Bobby Karl Works CMA Fest: Part 1

Josh Thompson kicked off the first performance at the CMA Music Fest Riverstages today (6/8) with a 30 minute set that included his current single, "Won't Be Lonely Long." Pictured (L-R): Julianne Drenon, manager, Creekhouse Entertainment; Skip Bishop, Senior VP Promotion, Sony Music Nashville; Heather McBee, VP Digital, Sony Music Nashville; Jimmy Rector, VP Promotion, Columbia Nashville; Gary Overton, CEO/Chairman, Sony Music Nashville; Thompson and Steve Moore, CEO, Country Music Association.

Chapter 366

With the biggest parade in its history, charity concerts, some Opry events, two international-artist showcases and a flurry of early fan-club parties, the 40th annual CMA Music Festival is off with a bang.

The kick-off parade on Wednesday morning (6/8) was an hour-long affair packed with action. Sirius/XM and GAC star Storme Warren hosted. “This is the official kick off of country music’s biggest party!” he crowed to the crowd. Attendees were massed for blocks on Lower Broadway. Fans were perched on the police precinct porch, the Masonic Lodge plaza, the steps of the Customs House and on ledges of dozens of other buildings.

Slowly, a phalanx of motorcyclists rumbled over the rise at 8th Avenue. Wow, what a beginning – 300 riders from the Harley Davidson HOG Rock, Rhythm & Blues Tour roared past the screaming throng. Very festive. The Metro Police Department’s color guard marched next, accompanied by bagpipe and drum. Rescue vehicles were followed by the Music City Drum & Bugle Corps, dressed in vivid red & white uniforms with silver epaulets and buttons.

Parade co-grand marshal Bill Anderson stared at the throng that stretched all the way down to the river from his vantage point at 6th Avenue & Broadway. “We didn’t have near this many people 40 years ago,” he observed. “Welcome to Music City!” He should know: Bill is one of the few artists who have attended every single one of the 40 Fan Fairs.

Co-grand marshals The Oak Ridge Boys are another. “We’ve been to every one,” said the group’s Duane Allen. “There are shows all over town – we’re looking forward to a great week.” “Oom-papa, Oom-papa, Mow-Mow,” sang Richard Sterban. This is the 30th anniversary of “Elvira.”

“I was here for the first Fan Fair, so this is my 40th,” said Lynn Anderson, the only other parade participant who dated back to the beginning.

“This is my very first parade,” said Josh Thompson. “This is awesome. This is a tribute to the greatest fans in any genre of music.”

“This is my very first CMA Music Festival, and I’m blessed to be here,” said American Idol’s Crystal Bowersox.

“Look at all these amazing people,” exclaimed Ty Herndon. Let the record show that his yellow convertible was being driven by none other than the CMA’s Steve Moore.

“Welcome, everybody, to Nashville, from all over the world,” said Deborah Allen. Right next to me on the sidewalk was a couple from Paris — France, not Tennessee. Fans from more than 25 different nations have bought tickets this year.

“There’s so many of you – what happened?” exclaimed Sherrie Austin. “It has grown,” Storme explained to “The Wonder From Down Under.” “The stars just keep on coming, just like they will over the next five days,” he added.

Riding in various Chevrolet vehicles – sedans, Silverado pick-ups, Corvettes and such – were Billy Dean, Lee Brice, Jason Jones, Mark Wills, Ashley Gearing, Eli Young Band, Dailey & Vincent (also their first Fan Fair), pop star Tiffany, Miss Willie Brown, Bo Bice, Tyler Farr, Buddy Jewell, The Roys, GAC contest winning One Night Rodeo, Stephen Cochran, Rhonda Vincent, Karie Armiger, JT Hodges, Sarah Darling, Bomshel, Ash Bowers, The Carter Twins, Carter’s Chord, The Dirt Drifters, LoCash Cowboys, Hollywood Yates and The Lunabelles.

“Good Morning, Beautiful,” said Storme as Steve Holy glided by, waving from his car perch. Daryle Singletary was fresh from winning the Porter Wagoner Memorial Fishing Tournament on Tuesday (6/7). He said his winning bass catch weighed 13 pounds, six ounces. Walker Hayes pronounced himself, “Embarrassed,” at being named one of People Country’s hottest guys. Rowdy Her & Kings County were having a ball, bouncing their truck bed up and down. Stealing Angels were notably vivacious, especially considering the blistering temperature.

