Country music fans from all 50 states and 22 foreign nations are headed to Nashville this week for the CMA Music Festival. Officially kicking off Thursday (June 9) at 9:30 a.m. with a parade in downtown Nashville, the festival will feature more than 70 hours of concerts before the fireworks display following the final show Sunday night (June 12) at the Coliseum.
For all practical purposes, though, festival week started Monday night (June 6) when Lonestar and some celebrity friends laced up their bowling shoes for the Strike Out for the Kids party to benefit the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
The biggest events Tuesday night are the International Fan Club Organization's FunFest concert at the Ryman Auditorium and Chely Wright's annual party at the Wildhorse Saloon to benefit her Reading, Writing and Rhythm Foundation. With Craig Morgan as the headliner, the IFCO show will also feature Bill Anderson, Trick Pony, Jason Aldean, Con Hunley, Aaron Lines, Connie Smith, Chalee Tennison, Jimmy Wayne, Bryan White and Mark Wills. Morgan will also make an appearance at Wright's fundraiser that features Rascal Flatts, Hanna-McEuen, Julie Roberts, Canadian singer-songwriter Jann Arden and members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Wednesday night's hot spot will be the Gaylord Entertainment Center when an all-star cast converges for a concert taping of CMT 100 Greatest Duets. The concert will feature the Top 12 songs and will be included as a part of a six-hour countdown special to air in September. Trace Adkins and Terri Clark will co-host the concert special featuring performances by Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Clint Black, Lisa Hartman Black, Montgomery Gentry, Lee Ann Womack, Shooter Jennings, Joe Nichols, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Crystal Gayle, Raul Malo, Jamie O'Neal, Keith Anderson and American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. As of late Tuesday (June 7), a small number of tickets to the 7:30 p.m. concert remained available from all Ticketmaster outlets.
Immediately following the Duets concert, the action again moves to the Ryman Auditorium for Marty Stuart's late night jam. The 10 p.m. show features Earl Scruggs, Dierks Bentley, Shooter Jennings, Holly Williams and Miranda Lambert.
Thursday's activities begin bright and relatively early when the festival parade hits Broadway in downtown Nashville at 9:30 a.m. Featured in the parade will be Brad Cotter, Cowboy Troy, Lila McCann, NASCAR Busch Series driver Boston Reid and the new band, Cowboy Crush.
Montgomery Gentry will perform the first song when the concerts officially begin Thursday at 10 a.m. on the Riverfront Park stage on the banks of the Cumberland River. The Riverfront Park stage will feature four concerts daily, including performances by other well-known names such as Jessica Andrews, Pam Tillis, Chely Wright, Restless Heart, Aaron Tippin, Billy Ray Cyrus, Emerson Drive and Buddy Jewell. However, the stage will give many fans their first up-close glimpse of some promising newcomers, including Keith Anderson, Hanna-McEuen, Blaine Larsen, Bobby Pinson, Amber Dotson, Ryan Shupe & the RubberBand, Cowboy Troy, Keni Thomas, the Wrights, Blaine Larsen, Jace Everett, Hot Apple Pie, Lauren Lucas, Carolina Rain, Catherine Britt, Melonie Cannon, Jessi Alexander and Nashville Star winner Erika Jo.
An additional show of note on the Riverfront Park stage takes place Sunday at 5 p.m. The Nammie Experience show will demonstrate Nashville's musical diversity with performances by singer-songwriter Bill Lloyd (formerly of Foster & Lloyd), singer-songwriter Julie Lee and R&B musician Earl Gaines and his band. Prominently featured by the Country Music Hall of Fame in its Night Train to Nashville exhibit and Grammy-winning CD centering on Nashville's R&B heritage, Gaines will be joined by Johnny Jones and Bobby Hebb, the latter best known for his 1966 pop hit, "Sunny."
The biggest names still come out at night during the concert series at the Coliseum, the stadium home of the Tennessee Titans. Thursday's lineup features Dierks Bentley, Dolly Parton and the Grascals, Julie Roberts, Sugarland, Trick Pony, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Phil Vassar and Lee Ann Womack. Friday's offering includes Sara Evans, Josh Gracin, Alan Jackson, Craig Morgan, Rascal Flatts, SHeDAISY, Blake Shelton and Travis Tritt. Saturday brings Trace Adkins, Miranda Lambert, Jo Dee Messina, Joe Nichols, Kenny Rogers, Trisha Yearwood and Wynonna. And closing out the week, Sunday's concert includes Jeff Bates, Big & Rich (with a guest appearance by Cowboy Troy), Diamond Rio, Andy Griggs, Sawyer Brown and Gretchen Wilson.
The CMA Music Festival has replaced the event previously known as Fan Fair. These days, the Fan Fair moniker applies to the autograph sessions at the Nashville Convention Center. Among those braving writer's cramp this year are Trace Adkins, Dierks Bentley, Jeff Bates, Billy Currington, Billy Dean, Andy Griggs, Buddy Jewell, Miranda Lambert, Blaine Larsen, Neal McCoy, Jo Dee Messina, Craig Morgan, Cowboy Troy, Julie Roberts, Sawyer Brown, Blake Shelton, Tanya Tucker, Phil Vassar, Darryl Worley and many others.
The artists participating in the CMA Music Festival are not compensated their participation. In return, the CMA donates half of the net proceeds from the event to charities designated by the participating artists as part of the organization's Cause for Celebration charitable program. To date, CMA has donated $400,000 on behalf of the artists.