BOBBY KARL WORKS THE ROOM
What’s a little water?
Mighty overnight thunderstorms, morning showers and threatening rain all afternoon couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the tens of thousands of folks on the streets of Nashville on Thursday (June 5). These CMA Music Festival fans are hardy souls who definitely don’t melt in the moisture.
I expected the Fan Fair X area in the Music City Center to be more crowded than usual because it is indoors. But it was easy to navigate and was populated, as usual, by the older fest attendees, the handicapped and the children.
LeAnn Rimes cut the ribbon to open Fan Fair X on Thursday morning, then sang tunes during an interview session. By midday, celeb autographers in the hall included Jana Kramer, The Doobie Brothers, Lizzie Sider, Doug Stone, Sage Keffer, Wade Hayes, Justin Moore, Mitch Goudy, Rodney Atkins, Tyler Farr, Angel Mary & The Tennessee Werewolves, Cassadee Pope, Dan + Shay, The Whites, Lucas Hoge, Ty Herndon and Mark Wills.
The Bounce House Castle and Bounce House Slide inflatables were both getting a workout from a steady stream of kiddies. Young-adult Fan Fair attendees were bouncing in a different way on a mechanical bull.
At the Mountain Dew booth, merry fans were having souvenir photos made of themselves in full camouflage hunting regalia. The JoAnn Art & Craft Store booth hosted ladies making jewelry from the free supplies displayed. Many attendees lined up for the cornhole toss and the other “lawn” games.
You can tour Barbara Mandrell’s Tour Bus and/or the Kix Brooks Tour Bus. Brantley Gilbert’s booth features the 1936 “Bonnie & Clyde” Ford that’s in his video for “Bottoms Up.”
There are Taylor Swift costumes on display in her booth. She is overseas right now. Reba McEntire’s Dillard’s clothing line was again for sale. In fact, it seemed to me that there was more clothing and jewelry for sale in the mall district than ever. There is no music for sale at Fan Fair X.
Serenading the exhibit hall was T. Graham Brown, belting out “I Tell It Like It Used To Be” on the Durango Stage. At the AT&T U-Verse Showcase Stage were Ruth Collins, then Levi Hummon. Handsome young Levi brought on papa Marcus Hummon to sing with him on Marcus’s classic “Bless the Broken Road.” Over at the CMA Close-Up stage were Billy Ray Cyrus and the cast of his new movie Like a Country Song.
The CMA Celebrity Silent Auction was occurring simultaneously. It offered Kix’s wine, original song lyrics, VIP show passes and autographed guitars, shirts and other items for bids. Here’s something new: Cupcake Wines has a booth and is selling samples. Now we’re talking. Jack Daniels is available as well.
You might need a drink to get over the parking charge. The venal fiends who run the garage at the Music City Center charged $20 last year, payable only in cash. This year, they figured out that they can charge even more — $25 — by allowing you pay by credit card.
Across the street at the Country Music Hall of Fame, the gift shops were doing a brisk business. Angelic Rose Lee Maphis, 91, was greeting the tourists as they entered the museum’s lobby. None of them realized that they were saying hello to a lady who was a great country performer of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s in the “Mr. & Mrs. Country Music” dynamic duo of Joe & Rose Lee Maphis (1953’s “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Loud, Loud Music,” 1962’s “Whiskey Is the Devil in Liquid Form” etc.).
Larry Fitzgerald and Terry Elam were among the arrivals. They were en route to Vince Gill’s fan-club event at the Hall of Fame. Nearby in The Listening Room on 2nd Avenue South, Joe Nichols was drawing his fan-club party to a close. The Band Perry staged theirs in the Music City Center.
Outdoors in Walk of Fame Park, Rachelle Lynae was rocking the Samsung Galaxy Stage, followed by Zane Williams pumping out a splendidly harmonic country-rock set. Further on, Jacob Powell was shouting on the Chevrolet Roadhouse Stage in Fan Alley.
There is no shortage of libations on the streets of downtown. Kenny Chesney’s Blue Chair Bay Rum, Tito’s Vodka, Bud Light and Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey are just a few of the booth stops you can make as you wander. Music pours from every open door of every honky-tonk on Lower Broad.
