Bobby Karl Works The Room: 2017 CMA Music Festival, Day 1


Chapter 563

I am almost ashamed to say this, but I have lived in Nashville for more than 30 years and have never been on a Metro bus.

The CMA Music Festival changed that on Thursday (June 8). Fed up with jacked-up Uber prices and obscene downtown parking fees (for spaces that hardly exist), I decided to take public transportation. I hopped on the No. 7 Hillsboro/Green Hills bus at the corner of 21st & Blair, across from the Kroger. Fifteen air-conditioned minutes later, I was at 8th & Broad, two blocks from the Fest action. For less than two bucks.

Anti car-congestion advocate Mayor Megan Barry would be so proud of me. Speaking of Mayor Barry, she began the day by joining Miranda Lambert in her doggie parade Mutt Strut, cheerfully donning one of the charity’s signature pink T-shirts. Miranda’s Mutt Nation Foundation was set up in the Fan Fair exhibit hall with steal-your-heart pups to adopt.

That afternoon on the Chevy Park stage, Luke Pell was rocking the crowd when I arrived. On the lawn were six-foot letters spelling C-H-E-V, blank space, P-A-R-K. On the ground in the blank space was a square with instructions to raise your hands in the shape of the missing “Y” and take a snapshot. Of course the fans did.

On the Bridgestone plaza, tourists were also taking photos of the crushed Smashville car. Predators hockey merch was selling just as well as the CMA stuff, throughout downtown.

Food trucks lined 5th Avenue between the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Music City Center. The weather could not have been more perfect, so hundreds were lunching on the many tables arranged outside the MCC.

Meanwhile, my discovery music of the day turned out to be a punchy, tuneful and spirited set by Adam Sanders on the Chevy Park stage. I don’t know who he is, but he’s gooood.

I headed into Fan Alley, where folks were riding the mechanical shark in the Shark Tank, competing in a corn-hole toss and meeting and greeting ABC-TV stars, in this case The Goldbergs. The Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge stage there presented various acts singing cover tunes.

Over on the Gilden Broadway stage outside the Hard Rock, Smithfield was harmonizing with pep. Tracy Lawrence was doing his “Honky Tonkin’” radio show in the Budweiser Forever Country Park. The fabulously countrified Teea Goans was booked for the Music City Stage. Maren Morris was holding forth in the HGTV Lounge, for which you have to have a special ticket.

Back row, (L-R): Tony Conway, President & CEO, Conway Entertainment Group; Michael Ray; John Esposito, Chairman & CEO, Warner Music Nashville. Front row, (L-R): Randy Travis, Mary Davis-Travis

Michael Ray was on stage at Riverfront. “The great thing about the CMA Music Festival is you never know what’s going to happen or who might show up,” he told the crowd. Michael brought out Randy Travis, and a huge ovation erupted.

Michael led the crowd in singing “Forever and Ever Amen” in honor of the Country Music Hall of Famer. Then he took the last chorus and stopped to allow Randy to sing the final, “Amen.” The place went ape. I choked back a tear.

Other Riverfront stage highlights included Kane Brown, Joe Nichols, Old Dominion, LoCash and Chris Janson.

Heading back up Lower Broadway, I spotted Trump and Hillary impersonators posing for selfies with fans. “Hillary” was wearing a prison jumpsuit. “Trump” was not.

Inside the Fan Fair hall in the MCC, Jacob Davis was delivering a jaunty set on the Radio Disney stage. Wade Hayes was booked at the opposite end of the massive hall on the Durango Stage. The Professional Bull Riders were having a panel discussion on the CMA Close-Up Stage.

But the real stars in the hall are the ones who “press the flesh” with the fans. Autographing and posing for souvenir photos were Trace Adkins, Ryan Kinder, Hunter Hayes, Matt Rogers, Cowboy Troy, The Tennessee Werewolves, The Springs, Jerrod Niemann, The Swon Brothers, Luke Powell, Tucker Beathard, Thompkins Square and Kristian Bush.

Be sure and stop by the exhibit hallway wall that says, “What Makes You Smile?” Post-It notes and pens nearby let the fans put up their answers: “The beach,” “My dog,” “My family” and, of course, “Country Music.”

I often like to include a fan-club event in my fest activities. In past years, this has ranged from Chris Young in the Opry House, Pam Tillis at The Bluebird Café, Barbara Mandrell in an Opryland Hotel ballroom and Tim McGraw or Ricky Skaggs in city parks.

Brandy Clark performs at CMA Music Festival. Photo: Brandy Clark/Instagram

This year, I ended my afternoon with Brandy Clark at the Warner Bros. Records office. This is cool, in that the fans get to go inside a label headquarters.

A tent was erected on the patio. The adjacent conference room was set up as a photo-and-autograph line with a snake of velvet ropes. Upon entering, the fan clubbers got water, soda and assorted snacks, plus fans with Brandy’s photo on one side and the slogan, “Warner Music Nashville Is a Fan of Our Fans” on the other side. Free booze was available on the opposite end of the mezzanine in Bic’s “Sip and Shave” room.

“Thank you so much for coming out to see me,” said Brandy to her fans. “I know there’s a lot of things to do, so I appreciate you coming to spend your time with me…..I can’t even say how much your support means to me, to all of us artists. You make our dreams come true.”

She performed a mini set that included “Stripes,” “Love Can Go to Hell,” “I Hope You Have a Daughter” and the sublime “Three Kids No Husband.” One song she sang, “You’re Drunk,” appears on neither of her albums. Dozens held aloft their cell phones to shoot photos and videos.

Brandy introduced lead guitarist and harmony singer Miles Aubrey (apparently already a fan favorite in that they know to bring him donuts) and newer bassist and harmony singer Vanessa McGowan, who hails from New Zealand and evidently recorded a solo CD several years ago. Aubrey, by the way, was once in the Broadway production of Jersey Boys.

For a recap of Thursday evening (June 8)’s nighttime CMA Music Festival shows at Nissan Stadium, click here.



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