Hitting CMA Fest: A First Time for Everything

music musings, beaverdamusa.comThere’s a first time for everything.

You figure that after 52 trips around the sun, there aren’t many “firsts” left for me that aren’t connected to medical tests, conditions, or procedures.  I did experience a first.  Like an addict at a meeting, it’s confession time –

Nissan Stadium gets ready for the show.

“Hi, I’m Zach, I live in the Nashville area and I went to Fan Fair.”

Yes, after years of avoiding the crowds and making fun of the tourists, I attended a Fan Far event.  I know it is CMA Fest, but it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks.  The company I work for (yes, I have a day job) typically has drawings each year for tickets to the stadium shows.  I have won them in the past, but due to the artists playing, my schedule, or the weather I have given them to family members.  There really wasn’t a reason not to go this year, so I said “what the hell.  Let’s go.”  My eldest, Will, and his girlfriend Haley went to the Thursday night stadium show as well.  We did take separate vehicles because I wasn’t staying until 11:30 p.m., on a school night to watch someone I didn’t like.

The legendary Charlie Daniels sawing the fiddle.

The legendary Charlie Daniels sawing the fiddle.

If you aren’t familiar with the format, the stage is set up in Nissan Stadium (home of the Titans), and each night (four in all) about four or five performers play a handful of songs.  The artist lineup is a mix of established acts and newer artists who have broken out.  I must say I was worried about the down time between acts.   They started on time and stuck to the schedule and didn’t vary by more than five minutes.  I figured they would use a house set of instruments, but they turned the stage each time.  Very impressed.

Oh, I guess I need to let you know about the actual show.  The stage was worthy of the stadium setting.  It even came with three or four-story video screens on each side of the stage.  Each segment was introduced by various country music DJs and personalities.  Their banter bordered on hokey, but what do you expect?  Here is the line-up and my thoughts:

  • Miranda Lambert wore spurs, from what we understand.

    Miranda Lambert wore spurs, from what we understand.

    The Oak Ridge Boys opened the evening with the Star Spangled Banner.  Great harmonies and represented the “has been” category for the night.

  • Charlie Daniels Band – introduction acknowledging Charlie’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in the fall.  Played four songs, including In America.  Charlie will be 80 later this year and still can throw down.  Literally shredded his bow on the Devil Went Down to Georgia.  He also brought out Randy Travis who suffered a massive stroke a while back.  Pretty sad watching him struggle to walk on stage.  He didn’t even speak to the crowd and looked confused.
  • Kelsea Ballerini – filling the breakout star slot, she ripped through five songs and quickly won the crowd over.  She mentioned that just three years ago, she was sitting in the upper deck and watching the show.  She truly seemed humbled to be on the big stage.  Only thing was that her “romper” was probably about an inch too short.  She spent the entire set tugging at it.  Anyone who went commented on it – so stop the perv comments.
  • Dierks Bentley – ehhh. Not really a fan.  Really seemed intent on working the crowd.  He even walked through the crowd and sang from a small stage in the middle of the crowd.  Nothing really remarkable for me, but the country fans with me said it was good.
  • Miranda Lambert – Here is the reason I went to Fan Fair.  There, I said it.  Yes, I love me some Miranda.  The keyword is spurs.  Yes, spurs.  She wore spurs on her boots.  The other word would be giddy-up.  She tore the house down with all of her hits and what could best be described as sassiness.  Did I mention she wore spurs?  Favorite song was Little Red Wagon.
  • Rascal Flatts – They sounded better the further they got into their set.  Full disclosure is that they sounded better the longer they played because I was walking to the truck and getting farther away.
  • Jason Aldean – supposedly he played.  I was probably about Exit 199 on I-40 when he came on.

I will admit that I had a great time.  I won’t even go into the people watching opportunities at Fan Fair.  They were exactly what you expect.

Giddy-up

Zach, A Fan Fair attendee

 

Fan Fair: Hide Your Women, Children and Household Pets

musings 250_edited-1Fan 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?

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