NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Big Country Stars Scarce at Fan Fair

The Ones Who Are There Are Fun, but Still ...

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

So, where are all the country music superstars this week? I don’t know where they all are, but I can sure tell you where many of them aren’t — and that’s in Nashville at Fan Fair. Which the CMA tries to call CMA Music Festival these days, but it will always be Fan Fair to true country music fans.

And the fans are supposed to be what this is all about. And they’re the reason for country music’s longevity and success.

Country fans love and respect their favorite artists, usually for life. Which is why all of country’s stars have hoofed it to Fan Fair for many years to ensure that their lifelong loyalty stayed in place. It wasn’t that long ago, for heaven’s sake, when Garth Brooks showed up at Fan Fair and stood in one place to sign autographs for 23 hours straight. Without even a bathroom break. Now, that’s taking care of your fans.

These days, when rock-star CD sales figures and big touring numbers hit the stratosphere, I guess that grassroots connection is no longer considered important. I mean, the Dixie Chicks, as I recall, appeared at Fan Fair only once, in 2000, and these days don’t seem in much of a mind to return, especially given the mixed ticket sales currently projected for their upcoming tour.

So, who’s here and who’s not, star-wise? Well, here’s a lineup of the big concerts taking place Thursday-Saturday (June 8-11) at the Coliseum (now being called LP Field due to a corporate signage deal).

Thursday night sees Gary Allan, Brooks & Dunn, Sara Evans, Pat Green, Little Big Town, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blake Shelton and Hank Williams Jr.

Friday’s show spotlights Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Terri Clark, Billy Currington, Montgomery Gentry, Wynonna and Trisha Yearwood.

Saturday’s show has Billy Ray Cyrus, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Craig Morgan, Brad Paisley, Josh Turner and Carrie Underwood.

Sunday features Keith Anderson, Clint Black, Joe Nichols, LeAnn Rimes, SHeDAISY, Sugarland and Los Lonely Boys with Ronnie Milsap.

With all due respect to everyone involved, this is not the strongest lineup that country music fans would like or expect to see. Or deserve to see.

So, where are the other big stars? Among those who aren’t scheduled to appear this year are George Strait, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Lee Ann Womack, Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers and Gretchen Wilson, among others.

I guess it’s easy to slide into the notion that Fan Fair doesn’t matter anymore to career development. Or that even being concerned about career development matters anymore. Once you hit the platinum-plus stratosphere of sales, I guess things change forever. Maybe we’ll see how that works out for everyone on down the road.

I just went over to the Convention Center in downtown Nashville to check out the action in the artists’ booths. In years past, country artists have vied to see who had the most innovative and best-designed booths — where they sit and receive their fans and sign autographs and pose for pictures. And all the major artists were there.

Not too much of that action going on this year. The big booth draws this year are Brooks & Dunn, Van Zant, LeAnn Rimes, Big & Rich (one brief signing session and no performances), Aaron Tippin, Trace Adkins (one brief signing session only), Jo Dee Messina and Trick Pony. Otherwise, the booths were occupied by unknown country hopefuls and faded stars hoping for another chance.

But just before heading to the Convention Center, I spent the morning at Riverfront Park and, let me tell you, there are few things in life more enjoyable than sitting in brilliant morning sunshine, with a nice breeze blowing in off the river, while bathing in the sounds of the Charlie Daniels Band and Eric Church and sipping a frosty breakfast Budweiser or two (and only $6 a pop!). That kind of fan access to artists remains Fan Fair’s main appeal.

Last weekend, at the old Nashville Fairgrounds — where Fan Fair used to be held until it decided to move upscale and downtown — the CMT DukesFest drew about 70,000 fans on Saturday alone. Fan Fair will bring in about 24,000 every day this week. But those are likely the same people every day, who buy package tickets for the entire event. What’s the discrepancy between the two events? What’s the disconnect? Who is offering the fans what they want? And who is not? You tell me.