Tillis, Chesney Get Up Close and Personal With Fans

The artists’ fan club parties that abound during Fan Fair prove that there are no other stars as easily accessible as those in the country music industry. Some parties are more like family reunions, which probably explains the fierce loyalty that country artists evoke in their fans.

For artists Pam Tillis and Kenny Chesney, fan club members provide support — through good and bad times and even a sounding board for musical endeavors, such as feedback on a possible new release.

Tillis fans gathered at Nashville’s Castle Door Monday (June 12) for their yearly fan club breakfast, where she told some 200 fans about her projects currently in the works. Fans responded enthusiastically to the possibility of her recording a duet with Kenny Rogers for an upcoming movie soundtrack. “One of these days I still want to do that duet with Dad,” she said, in a tone that revealed that they had discussed this topic before.

Tillis’ niece performs Little Jimmy Dickens’ hit, “I’m Little, but I’m Loud.”
Tillis also discussed the progress on a yet-to-be-recorded album before getting down to family news, including sister Cindy’s August wedding. “She’s marrying into the Presley family — not the Elvis Presleys, but the Presleys of Branson, Missouri,” she said, referring to one of the families involved in developing Branson into a musical entertainment center.

“You know Dad performs in Branson,” she said, “and he’s got this real Ozark thing going on. So he teases her and tells her she’s going to raise a bunch of stuttering hillbillies. I tell everybody she’s registered at Bass Pro Shops.”

It is in the secure environment of this family-like atmosphere that Tillis’ niece, Katherine, takes the stage to sing, “I’m Little, but I’m Loud.”

Tillis then spent some time taking requests for favorite songs, finishing with a sneak preview of “Which Five Years,” a song she plans on recording later this summer.

This year, fan club members caught the entertainment bug and participated in a lip-synching contest. Elizabeth, who hails from Florida, took first prize with her rendition of “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial.”

A club member for six years, Elizabeth says she appreciates the intimacy that Tillis shares with her fans. “I like the way she asks you what you think. She likes to have interaction with her fans and that’s something that some artists don’t care about.”

Danny, from Oklahoma, synched to “All the Good Ones are Gone,” and drew a hearty laugh from Tillis when he added, “That’s not exactly true because I’m still available!”

Tillis helped Danny out on his choreography, encouraging him at the end to “strike a dramatic pose for the light man.”

Tillis is not the only one to share tidbits about her personal life. One couple who have been Tillis fans for years admits that the husband has Tillis pictures on their headboard. The wife says she doesn’t mind, she likes Pam, but she just has stuffed animals on her side of the bed.

Kenny Chesney was 45 minutes late for his party Tuesday (June 13) at the Texas Troubadour Theatre, but the fans didn’t mind. After all, they knew he had taken the red-eye back from Los Angeles after appearing on Monday night’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

“I’m sure you’ve all read different things,” Chesney said, referring to his arrest on June 3 in Buffalo, N.Y., “but I’m going to set the record straight. You all can go out and tell the rest of Fan Fair.

“I asked this girl if I could ride a horse,” he continued. “I thought it would be funny if I rode a horse … we’d just got through watching Tim’s (McGraw) show. Basically, guys, I got permission to ride that horse.

“These police officers came up and didn’t think that it was too funny. They were pretty intense. They didn’t even ask where I’d gotten the horse, because they didn’t care. They tried to pull me off it and Tim, being the friend that he is, tried to help me out.”

The audience responded with applause and cheers when Chesney said, regarding McGraw: “Everybody here that’s a Tim McGraw fan ought to be very proud of what he did.”

In a more somber voice, Chesney continued his horse tale. “What you read in the media about me being on that horse and about me running away from the cops and about me being asked to get off the horse repeatedly by all kinds of different people — that is so not true.”

With the horse incident having been settled between them, two fans stood up to show off their T-shirts imprinted with the words “Buffalo New York Stinks.”

A woman from Michigan presented Chesney with a book her small son had written entitled, “The Kenny Chesney Concert,” and another fan presented him with homemade cookies.

The Chesney Fan Club has been active for five years and is organized by Chesney’s personal assistant, Cheryl Bevis. “The first year,” Bevis said, “he held the party at a park. We had a wienie roast and he just pulled a picnic table up in the middle and sang for about two hours. It was the most awesome thing.”

Tillis and Chesney make a special effort to stay in touch with their fans throughout the year via newsletters and backstage meet and greets, but it’s in the intimate atmosphere of the fan club party where fans get to see a side of them that they don’t see on stage. Once a year, during Fan Fair week, fans get the complete attention of their favorite artists, and basically, that’s what Fan Fair is all about.