An Eats & Beats district on 5th Avenue South features a lineup of assorted food trucks serving up scrumptious delights. In one tent on Lower Broad, A&E is promoting its TV series starring Big Smo by offering free, cold “Smo-Cones.” Other free eats scattered around include iced coffee, pizza, Cracker Jacks, chocolate-chip cookies and flavored iced teas.
A would-be Carrie was carrie-oking to the track of “Before He Cheats” on the karaoke stage. Both guys and gals were trying their strength doing chin-ups at the Marines booth. Guitarists take turns strumming in the Martin Guitar tent. I spotted burly Metro cops posing for snapshots with giggling female fans. Street musician “Mandolin Mike” was playing for tips. A small crowd clustered at the door of the Johnny Cash Museum. Cuties wearing short-shorts and sparkly, silver-tinsel wigs pass out cards advertising Miranda Lambert’s new Platinum CD and her Pink Pistol shop on 3rd Avenue North.
Rio Romance was singing at The Hard Rock. ASCAP spitfire Hannah Dasher was wailing a humorous, feminist “I Ain’t No Waffle House” to the crowd’s delight beneath the tent at the Buckle Stage.
Meanwhile, Blackhawk was harmonizing gloriously on “That’s Just About Right” at the Bud Light Stage on the Bridgestone plaza. At a venue that also scheduled such excellent talents as Emerson Drive, Trick Pony, Chris Stapleton and Drake White, this was one of the strongest sets of the day.
After making their grand entrance down Broadway on the vintage Budweiser beer wagon pulled by eight massive Clydesdales, Big & Rich opened the Chevrolet Riverfront Stage on Thursday morning. “It’s CMA Fest 2014, y’all,” hollered Big Kenny through a bullhorn, adding, “This is gonna be the biggest time you’re ever had in your entire lives!” He and partner John Rich then unlocked the venue’s gate.
By mid-afternoon, a solid lineup of Charlie Worsham, Cole Swindell and Dustin Lynch had this venue rocking. The rousing Wynonna & The Big Noise was the climax of the Riverfront stage later that afternoon. By then, the threatening skies were so dark that some streetlights were turning on. It started to shower again around 5 p.m., leading Wy fans to re-deploy their morning ponchos and umbrellas.
Working the festival campus at various times and in various places were Dale Bobo, Doak Turner, John Huie, Mike Dungan, Steve West, Lindsay Ell, Chris Cannon, Patrick McMurtry, Jimmy Carter, Gerry House, Bill Cody, Scotty McCreery, Storme Warren and Colette Huff-Koch.
That evening, the faithful fans trudged across the river to LP Field. The skies cleared around 8 p.m., and the night became balmy. Indeed, you could not have asked for more ideal conditions to enjoy the reunited Alabama’s return to the fest after a 20-year absence. Not to mention the hit-after-hit delivery of romping Luke Bryan, who worked the 60,000-strong crowd into a lather of excitement.
“We just got out there and had fun,” said Bryan backstage, “and I think the fans enjoyed it.” They sure did.
Brantley Gilbert, Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatts were booked as the build-up to the night-closing show by superstar Tim McGraw. Gov. Bill Haslam was on hand to welcome the throng.
“It’s like playing a show at home,” commented Gilbert backstage. “It’s a blessin’ to be here.” Added Bentley, “It’s a different type of show, but it’s one of the best ones, for sure.”
Schmoozing and basking in the glow of another successful festival launch in the CMA Hospitality Suite were Earle Simmons, Kitty Moon Emery, Lisa Harless, Bill Denny, Dennis Banka, Charles Dorris, Melissa Maynard, Craig Bann, Aaron Hartley and Brett Wolcott.
AristoMedia’s Jeff Walker reported that this year’s International Showcase, staged on Monday (June 2), drew 2,000 fans, a new high water mark for this 10-year-old CMA Fest event. That “CMA World GlobaLive” gig featured 12 artists hailing from New Zealand, Sweden, Great Britain, Australia and Canada.
The perfect country music evening was capped by a fireworks display at 12:15 a.m. Onward into the weekend we go.