Fan Fair 2001 Proclaims Itself “The Biggest”

The planners of Fan Fair 2001 are counting on an array of new attractions and features to calm the separation anxiety fans may suffer because of the festival’s move this coming year from its long-time location at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds to several sites in downtown Nashville. In another seismic change, Fan Fair 2001 will be held over a long weekend — Thursday, June 14 to Sunday, June 17 — instead of during the week.

Representatives from the Country Music Association, Fan Fair’s chief producer, and other civic factions met the press today (Nov. 28) at Adelphia Coliseum, one of the new sites, to give a progress report and to beat the drums for the event. Other sites for the upcoming extravaganza are the Nashville Convention Center, Gaylord Entertainment Center and Riverfront Park, all clustered within walking distance of each other, as well as the Fairgrounds, which will be used as a campground.

In the same spirit that turned a few hundred thousand into the “Million Man March,” Fan Fair is now billing itself officially as “The World’s Biggest Country Music Festival.” Other established country festivals routinely draw far larger crowds than the 25,000 or so who have attended recent Fan Fairs; but planners note that none of them have more star power, since most major artists arrange their schedules to include a Fan Fair appearance.

Missing from next year’s fair will be the mainstage bluegrass show and the ticket-inclusive meals provided by the Odessa Chuck Wagon Gang.

The CMA announced that the following artists have already agreed to perform at Fan Fair: Tracy Byrd, Kenny Chesney, Billy Ray Cyrus, Joe Diffie, Bill Engvall, Sara Evans, Vince Gill, Billy Gilman, Andy Griggs, Alan Jackson, the Kinleys, Lonestar, Patty Loveless, Jo Dee Messina, Martina McBride, Montgomery Gentry, Brad Paisley, Collin Raye, Travis Tritt and Trisha Yearwood. Other artists will be announced as they commit to the event.

Unlike in the past, mainstage shows will now be arranged not by record label but by record distribution group. This move will consolidate the mainstage concerts into four shows — Sony, WEA/EMI, UNI and BMG — all of which will be held in the evening. Smaller shows will be held at the Riverfront Park stages.

In another departure from tradition, tickets to Fan Fair 2001 are tier-priced, rather than priced the same for all. Top-tier tickets will go for $115 (plus tax and handling fees) for the four days, but the lowest tier will remain at the $90 level at which it has stood for the past several years. Children 18 and under can buy cheaper tickets in each of the three tiers. The higher-priced tickets offer better seating at Adelphia Coliseum for the major shows. Daily tickets will also be available.

According to CMA’s executive director, Ed Benson, the upcoming Fan Fair has a budget of $2.5 million and expects to clear around $200,000. Beginning n 2001, half of the amount cleared will be donated to charities earmarked by the artists who participate in the festival. Benson says a specific allocation formula has yet to be drawn up. The remaining half of the net proceeds will go to the CMA for “the advancement of country music.”

Long viewed in some quarters as Nashville’s cultural stepchild, Fan Fair has finally succeeded in involving the city. Mayor Bill Purcell, who spoke at today’s press conference, said the festival could become “our signature event.” Butch Spyridon, of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, noted that Fan Fair attendance has become the barometer of the city’s tourism health in any given year. He said he looks for the Fan Fair-spurred 2001 season to be “our most significant summer since 1997.”

In recent years, Spyridon continued, Fan Fair has brought about $14 million into the city each summer. Should Fan Fair 2001 draw as many as 50,000 ticket-buyers, he adds, that figure could jump to $30 or $40 million.

While acknowledging that some fans may be distressed by multiple sites and the hike in ticket prices, Benson pointed out that downtown Nashville will also offer them 60 restaurants and 30 “entertainment venues” to sample, in addition to the Fair choices.

Although not an official part of Fan Fair 2001, the TNN Country Weekly Music Awards show will be open to fans for its Wednesday, June 13, broadcast from the Gaylord Entertainment Center. And the Grand Ole Opry will stage a Saturday, June 16, matinee at the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville.

Exhibit booths will be located in the Nashville Convention Center and be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and from 10 a. m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. Benson told that “lifestyle” and “commercial” booths will be included in the exhibit hall, as well as the usual fan club and aspiring-artist booths. He added that Fan Fair’s official “record [albums] vendor” hasn’t been chosen yet.

Benson also noted that it hasn’t been decided yet if fans will be able to walk past the stage and Adelphia to take pictures of the performing artists.

Brooks & Dunn’s Kix Brooks, who serves on the CMA’s Fan Fair committee, told the press gathering that “There’s not [another] festival that has a tenth of the talent Fan Fair has.” He cautioned, however, that the festival’s move to new times and locations should not alter its historically intimate character. “We don’t want to turn it into this big homogenized thing,” he asserted.

Tickets will be offered in early December to the 50,000 people who have signed up for Fan Fair information. Regular tickets will go on sale in January.