Over the last three weeks, Wal-Mart customers in the South have been treated to free concerts and autograph sessions with new artists like Sugarland, Craig Morgan, Buddy Jewell, Miranda Lambert, Katrina Elam and many more.
Photo Credit: Craig Shelburne
Now, the Country Music Association hopes those same customers will come back for more -- in Nashville.
The CMA created the concert series to encourage regional ticket sales for the CMA Music Festival, to be held June 9-12 in downtown Nashville. This year's tour stops were chosen based on their spring weather, said Rick Murray, VP of strategic marketing at CMA. Murray hopes next year's tour will expand to the Midwest and the Northeast.
"The more our industry can bring the music to the people, that's what it's all about," Murray said during the series' stop near Orlando, Fla., on Monday night (April 25). The tour concluded the following evening in Lakeland, Fla., near Tampa. Other stops this year included Wal-Marts near Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, as well as suburban stores in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia.
Dixie Schiavi, who works at the Wal-Mart store near Orlando, said she came out to the parking lot specifically to catch Jewell's set.
"I love that man right there," she said, nodding toward the stage, just past the crowd of couples and families in lawn chairs. "Personality, talent, everything. That's why I voted for him on Nashville Star."
Jewell opened his show with "Help Pour Out the Rain," then mostly focused on music from his new album, Times Like These. Like all the participants, he stuck around to sign autographs inside the store. The Orlando-area location put Times Like These on the racks a day before its scheduled release, though Jewell marked the album's official release the next night at the Wal-Mart near Tampa.
Although some of the artists on the concert series haven't had a major hit in years (if ever), many of the newer faces are already familiar to country fans.
Brian Ray of Orlando said he came for the night of free music that also featured Lambert and Elam. Ray had already heard Elam's album and knew Lambert's first single, and he said he would definitely like to come to the CMA Music Festival if it wasn't so far from Orlando.
"The talent has turned out to be at an incredible level," said Murray, "even higher than we expected."
For example, Morgan and Sugarland played the San Antonio-area store when each was hovering near the top of the singles chart with "That's What I Love About Sunday" and "Baby Girl," respectively. New duo Blue County performed at six of the events, joined on some dates by Caroline Brown, Linda Davis, Brian McComas, Rick Trevino and Michelle Wright.