What would a CMA Music Festival be without a downpour or two?
The skies opened at 8:30 a.m. as I was headed downtown on Wednesday morning (6/5), and it was still raining when I ducked into the Ryman Auditorium about an hour later. Inside was the First Day of Issue ceremony for the Johnny Cash commemorative postage stamp.
“Ladies, gentlemen and honored guests, it is an honor to be among you in the country-music capital of the world,” said Dennis J. Turner of the United States Postal Service. “And it’s a great personal pleasure as a lifelong fan of Johnny Cash.” He reminded the crowd that Cash had made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 1956 on the Ryman stage and that the superstar’s network TV series was taped in the Ryman in 1969-71.
“Starting today, the U.S. Postal Service is proud to remind us all of the man who told the story of our nation, one song at a time.” He also introduced Greg Breeding, who designed the stamp using a photo taken by Frank Bez.
Johnny’s son John Carter Cash said, “I can think of nothing greater or more heart touching than to be honored by the United States Postal Service. We’re going to have fun today.”
Postal Service folks and the Cash clan gathered on stage for the unveiling of the stamp. As the curtain parted to reveal it, the audience applauded and everyone stood up to take snapshots.
Cash’s youngest daughter Kathy Cash recalled that Johnny and her mother, the late Vivian Liberto, exchanged 10,000 letters during their four-year courtship when he was in the service and Vivian was at home in Texas. In addition, he sent his children copious postcards and letters from all over the world when they were growing up and he was on the road. Plus, he always sent letters of encouragement and support to other artists, even into the era of emails and texts.
“He wrote letters, always, stamped and mailed,” she said. “So Dad was no stranger to licking a stamp….I have no doubt that having his face on a United States postage stamp would be his proudest accomplishment. And he would love the fact that it is a ‘forever’ stamp. It means that future generations will realize what a monumental figure he was.”
John Carter Cash’s promise of “fun” indicated that Music City was going to celebrate this event in the way it knows best, with a show. He brought to the stage the array of talent who were singing for the Man in Black’s latest honor.
One by one, Randy Travis, Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives, Jamey Johnson, The Roys, Tommy Cash, Joanne Cash Yates, Bill Miller, The Oak Ridge Boys, Carlene Carter, Larry Gatlin, Wesley Orbison and John Schneider were called to the stage. “And now, Photo Op!” John Carter proclaimed.
For the next two hours, everyone performed with verve. Considering the talent assembled and the fact that the concert was free, it was shockingly sparsely attended. Host Bill Cody even invited the fans in the balcony to join the V.I.P.’s seated on the main floor. He didn’t say so, but they could also have sampled the abundant breakfast fixin’s down there – ham & biscuits, pastries, mixed fruit, juice and coffee.
Industry mavens attending included Jim Halsey, Sherman Halsey, Stuart Dill, Charles Dorris, Jed Hilly, Brian Mansfield, Sally Williams, Steve Lassiter, Nora Lee Allen and Jimmy Tittle, plus photographers Steve Lowry, Alan Messer, Beth Gwinn and Lee Diamond.
Just outside on Lower Broadway, the annual CMA Music Festival Parade began at 11:00 a.m. (June 5). At 11:30, another downpour occurred. The fans and parading stars simply opened umbrellas if they had them. Vendors sold rain ponchos, two for $5. And on they marched.
New this year were confetti guns that shot off yellow and red crepe-paper streamers at various moments. The crowd loved it.
The Metro Police motorcycle squad and color guard were accompanied by their drummer and two bagpipers. Grand marshal Kix Brooks, the prancing and dancing Mustang Girls, the JuRo Stables horseback riders and the Cupcake Bus bearing the Cupcake Queen were also newcomers to the CMA fest parade.
Celebs riding Chevrolet cars, Silverado trucks and/or Corvettes included Ashton Shepherd, Brazilbilly, Clinton Gregory, Joanna Mosca, Cowboy Troy, Danielle Peck, Canadians Michelle Wright and Greg Hanna, Australians Morgan Evans and Baylou, High Valley, Jaida Dreyer, The LACS, Mustang Sally, Amber Hayes and Dakota Bradley.
Beautiful country chanteuses Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan cruised by in their new duo guise as “Grits & Glamor.” In the finale convertible was Lynn Anderson. The vivacious “Rose Garden” gal was keeping alive her record as having appeared in ALL of the Fan Fair/CMA Music Festivals. Let’s see, Fan Fair started in 1972, so that would be 41 consecutive fests. Bravo.
Other outstanding parading personalities included Predators mascot Gnash, Titans mascot T-Rac, the Keep the Music Playing student marching band, the General Lee car (tooting “Dixie” all the way), Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital doggie-costumed mascot Champ, the Nashville Zoo giraffe-costumed mascot and the magnificent Budweiser Clydesdales, complete with a spotted Dalmation dog standing proud and still on the highest case stacked atop the beer wagon they were pulling.
The family group The Henningsens had the distinction of becoming the official CMA fest opening act. They took the Riverfront stage just after the parade (June 5). Then it rained again briefly.
At the CMT Awards red-carpet walk (June 5), the loveliest vision was unquestionably Jana Kramer. She wore a figure-hugging, floor-length gown with a nude-hued under garment covered with strategically placed black lace. Teardrop-shaped earrings, vivid crimson lipstick and glittering gold eyeshadow completed the look. “It took two hours for me to get into the whole shebang,” she chuckled.
