Nashville Eases Into the CMA Music Festival

Four-Day Event Features More Than 200 Artists and 70 Hours of Concerts

Judging by the increased traffic on Lower Broadway and heightened activity across the Cumberland River at the Coliseum, it must be Fan Fair week in downtown Nashville. Activities officially kick off Thursday morning (June 10) and will continue through Sunday night (June 13).

To be totally accurate, it should be pointed out that the Country Music Association now calls it the CMA Music Festival. However, veteran fans and music industry personnel alike seem to have a hard time using a new name for an event that’s taken place each summer since 1972. The Fan Fair moniker is now used to describe the autograph sessions taking place in the Nashville Convention Center’s exhibit hall as part of the larger festival.

Regardless of what you call it, it’s simply the world’s largest single gathering of country music fans and artists. With registrants from every state in the U.S., other fans are arriving in Tennessee from 20 foreign nations, including Australia, Brazil, Greece, Japan, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain and the United Kingdom.

In addition to the nightly concert series at the Coliseum, the daytime performances at the Riverfront Park stages and the daily autograph sessions, this year’s event includes several new attractions, including a sports zone, a BASS fishing tournament and a festival midway with carnival rides and games.

And as long as the artists are in town, many of them are hosting private fan club parties to get up close and personal with those fans who cared enough to be in Nashville this week. Other fans will flock to the Gaylord Entertainment Center for Wednesday’s taping of the
CMT 100 Greatest Love Songs concert featuring Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Lee Ann Womack, Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley with the Del McCoury Band, Lonestar, Josh Turner, Julie Roberts, Buddy Jewell and Michael McDonald. The six-hour special, CMT 100 Greatest Love Songs, debuts Sunday.

Of the official CMA Music Festival events, the biggest concerts take place each night at the Coliseum, a venue that serves as the home of Nashville’s NFL team, the Tennessee Titans. In past years, individual record labels or record distribution groups organized those evening concerts. This year, artists from competing labels will be sharing the same stage — during the same evening.

Thursday night’s show will feature Charlie Daniels, Sara Evans, Buddy Jewell, Terri Clark, Vince Gill, LeAnn Rimes, Uncle Kracker and Rascal Flatts, along with what is being touted as a “surprise appearance by one of today’s biggest stars.” It’s hard to determine that person’s identity, but it’s a safe bet that Kenny Chesney’s fans will be speculating that their idol will show up for Uncle Kracker’s set to perform their mega-hit, “When the Sun Goes Down.”

Friday night’s show will include performances by SHeDAISY, Tracy Lawrence, John Michael Montgomery, Lonestar, Clint Black, Joe Nichols, Trace Adkins, Martina McBride and Brooks & Dunn. Newcomer Gretchen Wilson will make a guest appearance, too, to perform her smash single, “Redneck Woman.”

Performing Saturday are the Mavericks, Billy Ray Cyrus, Diamond Rio, Lee Ann Womack, Clay Walker and Brad Paisley. Newcomer Josh Turner and Montgomery Gentry are making guest appearances.

The star power at Sunday’s show was boosted even more with the announcement that Willie Nelson will be joining Pat Green to perform “Threadbare Gypsy Soul,” a track from his album, Three Days. Also on the show are Chris Cagle, Glen Campbell, Darryl Worley, Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban, Wynonna and Hank Williams Jr.

Jo Dee Messina officially kicks off the CMA Music Festival during a Thursday morning performance at the Riverfront Park stage. Others scheduled to perform during the four days include Jessi Alexander, Jessica Andrews, Sherrié Austin, Jeff Bates, the Bellamy Brothers, Blue County, Suzy Bogguss, BR549, Lane Brody, T. Graham Brown, Brad Cotter, Billy Currington, Joe Diffie, Scotty Emerick, Andy Griggs, Jennifer Hanson, Ty Herndon, Jedd Hughes, the Jenkins, King Wilkie, Little Texas, Brian McComas, Neal McCoy, Craig Morgan, Mountain Heart, David Lee Murphy, the Oak Ridge Boys, Jamie O’Neal, James Otto, Lee Roy Parnell, Pinmonkey, Rachel Proctor, Restless Heart, Ricochet, Julie Roberts, Jeffrey Steele, Sugarland, Mel Tillis, Pam Tillis, Tanya Tucker, Josh Turner, Lane Turner, Rhonda Vincent, Jimmy Wayne, Trent Willmon and Gretchen Wilson, among many others.

The autograph sessions — Fan Fair at the exhibit hall — occasionally have some unannounced artists showing up. However, just a few of the artists returning RSVPs for the signing booths include Trace Adkins, Alabama, Bill Anderson, Steve Azar, Chad Brock, Dierks Bentley, John Berry, Blue County, Tracy Byrd, Brad Cotter, Charlie Daniels, Linda Davis, Billy Dean, Diamond Rio, Vern Gosdin, Andy Griggs, Eric Heatherly, Steve Holy, Con Hunley, Buddy Jewell, Tracy Lawrence, Lonestar, Neal McCoy, Jo Dee Messina, Montgomery Gentry, Craig Morgan, Jamie O’Neal, Pinmonkey, Ricochet, LeAnn Rimes, Rushlow, Sawyer Brown, Blake Shelton, Marty Stuart, Chalee Tennison, Pam Tillis, Aaron Tippin, Trick Pony, Trini Triggs, Josh Turner, Phil Vassar, Rhonda Vincent, Jimmy Wayne, Bryan White, Mark Wills, Gretchen Wilson and Darryl Worley.

All in all, more than 200 country artists and other celebrities will participate in the festival and more than 70 hours of music will be performed at concerts during the four-day event. The CMA donates half the net proceeds to charities designated by the participating artists as part of organization’s Cause for Celebration program. To date, CMA has donated $300,000 on behalf of the artists.

Four-day CMA Music Festival passes and tickets to the individual evening concerts are available at all Ticketmaster outlets.

Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.