Bobby Karl’s Fan Fair Finale

Chapter 369:

Miranda Lambert helped close out the CMA Music Festival last night. Photo: Alan Mayor

I am pretty sure it was the hottest one on record, and I am fairly confident that it was the best attended, but I am absolutely positive that this has been the most star-loaded CMA Music Fest in history.

On Wednesday (6/8), we had the legendary Oak Ridge Boys and Hall of Famer Bill Anderson at the parade, plus Toby Keith and Wynonna at the awards show.

On Thursday (6/9), Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley and Alabama entertained. On Friday (6/10), you had Shania Twain autographing, pop princess Tiffany singing and Sugarland, Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban and Reba McEntire at LP Field.

Saturday (6/10) featured appearances by Dolly Parton, Billy Ray Cyrus, Hall of Famer Mel Tillis, Martina McBride, Clint Black and Rascal Flatts.

Sunday’s (6/11) big guns included Hall of Famer Roy Clark, The Gatlins, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton and Taylor Swift. The weekend, alone, was a music lover’s wonderland.

FRIDAY:

On Friday, Day 3 (6/10), I began my afternoon at the Bridgestone Arena. After all, this is where Shania Twain was setting up shop to autograph her autobiography, From This Moment On. Her line stretched 3/4 of the way around the arena’s indoor perimeter.

At the front of the line, in a serene, lavender-lit Meeting Room G, Shania was on a raised platform, seated at a gilded, Louis XIV desk. A bowl of alabaster flowers was its only decoration. She looked lovely and relaxed and was warm and welcoming to each fan who approached. The line moved smoothly and efficiently.

Out on the Bridgestone plaza, Earl Thomas Conley brought a rousing finish to his set. This stage is sponsored by Lay’s, a company that has its roots in Nashville, by the way. In 1932, the first Lay’s snack foods were sold to Belmont students by Herman W. Lay across the street from where the Curb Events Center is today.

Anyhow, by the time I emerged from the Shania experience, Ty Herndon was “Living in a Moment” on that stage, and in magnificent voice.

In the Sports Zone, the Bud Light tent was at its grooviest. BMI songwriters Jimmy Yeary, Tim Nichols and Jason Matthews demonstrated Nashville songwriting at its finest for the fans. Tim was singing “I’ll Think of a Reason Later,” the Lee Ann Womack hit he co-wrote. Earlier in the day, the strong vocals of Tiffany were the big surprise on this stage. She began her career as a kiddie country singer, became a pop star of the ‘80s in her teens and is now attempting a country comeback at 39.

Randy Montana was appealing and engaging as he entertained on the Riverfront Stage. Bill Anderson followed. “This business can drive you to drink,” he quipped, swigging from a bottle of water. During his set, band member Les Singer briefly fainted. Backstage, Les explained that it had to do with a combination of the heat and his high blood pressure medication. The fans were reassured that everything was fine, and Bill hushed the crowd with his emotional “Too Country.”

“Les has been in my Po’ Folks band for 30 years,” Bill said after checking on the veteran’s condition backstage. When I asked him about his 40-year history with the fest, Bill said, “There were only four or five thousand people at the first festival, in the Municipal Auditorium. When they moved it from April to June, that’s when it began to grow, when families could come.”

Rocking Frankie Ballard was next. He grinned at the bikini-clad cuties bopping in the brilliant sunshine and favored them with tunes from his debut CD, as well as laying some Bob Seger on them.

The stroll up to the Convention Center was a death march through the heat. But it was worth it. At the Durango Acoustic Corner, Blue Mother Tupelo was filling the room with its fabulous, rootsy, funky, folkie, groovy sound.

Down in the Exhibit Hall (6/10), shutterbugs and autograph hounds were out in force. Corey Smith, Joe Nichols, Bucky Covington, Irlene Mandrell, Lynn Anderson, Stealing Angels, Chris Young, Riders in the Sky, Gary Morris, Jeff Bates, Jake Owen, Brett Eldredge, Eden’s Edge and newscaster-turned-country-diva Robin Meade were accommodating one and all. I was surprised to see that by far the biggest crowd was drawn by American Idol champs Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina. Those teens evidently have a wild ride in front of them.

