NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Fans Weigh In on Fan Fair, 100 Greatest Songs

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Riddle me this: why does a fledgling music festival just miles away from Nashville outdraw Fan Fair by a huge margin? Answer: because it should, given the temporal ebbs and flows of popular music.

The Bonnaroo music festival — at least for now — is an anomaly; an immediate answer to a generational music need. It seems to address a generation that has not had its big music festival and wants one. Whereas Fan Fair has become a lasting answer to a music genre’s need for an enduring tradition. Oddly enough, Bonnaroo is a rural festival; Fan Fair has been turned into an urban one. Ninety-five per cent of Bonnaroo attendees camped out; it’s a safe bet a lot of Fan Fair’s people would like to be able to camp out.

Bonnaroo sold something like 82,000 tickets without any advertising and without Ticketron. The fest’s organizers sent e-mails to the Web sites of their major artists and –presto! — major sales. The talent lineup was curious, but effective, for a young demographic. The majority of the fest’s audience seemed to be roughly 20-35 or so, but the show’s stars included the aging Dead, 57-year-old Neil Young and the gracefully aging Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams. .

Given the temper of e-mail I’ve received about last week’s column regarding Fan Fair, a lot of people are concerned about the future of country music. The most troubling messages I’ve received echo one central theme: people are wondering about leadership in country music right now. They openly want to know who’s steering the ship. Everybody in the music business seems to be out for their own immediate gain — at least that’s the fans’ perception.

Meanwhile, e-mail about Fan Fair is running about 99 percent in favor of keeping it as a purely country music event. Here are some samples:

• “You have a great idea about making the big stars show up. As it stands, I do not plan to go again.”

• “I would love to ask these artists what other place in the world is a better place and time than Fan fair to promote their music and career? I mean, these are the fans that could either make them or break them.”

• “I have attended the last five Fan Fairs and this is the second year that Tim and Faith have not shown up … no Toby this year … no Travis Tritt. …”

• “Country music fans are a different breed and we like our state and country fairs and we like to keep them country. It’s just a damn shame that everything comes down to the bean counters.”

• “We spend a lot of money to make the trip to Nashville and I think that the stars ‘owe’ us the respect of showing up. After all, we showed up to buy their records and to buy concert tickets.”

• “Don’t take Fan Fair away from country music fans. There have already been enough changes that have driven the ‘real’ fans away.”

• “I have been proud to attend Fan Fair for the last seven years. … I won’t attend Fan Fair (or whatever the new name will be) if it represents anything other than country.”

• “Let me get one thing straight. Does Fan Fair exist to promote country music or to make money for the CMA?”

• “This was my first year to ever attend, and it is absolutely ‘Country Music Heaven.’ The celebrity softball game was an experience in itself, to see so many country music stars! They came over and signed autographs and let us take pictures and talked one on one! The Convention Center is a little frustrating, having to get a ticket in order to wait in line all day to meet the country star. We waited four hours between two different booths just to meet and talk with Steve Azar. It was worth it!”

• “The problem with Fan Fair is the high-handed way the CMA runs it. They have lost sight of their original agenda — to promote and expose country music. Now days it’s all about the money. Most major artists have become keenly aware of this and have backed off. … I don’t think it’s fair to blame the artists.”

• “It is a crime to change something that has worked so well for 32 years. Also, we don’t need any more people trying to de-countrify country.”

And a couple of people wrote to remind me that the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is not as pure as I’d like it to be: this year’s artists also included Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bob Dylan, John Hiatt, Lil’ Romeo, LL Cool J, Gladys Knight, Los Lobos, John Mayer, Mavis Staples, Widespread Panic and Lucinda Williams.

The fans have also spoken out about their favorite 100 Greatest Country Songs, and the result is a bit different from the CMT 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music.

Here’s the CMT Top 10 songs from the 100: Stand by Your Man, He Stopped Loving Her Today, Crazy, Ring of Fire, Your Cheatin’ Heart, Friends in Low Places, I Fall to Pieces, Galveston, Behind Closed Doors, Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.

Contrast that with the fans’ Top 10: The Dance, God Bless the U.S.A., He Stopped Loving Her Today, Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning), Crazy, Friends in Low Places, Devil Went Down to Georgia, Independence Day, When You Say Nothing at All, I Hope You Dance.

The fans’ overall list centers more on more recent songs — but not exclusively. It also reminds everyone that Garth Brooks may be retired, but he’s certainly not forgotten. To view the entire fan-voted list of 100, click here.