Jana is touring with Darius Rucker, whom she loves. “Except he’s a sore loser,” she joked. “I beat his butt at ping-pong, and he’s a sore loser.” During the telecast, her new Nationwide TV commercial aired, which features her as a ninja Spiderwoman in a cat suit foiling home burglars. In addition to looking spectacular, Jana was also the evening’s most delightfully “real” and funny quipper on the carpet.
Running a close second in both the couture and charm departments was Kellie Pickler. She wore a scoop-necked, backless, floor-length creation covered in lavender sequins. Which complimented the carpeting, which was purple, not red.
Avoiding the sometimes inclement weather, the purple-carpet walk was inside the Bridgestone Arena, just off Sixth & Demonbreun. But organizers had installed bleachers for a few hundred lucky fans to scream from, opposite from the long line of reporters and TV crews.
Shouts and cries punctuated the arrivals of Blackberry Smoke, Keith Urban & Nicole Kidman, Gwen Sebastian, Cowboy Troy, Sarah Darling, Colt Ford, Little Big Town, Maggie Rose, The Band Perry, John Schneider, Parmalee, JB & The Moonshine Band, Love & Theft, Gloriana, Florida Georgia Line, Dustin Lynch, The Mavericks, Rascal Flatts, Ashley Monroe, Beth & Dog the Bounty Hunter, Larry the Cable Guy, John Oates, The Henningsens, Nelly, Brantley Gilbert and those Duck Dynasty people.
Bringing up the rear as showtime neared were Kevin Bacon, Eric Church, Darius Rucker, Thompson Square, Taylor Swift and the Nashville TV show’s “Deacon,” Charles Esten.
Joshua Scott Jones of Steel Magnolia revealed that he has completed a solo album titled Tennessee Blue, but that the duo will continue to fulfill bookings together through 2014. Hunter Hayes is hoping to spring some surprises on festival attendees since his Encore expanded CD (due June 18) includes duets with Ashley Monroe and Jason Mraz. The 21-year-old has been performing since age 4 and released his first album when he was 9. “You know you’re doing something right when it always feels brand new,” said Hunter.
Charlie Worsham has also been at this music thing for awhile. He recorded a bluegrass CD in Nashville when he was 12. It featured such greats as Josh Graves, Bryan Sutton and Bobby Hicks, he revealed. His Warner album finally drops on Aug. 20. Incidentally, he owns four pairs of his trademark orange sneakers. He wears other colors when he is not making public appearances.
Brett Eldredge is stoked now that “Don’t Ya” is inside the top-20 and that Trace Adkins and Colbie Caillat have released his song “Watch the World End” as a single. He’s singing the national anthem at LP Field on Saturday. “It’s the first song I ever learned to sing as a kid,” he said. Not “Jesus Loves Me” or something simpler? Nope: “Go big or go home!”
Like Brett, Chris Janson is also succeeding on two fronts. In addition to having his single “Better I Don’t” on the charts, he co-wrote Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah.” Chis started at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge eight years ago. He performed there for a year, seven days a week, four shows a day. Similarly, Craig Campbell is singing at The Stage on Thursday. “It’s where I was discovered,” he commented. “I sang there every Tuesday night for five years.” Both men expressed humility and gratitude for standing so near yet so far from their beginnings.
Soulful David Nail has been in town for 13 years. He said his forthcoming record will reflect that. He said, “Over the past 14 months I’ve been through a transformation, both professionally and personally.” He’s hoping to get fellow Kennett, Mo. native Sheryl Crow to sing with him. As a kid, he took piano lessons from Sheryl’s mom.
Three years ago, Kip Moore had his CMA Fest debut at the Bridgestone stage. This year, he graduates to LP Field. “People ask me if I’m nervous. No, I’m excited. I’m gonna tear that field apart,” he vowed. Kip is playing an astonishing 235 shows this year.
“I feel like if you pay your dues, nothing is unreachable,” said new American Idol runner-up Kree Harrison. The longtime Nashvillian is suddenly an overnight star and is scrambling to get a record together.
Now that he’s out of college for the summer, her fellow Idol alumnus Scotty McCreery is also in the midst of pulling a new CD together. Juggling school and entertainment is tough, so he says he’s thinking of doing some online course work this fall.
If you’ve seen her “Playin’ with Fire” video, you know that Katie Armiger is fearless around combustion. She revealed that she assembled her flame thrower in the clip herself, “and I’m not a bit mechanical.”
Flacks almost outnumbered hacks on the carpet. Pitching acts to the likes of Jimmy Carter, Tom Roland, Steve Betts and Cindy Watts were Susan Niles, Tree Paine, Brittany Perlin, Karen Tallier, Vanessa Parker Davis, Holly Gleason, Regina Stuve, Allen Brown, Wes Vause, Beverly Keel, Jessie Schmidt, Natalie Kilgore, Scott Stem, Jules Wortman and Claire Cook. Adding to the backstage mix were John Grady, Jimmy Harnen, Bob Doyle, Larry Fitzgerald, John Esposito, Ansel Davis and Fletcher Foster.
On the telecast, most of the music was pre-taped. Bucking the “canned” feeling were such outstanding moments as Little Big Town soulfully soaring on Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” Hayes romping through “I Want Crazy” on the Bridgestone Plaza, Lady Antebellum’s aching treatment of “Goodbye Town” and Darius Rucker’s jaunty “Wagon Wheel” with Lady A’s harmonies, which was the most “country” performance of the show.