Fan Fair. Those two words strike fear in the hearts of every Nashville native, except the funnel cake vendors. If you aren’t familiar with Fan Fair, it is a gathering of country music stars, wannabes, has-beens, and their fans. Here is a blurb from the website (http://www.cmaworld.com/cma-music-festival/event-details/) :
Launched as Fan Fair® in 1972, the very first Festival was attended by 5,000 people and was held at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium. The event moved to the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in 1982, then to Downtown Nashville in 2001. The 2010 and 2011 Festivals sold out Nashville’s LP Field with 65,000 Country fans attending per day. The 2013 festival’s daily attendance was a record-setting 80,000.
The festival changed its name from Fan Fair to the CMA Music Festival in 2004. Whether it was the move from the fairgrounds or the name change, the festival has changed over the years. Imagine the frog turning into the handsome prince, the ugly duckling becoming a swan, or the ugly girl from high school becoming a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. It has become cool to go to the Fan Fair.
In the old days, the fans would start arriving from Omaha, Flagstaff, Green Bay, Meridian, Davenport, and other similar points in their overloaded motorhomes complete with “I Love Reba” or “Twitty City” bumper stickers. They would come out wearing cut-off blue jean shorts, polyester moo moos, wife beater shirts, and chrome mirrored sunglasses. Fan Fair was always held the first week in June and it would always be hot, humid, and stormy. I would say more, but I will just say two words – humid and polyester. Tickets were only available for the entire Festival – tickets were not available for individual shows. A ticket got you into the exhibit halls where the new, old, popular, and unknown country artists would literally stand/sit in a booth all day long signing autographs, posing for photos, hugging, and kissing every fan that came by. [Don’t forget the humidity and polyester]. Record labels would also have shows each night highlighting their current stars while peppering in sets by the up and coming stars. Also, the artists would use this time to have fan club gatherings.
There were also tours of the stars’ homes, treks to where George Jones drove his lawnmower to the liquor store, visits to Twitty City, and the brave ones ventured about 70 miles west to Hurricane Mills to see the Loretta Lynn ranch. But let’s not forget the greatest attraction – Opryland USA. This was Nashville’s now-defunct music-based amusement park. It was concrete city – (again – forget humidity, polyester). Locals were known to give wrong directions, point at cars acting like someone famous was in there and other things to torture the tourists.
Fast forward to 2004 – the name was changed and the location was downtown on lower Broadway (the new cool spot). They also started selling individual tickets to the nightly shows at LP Field (Titans stadium) and there were numerous free stages (newcomers) throughout downtown. All of a sudden, local people started going to the shows and purposely going downtown (vs. avoiding it). The average age dropped, the polyester was replaced by cotton, and the women got a lot better looking. What? It is now actually cool to go to Fan Fair – eh, CMA Music Festival. As much as I trash it, I must admit that it is pretty cool to be able to have a giant meet & greet for everyone in a particular genre of music. I wish rock & roll would do that – Bonnaroo doesn’t count!
Hats off to the CMA folks for re-inventing the event and packing downtown every night for four nights. The city’s coffers appreciate it. Now, where’s my funnel cake?