It’s Fan Fair Week in Nashville

How much did you pay for your last concert ticket? If you went to see a true rock ‘n’ roll icon, it’s likely that your wallet was lightened to the tune of $125 — or even more.

That same $125 would have bought you seats for four days and four nights of concerts at Fan Fair, not to mention the opportunity to meet some of your favorite country artists during autograph sessions.

Fan Fair 2003 officially kicks off Thursday (June 5) in downtown Nashville and continues through Sunday (June 8). Whether you’re a fan or an artist, there’s far too much to do during the course of four days. There’s really too much to mention, too, but that’s the way it has been for the past 32 years. But it’s the least you can expect from an event that remains the ultimate festival for country music fans — and one of the greatest entertainment values in America.

George Strait and the Dixie Chicks are among several of country’s biggest acts who will not be seen in Nashville during Fan Fair 2003, but you still can’t argue over the star power of the nightly concert series at The Coliseum, home to the Tennessee Titans. This year’s list of performers includes Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Brooks & Dunn, Jo Dee Messina, Lonestar, LeAnn Rimes, Montgomery Gentry, Darryl Worley, Patty Loveless, Keith Urban, Sara Evans, Brad Paisley, Chris Cagle, Terri Clark, Diamond Rio and many others.

And those are just the performers on the big stage. During the day, the Riverfront Park stages will be filled with proven hitmakers (including Andy Griggs, Steve Holy, Emerson Drive, Kellie Coffey, Suzy Bogguss, Craig Morgan), promising newcomers (Brian McComas, Aaron Lines, Dierks Bentley and others) and bona fide country legends (Mel Tillis, Bill Anderson, Little Jimmy Dickens and Kitty Wells).

Fan Fair officially kicks off Thursday, but the action begins Tuesday night (June 3) with Chely Wright’s annual party (raising money for her Reading, Writing and Rhythm Foundation) and the International Fan Club Organization’s annual Fun Fest. Wright’s event at the Wildhorse Saloon includes an auction and concert featuring Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Terri Clark, Darryl Worley, Clay Walker, Aaron Lines and some surprise guests. The IFCO show will be headlined by Keith Urban with appearances by Andy Griggs, Lila McCann, Dean Miller, Steve Azar, the Wilkinsons and several notable newcomers, including Jennifer Hanson, Jimmy Wayne and Nashville Star winner Buddy Jewell.

The week moves into a higher gear Wednesday with a concert taping for the upcoming CMT special, 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music. Brad Paisley and LeAnn Rimes host the concert featuring Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Kenny Chesney, Deana Carter, Sara Evans, Marty Stuart, Glen Campbell, George Jones, Ray Charles, Trace Adkins and American Idol finalist Kimberley Locke. Steve Wariner will serve as music director for the concert that closes the six-hour special debuting Sunday (June 8) at 4 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.

When the 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music concert winds down at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, musicians will be tuning up across Broadway at the Ryman Auditorium for Marty Stuart’s late night jam with Wynonna, the Kentucky Headhunters, Cledus T. Judd, the Old Crow Medicine Show and others.

Once Kenny Chesney kicks off Fan Fair Thursday with a 10 a.m. performance at Riverfront Park, Fan Fair is in full throttle with daily concerts and the autograph sessions at the Nashville Convention Center. And while the Fan Fair events are open to anyone purchasing a ticket, several artists will be treating their fan club members to private parties throughout the week. Among those rolling out the red carpet to fans this week include Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Trick Pony, Phil Vassar, Blake Shelton, Diamond Rio, Terri Clark, Darryl Worley, Chris Cagle, Sawyer Brown, Rascal Flatts, Marty Stuart, Keith Urban, Neal McCoy, Lonestar, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Joe Nichols, Alabama, Jessica Andrews, Jo Dee Messina, Gary Allan, John Michael Montgomery and others.

Thursday also marks three other Fan Fair week highlights. The first is the City of Hope charity softball game, where athletes such as Vince Gill, Montgomery Gentry, Emerson Drive, Tracy Byrd and Chris Cagle will show their skills on the diamond. Later in the day, Andy Griggs hosts his second annual archery tournament. Arrows will be flying, courtesy of Troy Gentry, Blake Shelton, Tracy Byrd, Aaron Tippin and others. For night owls, the Superstar Spectacular — a benefit for the Grand Ole Opry Trust Fund — will feature Trace Adkins, Steve Azar, Vince Gill, Craig Morgan, John Conlee, the Del McCoury Band and Charley Pride. The show at the Grand Ole Opry House starts at 11 p.m.

The weekend brings the strongest nighttime concert of Fan Fair with the RCA Label Group’s Friday night show featuring Brooks & Dunn, Diamond Rio, Sara Evans, Alan Jackson, Lonestar, Martina McBride and Brad Paisley. Saturday’s highlights include an Opry matinee at the Ryman Auditorium with Little Jimmy Dickens, Porter Wagoner, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Rhonda Vincent, Mandy Barnett, Jim Lauderdale, Jeannie Seely and Jim Ed Brown. Other fans may be spending Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn., where Kenny Chesney headlines a concert at the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium with Brooks & Dunn, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Deana Carter and the Warren Brothers.

And although the pace will be slowing somewhat by Sunday, Martina McBride’s annual YWCA charity auction (set for 11 a.m. in the park across from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum) is always abuzz with activity. And the talent list for the final evening concert shows some diversity: Trace Adkins, Chris Cagle, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jennifer Hanson, Tracy Lawrence, Neal McCoy, Jo Dee Messina, Trick Pony, Keith Urban and Wynonna.

If you can’t be in Nashville this week, CMT Most Wanted Live will be at Fan Fair for a special series of shows billed as “Party on the Plaza.” Telecast live from the plaza outside the Gaylord Entertainment Center, Thursday’s show features a performance from Chris Cagle and the premiere of Blake Shelton’s “Heavy Liftin’” video. On Friday, Darryl Worley performs and Joe Nichols’ video for “She Only Smokes When She Drinks” premieres. Saturday’s party features a performance from Nichols and the video premiere of Vince Gill’s “Someday.” CMT Most Wanted Live airs each night at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.