Spotted at various spots around the campus were Bradley Collins, Jensen Sussman, Lane Wilson, Eddie Stubbs, Alan Mayor (who keeps a dry extra shirt in his car), Paul Moore, Suzanne Gordon, Sarah Trahern and Gene Kennedy. The last-named was manning the R.O.P.E. booth. “We’ve had a pretty good crowd all day,” he reported. At the time, Jack Greene and Tommy Cash were being kept busy by autograph seekers there.

I headed out of the Hall serenaded by the perfect harmonies of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. In the Acoustic Corner, they were offering a dynamite bluegrass treatment of the late Dan Seals tune “Love on Arrival.”

That night (6/10) at LP Field, Gary Morris performed a soulful national anthem. Ashton Shepherd, adorable with her pregnant “baby bump,” had them singing along to “Look it Up.” Comedian Paul Harris entertained. Dierks Bentley got the folks lathered up with his party anthem “Am I the Only One.” At his set’s close, he knelt and bowed down to the throng, then patted his heart in gratitude for the ovation.

Backstage at LP Field, Clay Walker gets Dierks Bentley's autograph for his daughter. Photo: Alan Mayor

Lady Antebellum turned in a harmony soaked set. Then, to the instrumental strains of “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” Shania Twain made a surprise appearance to introduce Sugarland. The duo’s set included percussionist guests Music City Mystique. Co-host Clay Walker did some acoustic tunes. During his set, Keith Urban waded down into the adoring throng. He brought out tour mate Jake Owen as his surprise. Reba – we now jettison our last names when reaching superstardom (Beyonce, Wynonna, etc.) – sang oldies and newies such as “Consider Me Gone.”

Jeff Walker, Steve Bogard, Butch Spyridon, Jo Walker-Meador, Ed Benson, Jim Fike, Howard Gentry, Melissa Maynard, Will Byrd, Barry Coburn, Dale Bobo and Alison Jones schmoozed. Populating the press room were Vernell Hackett, Shari Lacy, Neil Haislip, George Achaves, gracious coordinator Karen Byrd, Bob Paxman, Barry McCloud, Hunter Kelly and Donna Hughes. The last named was wistfully attending her last Fan Fair in the press corps, since she is going over to Capitol/EMI.

The finale fireworks went off around 12:30 a.m. (In deference to the stadium’s Edgefield neighbors, the boom-booms were eliminated on Thursday night.)

SATURDAY:

The big highlight in the Fan Fair hall on Saturday (6/11) was the appearance of Dolly Parton. She entered in a long curly wig and vivid yellow skirt and peplum-tailed matching, rhinestone-bedazzled jacket. She merrily waved and posed for photos for the TV cameras and the hundreds of screaming fans, walking from one end of her booth to the other to accommodate as many shutterbugs as possible. Near gridlock was achieved since Trace Adkins also drew a mob, just a few feet away from Dolly’s throng.

Up in the Acoustic Corner, Mandy Barnett was followed by stone-country stylist Teea Goans, singing everything from “Over the Rainbow” to Bill Anderson’s shuffle “Walk Out Backwards.” Dana Romanello’s set on that stage was considerably seasoned by the deft fiddling of Stephanie Taylor, who is also a high-powered downtown attorney with Bone McAllester Norton.

T. Graham Brown was tearin’ ‘em up at the Billy Block hosted Bridgestone stage. By the way, his T-ness is sporting a full, gray beard these days. The diving dogs and full-sized Smurf characters were entertaining in the Family Zone.

Meanwhile, SESAC presented songwriters Tim Johnson, Kim Tribble, Annie Tate and Brian White at the Bud Light Stage in the Sports Zone. ASCAP, by the way, had its tunesmiths in this inviting, tented venue on Thursday (6/9). Note to organizers: The noise from the Sports Zone’s Chevy Stage next door competes with this stage. Separate them.

