CMA Music Festival Puts Live Music in High Gear

Phil Vassar Kicks Off Concerts With Morning Performance at Nashville's Riverfront Park

Country music fans began arriving days ago, but the 2008 CMA Music Festival officially began Thursday morning (June 5) in downtown Nashville with a two-hour concert featuring Phil Vassar, Jo Dee Messina, Jason Michael Carroll, Luke Bryan and Chuck Wicks. The festival continues through Sunday (June 8).

With temperatures hovering around 90, fans were comforted by blue skies, an occasional wind from the Cumberland River and dozens of artists performing at Riverfront Park and along lower Broadway. When the sun goes down, the music moves to LP Field for an evening concert featuring Jennifer Hanson, Montgomery Gentry, Kellie Pickler, Luke Bryan, Jewel, Taylor Swift, Sugarland and another act that was only revealed Thursday morning — Rascal Flatts.

Tickets are required for the concerts at Riverfront Park and LP Field, but there’s no admission charge for lots of performances taking place at the other downtown stages. In particular, the Chevy Plaza stage in front of the Sommet Center is featuring a strong lineup, including Thursday’s bluegrass offering of Dan Tyminiski, Mountain Heart, the SteelDrivers and Sierra Hull. Other notables playing the free shows on the Chevy Plaza stage include Julie Roberts, the Grascals, the Clark Brothers, Cory Morrow, the Greencards, Michael Peterson, Riders in the Sky, La Familia and Texas music legend Augie Meyer.

In addition to the morning’s show headlined by Vassar, Thursday’s music at Riverfront Park also included Mindy McCready, the Bellamy Brothers, Heidi Newfield, Richie McDonald, Mark Chesnutt, Tracy Byrd, Crystal Shawanda and Erika Jo. By Sunday afternoon, the stage will have featured more than 100 artists, including Joe Nichols, Darryl Worley, Jake Owen, Josh Gracin, Bo Bice, Jeffrey Steele, Michael Martin Murphey, Mark Wills, Sunny Sweeney, the Oak Ridge Boys, Lonestar, the Road Hammers, Bryan White, Jimmy Wayne and Buddy Jewell. Riverfront Park will also host performances by two members of the Country Music Hall of Fame — Bill Anderson and Mel Tillis.

The nightly concerts at LP Field — stadium home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans — remain the biggest draw of all. Friday’s bill features Ashton Shepherd, Jack Ingram, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Josh Turner, Jake Owen and Faith Hill. Saturday includes performances by Jason Michael Carroll, Craig Morgan, Little Big Town, Jamey Johnson, Rodney Atkins, Darryl Worley, Trace Adkins, Alan Jackson and Kenny Rogers. And closing out the festival Sunday night is Chuck Wicks, James Otto, Bucky Covington, Randy Travis, John Stephan, Sara Evans, Phil Stacey, Billy Ray Cyrus and Dwight Yoakam.

When the festival got a new name a few years ago, the previous moniker — Fan Fair — was used to identify the autograph sessions that have been a staple of the event since its inception in 1972. Although many country music stars no longer sit in the autograph booths, fans stood in line Thursday to get signatures from Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn, Jewel, James Otto and Bucky Covington, among others.

The Fan Fair Hall at the Nashville Convention will heat up even more Friday when Alan Jackson and his wife, Denise, sign autographs during a two-hour session beginning at noon. Denise Jackson is author of two bestselling books, It’s All About Him and The Road Home. And Taylor Swift will be there to sign autographs Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Swift’s label, Big Machine Records, is asking fans to visit its official Web site for additional details about her autograph session. Swift is donating all of the profits from Saturday’s sales of her merchandise at the Big Machine booth to the Nashville Area Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund in Middle Tennessee and the National American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

View photos, stories and more from the 2008 CMA Music Festival.