Each and every year, Nashville, Tennessee’s International Country Music Fan Fair carves another notch in country music history. Not in any other entertainment format does such a phenomenal show of truly devoted fan support come to surface.
Once again, more than 24,000 country fans from across the world gathered into Music City for either a glimpse, autograph or snap-shot of their favorite artists. If that wasn’t enough, the fans most likely had the opportunity to see and hear their favorite stars actually perform live on stage.
The week-long festival, held at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, again featured buildings of wall-to-wall exhibit booths for more than 200 country music artists, as well as over 30 hours of live musical entertainment.
While highlights from this year’s fan extravaganza included performances by such top country artists as Tim McGraw, Lorrie Morgan, Bryan White, Tanya Tucker, Clint Black, LeAnn Rimes Tracy Lawrence, Deana Carter, John Berry, Trisha Yearwood, Collin Raye, John Anderson, Clay Walker, John Michael Montgomery and Ricochet, the ultimate highlight was undoubtedly the satisfaction of each and every fan who left with a smile on their face.
For decades, Fan Fair attendees, ranging from crawling infants to senior citizens, have made the voyage to Fan Fair and left feeling as if they’ve experienced something magical in life. Surprisingly, the magic often runs as deep for an artist as it does the fan.
As always, John Berry enjoyed signing countless autographs, smiling for one camera shot after another and personally meeting his fans. But it was one fan, in particular, who touched Berry in a way that he will never forget. And it was only through the magic of Fan Fair that the incident occurred.
A lady finally made her way up to the front of Berry’s long and winding line of fans. Berry soon discovered that the lady was deaf. He also learned that she was a big fan of his. While playing her favorite star’s music — unable to actually hear — she explained that by placing her hand on the speakers, she could feel the vibrations. She managed to convey the message that it was Berry’s music that she enjoyed more than any other entertainer because of his powerful and soulful voice. When asked what her favorite John Berry song was, she explained that it was his version of the Christmas classic, “O’ Holy Night.”
Without hesitation, Berry began singing “O’ Holy Night” in the exhibit building packed with hard-core country music lovers. While he was singing, the lady placed her hand on Berry’s throat and closed her eyes. Before finishing the song, tears were streaming down both their faces. Reportedly, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Tears were also flowing from several other fans who caught new mommy Faith Hill joining her husband Tim McGraw on stage to perform their No.1 duet, “It’s Your Love.” Dressed in overalls and a baseball cap, Hill’s surprising entrance marked the first appearance for the two together since they debuted the ballad on the Academy of Country Music Awards show. At the time, Hill was still pregnant with baby Gracie Katherine.
While this was a priceless moment for both McGraw and Hill, as well as thousands of fans in the audience, McGraw remembers another Fan Fair, too.
“I think what will always stand out in my mind about Fan Fair more than anything was the first time I was ever there,” McGraw remembers. “I was just hanging out around the Curb Records booth and they asked me to help clean up the garbage.”
One could say country superstars like the TNN Music City News Country Awards Entertainer of the Year Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, Collin Raye and Tanya Tucker “cleaned up,” too, when it came to their explosive Fan Fair performances.
“After 25 years, I sure do appreciate your hanging in there with me,” the sexy Tucker told the grandstand of fans. After romping through several numbers from her latest Complicated disc, Tucker proceeded to leave the stage, but quickly headed back to center stage to say, “I forgot something, just for old time’s sake.” She then kicked off the song that launched her career back in 1972 — “Delta Dawn.”
Yearwood neither kept her bag of many hits closed, nor her feelings about her fans’ support. “I’ve been coming to Fan Fair now for six years,” she explained on stage. “And I never get used to this. I’m always just overwhelmed by how many of you there are out there.”
Clint Black’s surprise, acoustic-only performance was a bit overwhelming, too, as well as the number of albums the entertainer has sold to date. Following his performance, RCA Records honored the singer with a huge, shiny donut-shaped award for album sales over 15 million. Black lifted the plaque high above his head and thanked the fans for all of their love and support.