Mighty Mel Tillis & The Statesiders were a highlight at Riverfront. So was the powerful voice of ball-cap wearing David Nail — his records don’t do him justice. Billy Ray Cyrus closed out Riverfront’s afternoon.

That night, Evan Farmer and Kristin Chenoweth co-hosted at LP Field. The former violated one of my cardinal Fan Fair rules: Never wear black on a stage full of black amplifiers. Dailey & Vincent performed a very sophisticated harmony arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Chris Young celebrated his 26th birthday with a cake backstage at LP Field. Photo: Alan Mayor

Chris Young had put in a heck of a long day: His fan club event was at the crack of dawn (6/11), but he was still in vibrant voice for his nighttime LP Field set. “Gettin You Home,” “Voices” and “Save Beer Drink Water” sounded great. He finished with a magnificently sung “Tomorrow.”

He’s a textbook example of why you should always pay attention to the little guys at Fan Fair. Chris first played the fest on a side stage as a 16-year-old in 2001. Incidentally, his image has been completely de-cowboy-ized. The hat is gone. The western shirt has been replaced by a sport shirt. He looks totally excellent.

Danny Gokey came on to talk about the Guinness world-record t-shirt unveiled in Centennial Park earlier in the day (6/11). It measured 281 x 180 feet and weighed 2 tons.

Then Little Big Town turned in a splendid set. In addition to hits, it featured a country/bluegrass romp through Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” The crowd went ape.

Of all the acoustic performers at LP Field, none was better than Clint Black. He captivated the crowd with Monty Python’s riotously goofy “The Galaxy Song” and had them singing along with the beautifully moving “Something That We Do.”

Josh Turner wowed ‘em with his string of hits. But the big applause came when he brought out his acolyte, American Idol winner Scotty McCreery, to sing with him on “Your Man.” How weird to have an imitator when you’re only 8 years into your own career.

Similarly, Martina McBride brought out American Idol teenage runner-up Lauren Alaina during her set. Trace Adkins performed, exactly a week to the day since his house burned down. His message: Give to the Red Cross Disaster Fund, not to me. Thompson Square and Big & Rich with Gretchen Wilson also had their moments in the spotlight.

Rascal Flatts began its set in the middle of the stadium floor, surrounded by fans holding little lights. It looked like they were singing in the middle of the Milky Way. Little Big Town reappeared to close the show with the group, doing “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Free Ride.” The fireworks finale took place at 12:25 a.m.

Spotted fabulons during Day 4 included Jessie Schmidt, Terry Choate, Jimmy Harnen, Matt Hargis, John Zarling, Anthony Smith, Metro school superintendent Dr. Jesse Register, Paul Barnabee, Bill Cody, Charlie Mattos, Scott Stem, Lon Helton and R.J. Curtis.

SUNDAY:

Unquestionably the highlight of the afternoon of Day 5 (6/12) was the Bridgestone performance by the reunited Foster & Lloyd. They haven’t lost a thing in the intervening years. If anything, they sound better than ever. HLN newscaster Robin Meade had preceded the duo. Her pop-country delivery started a little shakey at first, but definitely picked up steam as she went along. The celestial harmonies of Dailey & Vincent followed F&L on that stage.

The Roys performed on the WSM/Durango Acoustic Stage to a crowd of enthusiastic bluegrass fans. During the week, Lee and Elaine performed 12 shows, and signed at six booths. Pictured (L-R): Elaine Roy and Lee Roy.

 

Martina McBride’s annual YWCA benefit auction was in full swing in the Family Zone. “I think we’ve set a record,” she said.

Josh Hoge and Anita Cochran were two of the strongest talents booked for the Bud Light tent. The Roys pulled double duty, being booked there, then afterward at the Durango Acoustic Corner. Over at the Hard Rock, Heath Forbes was rocking on Rodney Crowell’s “Ain’t Living Long Like This.”

