Dierks Bentley, Rodney Atkins Welcome Fans to CMA Music Festival

Autograph Session, Kick-off Parade Lead Up to Official Launch of Four-Day Event

Dierks Bentley kept it cool, signing autographs in the air-conditioned comfort of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s gift shop, and Rodney Atkins and other country artists cruised around downtown Nashville during events leading up to the official opening of the 2009 CMA Music Festival .

Bentley’s autograph session and the annual kick-off parade were just two of the activities taking place Wednesday (June 10) as Nashville once again strives to live up to its reputation as Music City. Later on Wednesday, a celebrity softball game will take place at Greer Stadium, and Alan Jackson will be making a rare club appearance at Cadillac Ranch, a nightspot on Lower Broadway.

The festival, which runs Thursday-Sunday (June 11-14), features daytime concerts at Riverfront Park and other locations, additional performances during daily block parties in front of the Sommet Center and nightly concerts at LP Field. Additionally, the festival also brings a wide array of other activities, including fan club parties throughout town and autograph sessions at the Nashville Convention Center.

Atkins served as grand marshal of Wednesday’s parade which also featured the Oak Ridge Boys, Bo Bice, Steve Holy, Bomshel, Kate & Kacey, Caitlin & Will, the Carter Twins, Ty Herndon, Jypsi, Halfway to Hazard, Colt Ford, Brad Cotter, Lonestar, Sammy Kershaw and others.

Bentley was a veteran of the CMA Music Festival even before he signed a record deal. Actually, his earliest experiences were when the event was still called Fan Fair — before the festival moved downtown from the Tennessee State Fairgrounds.

“I had a chance to work there when it was at the fairgrounds,” Bentley told CMT.com earlier this week. “I was working for the CMA at the time, as an intern, so I worked there for about two or three years, driving golf carts. I remember driving around Jo Dee Messina in a golf cart and driving around Sammy Kershaw in a golf cart. I was just trying to figure out how to make it all work [in the music business], and I figured a good way to get an inside look at the operating manual was to work at the CMA.”

This year, Bentley is hosting a private party for his fan club members and will be performing Thursday at LP Field, but he made time to schedule a public autograph session at the Hall of Fame.

“There are a couple of things that came along that I couldn’t say no to,” he said. “The Country Music Hall of Fame asked me to sign. I love the Hall of Fame. It’s really important to know the history of country music. The music is changing so rapidly, and it’s so important, maybe now more than ever, to be aware of the guys that started this thing. I was happy to come sign for them and bring some fans there.”

Regarding his fan club party, Bentley said, “It always ends up taking about six or seven hours to meet everyone and do it properly and not rush anybody. I don’t want anybody to feel rushed when they do a meet-and-greet with me. I want them to enjoy their experience. … I just want it to be an overall part of the good experience that they have here at the CMA Music Festival.”

Bentley contends that the CMA Music Festival is unlike any other event.

“If you like music, and you enjoy the outdoor concert experience, and if you like to see a lot of acts in country music, it’s a really cool thing,” he said. “A couple of years back, they moved it from the old fairgrounds to try to give it a modern remake, and they’ve done a great job. … You’re going to come out of this weekend with some friends you didn’t know before — in different states — and keep up with them throughout the year and meet up with them again next year. It’s the ultimate country music event, for sure.”

View photos from Dierks Bentley’s autograph session and the CMA Music Festival kick-off parade.