Fan Fairgoers Settle Into New “Home” at Adelphia Coliseum

There were plenty of confused faces — and not just those of ticket-holders — as the 30th Annual Fan Fair made its long-trumpeted debut Thursday (June 14) at Nashville’s Adelphia Coliseum. It didn’t take long, however, for the crowd to acclimate itself to the mammoth new location.

While the Country Music Association says it won’t announce any figures until Monday, first-day attendance appeared to match at least last year’s turnout. Clearly, though, a gathering of 20,000 or so people isn’t going to look all that impressive in digs designed to seat 65,000.

Parking was the chief source of confusion. Lots were not clearly marked to accommodate those who had purchased permits to park near the stadium. Several access roads between lots were narrowed or blocked-off. And the volunteers assigned to parking, while uniformly courteous, were also uniformly clueless in their grasp of the layout. For a while, U-turns and grimaces were the order of the day.

Speaking at a press conference just before grand opening ceremonies began, CMA executive director Ed Benson reiterated that the move from the state fairgrounds to downtown Nashville was the right choice for Fan Fair. “We needed to reinvent it, rearrange it or just quit doing it,” he said. “We quickly took just quit doing it off the table.”

One benefit of the move, Benson noted, is a much larger main stage. The stage at the former site, he said, was around 3,400 square feet, while the one at Adelphia is 13,000 square feet and equipped with the latest in sound, lighting and video equipment. The new stage is divided into two autonomous areas, which eliminates setup time between acts. Enormous video screens make every action on stage clearly visible throughout the stadium.

Given the significance of the occasion, the opening ceremonies were surprisingly lackluster. They commenced with the Tennessee Scots Pipe Band marching onstage to “My Bonnie Lassie.” This was pleasant enough until the band moved on to the intolerably overdone “Amazing Grace,” a tune not notable for inciting festive tendencies.

Bobby Jones and the Nashville Superchoir enlivened things a bit with a medley of spirituals — “I’ll Fly Away,” “Down by the Riverside” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Jones attempted to engage the audience in a spirited singalong, but they elected to fan themselves instead. Accompanied onstage by a color guard, Lee Ann Womack offered a subdued and respectful rendition of the national anthem. A burst of fireworks at the opposite end of the stadium capped her performance.

“I heard the bombs going off, and I thought it was Travis Tritt and Montgomery Gentry backstage cleaning their guns,” cracked Marty Stuart when he appeared a few minutes later to greet the crowd on behalf of the Country Music Foundation. Glancing up at the cloudless sky, he continued, “Welcome to the world’s biggest honky-tonk without a roof.”

Also extending welcomes were Benson, Nashville mayor Bill Purcell, CMA board chairman Lon Helton and Nashville Chamber of Commerce president Mike Rollins. Surveying the gathering crowd and the perfect first-day weather, Purcell announced that he was “the happiest mayor in the whole U.S.A.”

Several artists from Sony Music met briefly with reporters during the pre-opening press conference to talk about current or forthcoming projects. These are some of the tidbits:

  • Joe Diffie has written a song called “My Give-A-Damn Is Busted” for his new album.
  • “When I got home, I just started to cry,” Billy Gilman said when someone asked him how he reacted to winning the TNN/CMT/Country Weekly Discovery Award Wednesday night (June 13).
  • Collin Raye is working on a new album with producer James Stroud, their first such venture together. Raye has recorded Kim Carnes’ “Gypsy Honeymoon” for the album, with Carnes singing harmony. He said he has attended every Fan Fair — 11 in all — since he became a Sony artist.
  • Cledus T. Judd has turned his whimsical eye toward Gilman. His upcoming parody of “One Voice [Was Heard]” is “My Voice Matured.”
  • Success as the lead actor in the TV series Doc (which has been renewed for a second season) has not been especially sweet for Billy Ray Cyrus . He lamented that its filming has kept him away from home and the pursuit of his music. He seemed particularly doleful about the fact that he’s had to scale back his plans for a world tour to concerts just in the U.S. and Canada. “People ask me,” he said, “’How do you keep the two careers balanced?’ You don’t. They’re completely out of balance.”
  • Patty Loveless said she doesn’t refer to her upcoming all-acoustic album, Mountain Soul, as “bluegrass” because the term doesn’t fit. “I want the public to get from the album what they think it is. I felt the right word for this is ’mountain.'”

Opening Ceremonies Photo Flipbook (Photos by Neil Brake)