The Riverfront Stage booked Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers. Needless to say, the trio couldn’t perform all of its 20+ top-10 hits. Legendary banjo man Buck Trent joined Roy Clark during his set. Sunny Sweeney was a pure-country delight. Josh Kelley was introduced by his famous brother, Lady A’s Charles Kelley. Terri Clark closed out the blazingly sunny day at Riverfront (6/12).

As of Sunday afternoon, the heat-related medical incidents stood at 750. The Bonnaroo fest, by contrast had more than 1,500 by that date.

I always have a tinge of sadness when I go through the Fan Fair exhibit hall for the last time each year. I call it, “Fan Fair tristesse.” Buddy Jewell, Justin Moore, Hunter Hayes, Sarah Darling, Laura Bell Bundy and The LoCash Cowboys were gamely still autographing away.

But wait: there was still more to come. And how. We headed for LP Field (6/12), where host Storme Warrne promised, “We’re going to wind down CMA Music Fest in prime fashion.” Hallelujah! The temperature finally dropped below 90 as the sun set.

On Saturday, June 11 Hunter Hayes made his CMA Music Fest debut performance at the Lay's Music Stage outside the Bridgestone Arena. Photo: Sara Kauss

The pristine harmonies of Eden’s Edge washed over the National Anthem. Then Storme introduced The JaneDear Girls as, “the girls next door who kick country butt.” The feisty duo – Susie Brown and Danelle Leverett — concluded its set with “Shotgun Girl.” The Girls sounded good, but I recommend more stage interaction with one another.

Acoustic performer Jimmy Wayne was super on “Stay Gone,” “Sara Smile” and “Do You Believe Me Now.” The Band Perry was feisty and rocking, a real crowd pleaser. The Eli Young Band was next in the acoustic pocket. Darius Rucker brought out the bouncing beach balls in the audience. Everyone sang along to “Come Back Song,” “I Got Nothin” and his other hits. “You couldn’t pull this together in rock ‘n’ roll,” commented Darius backstage about Fan Fair. “It would cost too much money.” Tracy Lawrence was next as an acoustic performer.

“We had some chemistry with each other….and that’s what’s helping the show,” said Blake Shelton of his fellow cast members on his hit TV show The Voice. “The first time I ever came to Nashville was for Fan Fair in 1994,” he added. Blake was the artist with the No. 1 record of Fan Fair, “Honey Bee.” He sang it, plus “All About Tonight” and his other chart toppers. Trace Adkins joined him for “Hillbilly Bone,” to the fans’ delight. Question: Which one of these guys is taller?

Blake’s new bride, Miranda Lambert, sang her current “Heart Like Mine,” and was a massive stage success, too. She glowed in a silver lame mini dress. During her set, Miranda brought out her new harmonizing partners Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley. Collectively, they are known as The Pistol Annies. “I used to be one of the crazy fans at CMA Music Fest,” said Miranda backstage. “I came for the first time the last year it was at the Fairgrounds [2000]….This is the only genre of music that has something like this.”

Lithe Taylor Swift was lovely in a bronze, metallic, beaded mini dress. She dropped from the stage to greet the folks in the front rows. The biggest selling artist in all of popular music today was a fitting climax to the fest.

Schmoozing fabulons around the festival campus during its last day included Troy Tomlinson, John Esposito, Gary Overton, Scott Borchetta, Skip Bishop, Carson Chamberlain, Manuel, Victoria Shaw (she produced the Robin Meade CD), Wendy Pearl, Jimmy Carter, Chuck Aly, Steve Moore, Chris Melancon, Ed Salamon, Pete Loesch and Jim Photoglo.

The impressive Sunday finale fireworks began at 12:15 a.m. and lasted 10 minutes. The 40th anniversary of the CMA Music Festival is history. It was excellent. I am exhausted. See you next year.

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