Arista’s Last Hurrah

Arista Records’ Nashville office undergoes a major overhaul today (June 15). After 12 years as a stand-alone company, the label will become part of the RCA Label Group, and more than 20 staff members will lose their jobs. So, Wednesday afternoon’s Fan Fair show was a last hurrah of sorts for the label. Its biggest acts — Brooks & Dunn, Diamond Rio, Pam Tillis, Brad Paisley, Phil Vassar and Alan Jackson — gathered to remind an enthusiastic audience that the company has nurtured some of modern country music’s most successful careers. All have won major industry awards, and most can boast of gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums.

Despite a rain shower earlier in the day, the sun shone brightly when the show got underway with Hank, Peggy and Bobby Hill, three characters on the popular animated TV series, King of the Hill. A recent episode chronicled their visit to Fan Fair. The Hills were followed by two characters of another kind, Brooks & Dunn, who kicked off their high-octane set with “Honky Tonk Truth.” The duo gave the audience an abbreviated taste of their regular concert, which included everything from giant, inflated boots during “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” to a whirlwind of confetti flying through the air during “Rock My World (Little Country Girl).” The pair sent a number of drumsticks airborne into the audience during “Mama Don’t Get Dressed Up For Nothin’,” and the super-energized Kix Brooks shot rolled-up T-shirts into the crowd with a giant bazooka gun.

Brooks & Dunn wowed the crowd.
The duo traded lead vocals during their nine-song, 40-minute set, which also focused on past hits such as “Brand New Man,” “How Long Gone,” “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone,” “My Maria” and “Hard Workin’ Man.”

Diamond Rio, participating in their 10th Fan Fair, harmonized on five songs including “How Your Love Makes Me Feel,” “Meet in the Middle” and “Unbelievable.” They also showcased two songs from their upcoming album, Stuff, including the title track and the bluegrass-tinged “Hearts Against the Wind.”

Phil Vassar, in white T-shirt, jeans and earring, also heated up the already-blazing afternoon, entertaining the audience with his hit, “Carlene.” ASCAP’s reigning country songwriter of the year also presented four songs from his debut album, Phil Vassar, including “Six-Pack Summer,” “Rose Bouquet,” “Just Another Day in Paradise” and the piano-pounding “Joe & Rosalita.”

The lone female in the show’s lineup, Pam Tillis, performed mostly moderate hits from her varied career during her five-song set. “Maybe It Was Memphis” was the high point of her appearance, which also included “When You Walk in the Room,” “I Said a Prayer for You,” “All the Good Ones Are Gone” and “Mi Vida Loca.”

Brad Paisley, sporting a black hat and armed with a pink, paisley Fender Telecaster guitar, was a favorite among favorites during the two-hour, 45-minute show. Slinging his guitar on several occasions with some creative solos, Paisley showed that he has a real sense of humor with songs such as “Long Sermon,” “I’m Gonna Miss Her” and his current single, “Me Neither.” He likewise showed his softer side, singing his next single, “We Danced,” as well as his award-winning “He Didn’t Have to Be.” The latter performance stirred the audience into a standing ovation.

Chely Wright surprised the audience when she joined Paisley on stage to sing “Hard to Be a Wife,” a song the duo wrote together recently. The tune describes the debt exacted by life as a country artist, while also paying tribute to country fans. Paisley concluded with a humorous tune, “I’m Gonna Miss Her,” not found on his debut album. He received thunderous applause and cheers from the crowd.

After a spokesman asked the audience to show its appreciation to the Arista staff for their efforts on behalf of country artists over the past 12 years, Alan Jackson, the company’s first success, moseyed onto the stage in flowered shirt, white hat and jeans. He immediately rocked the audience with “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” and offered a sampling of his hits including “It Must Be Love,” “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” “Chattahoochee” and “Pop a Top.” He also sang a new song, in which he makes an admittedly uneasy foray into the world of technology, “www.memory.” The usually quiet Jackson then noted, “It is a special time for this record label. I’ve been able to have a lot of success, and I appreciate everything they’ve done. I thought I should end today with the song that started it all off.” He closed the afternoon’s proceedings with “Here in the Real World.”