Mascots T-RAC (The Titans), Gnash (The Predators), Ozzie (The Sounds) and the Geiko Gecko (handing out gecko-head fans), cavorted down the parade route. The Nashville Roller Girls skated by, promoting their June 18th game. The General Lee car tooted its “rebel” horn. The clopping, handsome Budweiser Clydesdales delighted the fans. The Gildan stilt walker with a huge blue flag was promoting the unveiling in Centennial Park on Saturday of the world’s largest t-shirt.

Middle Tennessee Girl Scouts and Brownies, the Nashville Fire Department color guard, the GAC Tour Bus, Operation Troop Aid, the U.S. Coast Guard, Sheriff Daron Hall and more paraded by.

The McGavock High School Band treated us to “The Tennessee Waltz,” one of our state songs. Making its first parade appearance was the  “Keep the Music Playing” All-Stars band. These are some of the kids who have benefited from the festival’s proceeds that go to music education in our schools. A beaming Wendy Pearl marched with them.

“This is a phenomenal event,” marveled Dan Wheldon. He won the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 over Memorial Day Weekend. In case you didn’t know, his car was co-sponsored by our own Mike Curb and Scott Borchetta.

A banner reading, “Follow Me to the Block Party,” brought up the rear of the parade. If you were selling food downtown, you were in the catbird seat. There was an hour lag time between the parade and the first show at Riverfront Park, so fans lined up wherever lunch beckoned.

For North Carolina’s Joel Hawkins, his first CMA fest was already a success. He and his wife attended the Opry on Tuesday (6/8) and saw their faves Martina McBride, Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum. The night before (6/7), they went to their ultra favorite Carrie Underwood’s fan-club party, also at the Opry. “You’re going to have a ball,” I promised them about the days to come. The always entertaining Jerrod Niemann starred at the Opry Plaza Party (6/8). Carrie, by the way, introduced this year’s Idol winners Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina to the Opry fans.

Sweet Caroline, a fan from Ottowa, Canada, remembered me from hosting an Eric Church fan event last year. She was desperately seeking tickets to his Chief album-preview party on Thursday (6/9). To my surprise, she is also a MusicRow reader. Blonde, 8-year-old Kentucky triplets proclaimed themselves here to see – who else? – Taylor Swift.

Braving the heat were Vanessa Parker Davis, Heather Bahn, Harry Harrison, Joyce Riser and balloon wranglers from SunTrust and Fifth Third banks.

The 4th annual GAC Fan Kick-off Breakfast was held this morning (6/8) at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. The sold-out event included performances by Lee Ann Womack, Laura Bell Bundy, Ashton Shepherd and David Nail followed by autograph sessions. Pictured (L-R): GAC GM Sarah Trahern, David Nail, Ashton Shepherd, Laura Bell Bundy, Lee Ann Womack and GAC Pres. Ed Hardy.

The aforementioned Misters Brice and Thompson, plus Eli Young Band, Uncle Kracker and Randy Houser were booked to kick things off at Riverfront. Meanwhile, over at 12th & Porter, fans were already lined up and dying to get into the Craig Morgan fan club party. The Tracy Lawrence crew was bustling all over Rocketown getting it ready for his fan club bash (6/8).

The “Country Gives Back” Red Cross Disaster Fund charity show was on Broadway Tuesday evening (6/7). Rodney Atkins and Thompson Square starred, and Butch Spyridon, Lindsey Bynum, Loretta Kelly and Chris Cannon were there. Meanwhile at The Stage (6/7), WKDF was raising money for Cystic Fibrosis with a “Beach Party” starring Darryl Worley, Kellie Pickler, David Nail and more.

The AristoMedia Global Shows were Monday (6/6) and Tuesday (6/7). MusicRow’s Jon Freeman was thunderstruck by Oz’s Tommy Emmanuel at Monday’s gig at The Stage. “I’ve never seen anybody play guitar like that,” he observed. Keith Urban presented Tommy with the 2011 CMA Global Country Artist Award at the SRO event. Tuesday’s gig at the Second Fiddle was hosted by The McClymonts, also from Australia.

As early as Monday (6/6), Bill Mayne was making wisecracks about the “polyester invasion.” The fans may be overweight (like all of America), but they don’t wear polyester and haven’t for years.

We are anticipating a daily attendance of 70,000 of them this year. Last year, the aggregate attendance for all four days was 160,000. The fest employs more than 500 stagehands, security personnel, catering staff, TV crews, transportation people and artist assistants. The two-hour network television special, cable shows, internet feeds and national radio broadcasts that the festival generates are all essentially advertisements for our city. The fans bring in $25 million to the downtown Nashville economy. So for pete’s sake, let’s celebrate them and welcome them.







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