Also taking home similar honors presented on the Fan Fair stage were Deana Carter, Chris LeDoux and Little Texas. Scorching hot newcomer Carter, who performed barefoot (a trait that’s quickly become her trademark), was presented a platinum plaque commemorating the one-million-plus unit sales of her Did I Shave My Legs For This? album. Both country band Little Texas and cowboy crooner LeDoux were awarded certified gold albums.
Following Kenny Rogers’ first Fan Fair appearance in several years, he, too, was also honored with a special presentation. A surprised Rogers was presented with a framed plaque commemorating record sales totaling more than 80 million discs sold worldwide.
As always, the reward for country newcomers is indescribable. Having the opportunity to perform for so many of the thousands of fans who’ve helped them make their mark in country music is like a dream come true.
While this year’s Fan Fair first-timer list includes such bright new acts as 13-year-old Lila McCann, Sara Evans, River Road, Lee Ann Womack, The Ranch, Mila Mason, Royal Wade Kimes, Tammy Graham, Sons of the Desert, Jeff Wood, MC Potts, Caryl Mack Parker, Crystal Bernard, Regina Regina, the Thompson Brothers Band and Burnin’ Daylight, one specific artist stood out in the crowd — and not because he’s bald.
After a fast-paced year packed with opening-act slots and a couple of No. 1 hits, Kevin Sharp got his moment on the big stage.
“Thank you all so much for helping me make my dreams come true,” he told the audience. “We can all chase our dreams and make them come true if we want it bad enough.”
Sharp, who was only a few years ago diagnosed with cancer and given a short time to live, has since then gone into remission, latched a record deal and has become one of the hottest newcomers to ever hit country music. If anyone appreciates dreams, and values the effort in making them come true, it’s this incredible toast of talent.
“I truly believe if we could all just learn to love each other more,” he expressed, “and focus on our similarities instead of our differences, I guarantee that every problem in this world would take care of itself.” Sharp then sang the song that put him on the country map — “Nobody Knows It But Me.”
“This is actually my second Fan Fair,” Sharp explained before the busy week. “But I wanted to perform so bad last year. I kept telling everybody backstage, ’I gotta get on that stage.’ I kept begging, ’Just let me sing one song.’ But there was no way we could because it wasn’t arranged and all the shows were just too tight. So I finally ran out there and played Bryan White’s guitar tech for a song,” he laughed.
Things weren’t such a laughing matter for country songstress Terri Clark throughout the week. On the previous Sunday, Clark was hit in the face with a ball at the annual City of Hope Celebrity Softball Challenge. Although her initial diagnosis revealed that no bones were broken, she later learned that her left cheekbone was fractured. Despite intense pain and a bruised face, Clark fulfilled all of her Fan Fair duties. During the week, however, she discovered that her tour bus had caught on fire. The unfortunate incident caused considerable damage. The singer had also recently suffered a broken toe while visiting her grandmother in Montreal. Ironically, Clark performed her remake hit of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me.”
The festive week concluded with Friday’s anticipated “Working Man’s Show” and “Honky Tonk Finale,”and Saturday’s traditional Grand Masters Fiddling Championship.
With such country greats as Merle Haggard, Johnny Paycheck and George Jones wailing it out together, how could this day have gotten off to a better start? It got even better when the stage welcomed other legends such as Kitty Wells, Hank Thompson and Ricky Van Shelton, among others.
Saturday bid a wonderful “farewell” to a long successful and exciting week the best way possible — with music. For years, Fan Fair has capped off it’s week-long festivities with the traditional Grand Masters Fiddling Championship at Music City’s famed Opryland Themepark. Daniel Carwile from Athens, Alabama took home this year’s top fiddling honor.
In conclusion, Fan Fair can never be described without simply saying, “It was hot!” — and in more ways than one.
For more details about all the fun, fans, stars and excitement from this year’s Fan Fair, drive into fanfair.com.