprised. There were moments during my first tour of the “campus” on Thursday (6/10) when I was literally inching along in the packed pedestrian traffic.

Probably because so much more of the fest is now free, the crowds are not only larger, they are more diverse. At the Riverfront stage, there were grandmas, toddlers, teen-age twins, body builders, wheelchair people, bikini-topped babes, plus-size suburbanites, African-American children, bikers, tourists from overseas and just about any other type of individual you can imagine.

Joey + Rory were giving them quite a show, everything from “A  Little More Country Than That,” which Rory co-wrote, to their clever set closer, “Buy Our CD.” Rowdy Colt Ford followed the duo.

Tim McGraw, LP Field Thursday. Photo: Donn Jones; provided by CMA

A youngster was being thrown from the mechanical bull at the foot of Broadway as I passed it (The First Aid Tent is conveniently nearby). Next to the bull was one of several convenient water-misting tents.

In the Fun Zone, CMT was rounding up contestants for its cute “Singing Bee” contest, right across from the Manwich Open Mic Contest. Trevor Finlay was holding forth at the Hard Rock stage. Later in the afternoon, Eden’s Edge left a Music Row event to head down for a set on that same stage.

Full-dress Marines manned a recruiting booth. Ocean Spray had set up a cranberry bog. There were food give-aways and wheel-spinning games of chance galore.

The Sports Zone included the ever-popular bungee jumping station. In the Famiily Zone, there were giant inflatables, kiddie slides and bean-bag tossing. In the big tent, the Josh Turner Dance Contest was underway, with the star being joined by fellow judges from UMG, Royce “Siman” Risser and Van “Abdul” Haze. Nearby was Chuck Wicks with a roving CMT crew. Behind the tent, were the delightful “K-9” doggies diving into a big pool chasing Frisbees.

Fans in the Fun Zone! Photo: Amanda Eckard, provided by CMA

Across the street from Walk of Fame Park, the Country Music Hall of Fame was offering $6 barbeque lunches. Inside, fans were gathering for a Dierks Bentley autograph session. Dierks staged his fan club party on Wednesday night (6/9) at Limelight.

Charlie Monk was hosting the Chevy Stage in front of the Bridgestone Arena. Blaine Larsen, Randy Montana and The Kentucky HeadHunters performed and accommodated autograph seekers who gathered at the fence behind the stage. Strolling in the vicinity were such industry figures as Rod Essig, Troy Tomlinson and Regina Stuve.

In the Fan Fair exhibit hall in the Convention Center, you could have your pick of any number of celebrity encounters. Signing and smiling were Doug Stone, Danny Gokey, Richard Petty, Con Hunley, Bucky Covington, Lulu Roman, Love & Theft, Jack Greene, Julie Roberts, Gretchen Wilson, Joe Dee Messina, Jesse Lee, Kix Brooks, Diamond Rio, Josh Thompson and Julianne Hough. After Pam Tillis put in some autograph time, she headed upstairs and turned in a sizzling set in the Durango Acoustic Corner. The Judds were signing in the Fan Fair hall, too, having announced their 18-city “The Last Encore” tour at a press conference that morning. Chris Young headed from his #1 party on Music Row to downtown to delight the Fan Fair fans.

Jimmie Van Zant and songwriter Charlie Craig were signing in the Tootsie’s booth. Fans were making videos with a digital Rodney Atkins or singing Shania songs with a real-life Laura Bell Bundy. There were free arcade games, stations for playing electronic checkers and a real Air Force fighter jet on display.

Upstairs from the exhibit hall, T. Graham Brown had them yelling for more in the Durango Acoustic Corner. Meanwhile, back at Riverfront, Keith Anderson hollered, “Man, it’s hot!” at the thousands gathered there, and they roared in response. “Just drink more beer,” he suggested before romping through “Pickin’ Wildflowers.”

Wednesday’s downpour (6/9), alas, cancelled Randy Houser’s gig at the Block Party. But Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam at the Ryman went on as scheduled that night. This year, he had Vince Gill, Keith Urban, Ralph Mooney, announcer/fiddler Eddie Stubbs and Connie Smith, among others.

In addition to the folks I saw, others slated to sing in Thursday’s blazing sunshine on the various free stages included Bomshel, Clay Walker, Neal McCoy, Jeannie Seely, Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius, The Band Perry, Jaron & The Long Road to Love, Tyler Dickerson and Ash Bowers.

If you decide to experience the Festival, take along some Patience. It is crowded and muggy down there.


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David M. Ross has been covering Nashville's music industry for over 25 years. [email protected]

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