Miranda, Reba, Brad + More Share CMA Music Fest Memories
Neither heat, rain, humidity nor recent floods will keep country music fans away from Nashville during CMA Music Festival. But before they were celebrities, some country stars were in the seats right alongside other folks from around the world, watching their favorites perform or standing in line for autographs.
Miranda Lambert recalls vividly exactly where she sat at LP Field when she first started coming to Nashville for CMA Music Fest. It wasn't on the front row, but it was as close as she could get to the singers she loved. "I used to come as a fan, on family vacation," she tells The Boot. "Now it's all about the fans. We'll rock for them because they're awesome and dedicated."
Jimmy Wayne also hit town as a fan before he made his first appearance as an artist. "I drove in from North Carolina in an old pickup truck, it had an engine block in the back and a bicycle just in case the truck broke down," Jimmy recalls. "I pulled into my friend's driveway and he said, 'Let's go to Fan Fair.' Back then it was at the fairgrounds, and I remember standing there as a spectator watching the artists on stage, and saying to myself, 'One day I hope to be up there playing.' It was always a dream of mine. And 11 years later, I got to stand on stage for the first time and play before 60,000 people."
Rodney Atkins was on a quest the first time he went to CMA Music Fest. "When I moved to town in 1995, it was still at the fairgrounds and it was called Fan Fair. I went down to the fairgrounds for two or three years, and snuck backstage because I was trying to meet somebody at Curb Records. I was actually on the side of the stage when Tim McGraw came out. I remember seeing him get off the bus and go onstage and he was shy and quiet, and then he walked on and just blew up the place. That was probably one of the coolest things, getting to see him up there and knock the crowd out. I was there three or four years watching at the fairgrounds and hoping one day to play there. Now I've finally made it to play here and it's very cool!"
Darius Rucker was already a star when he attended his first Music Fest, but that didn't stop him from being a fan as well, something he still enthusiastically admits to today. "Oh my goodness, I'd stand in line to get Brad Paisley's autograph," the former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman says. "I'd still be in Carrie Underwood's line, definitely Rascal Flatts. This is such an amazing event."
Reba McEntire has been in the business long enough to have started out performing at the fairgrounds grandstand and now the nightly shows at LP Field. "Air conditioning is the main difference, to not sweat," she says, recalling that the buildings where she signed autographs at the fairgrounds were not exactly designed for comfort. "These days, I can wear long sleeves and be very comfortable. It never ceases to amaze me, the dedication of a country music fan. They always come up with something for me to go, 'Wow. Now why would you do that?' But they've always been there, they are sweet."
Sara Evans recalls her early years as a young performer at the annual event. "There were two or three Fan Fairs when I was just praying that somebody would stop for an autograph," she says. "In this business I have never taken anything for granted,so the fact that the people are here and are excited is great. The fans always make me feel like a princess, so being at Music Fest and signing autographs and performing is awesome."
Chuck Wicks attended his first Music Fest in 2007. "It was one of those things where nothing was done yet, 'Stealing Cinderella' wasn't even done yet in the studio. I showed up and did some meet-and-greets and that was about it. Now I have a fan club party and perform for the fans and it is awesome."
Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry of Montgomery Gentry have been attending Music Fest since it moved from the fairgrounds to downtown. Eddie says, "This is the only genre of music period where we don't call then fans, we call them friends. Nashville opens up and you're among your friends and it's one hell of a party. People plan their vacations to be here during Music Fest and it's totally awesome."
Brad Paisley is another artist who made the trek to Nashville before striking it big in country music. "I used to visit Nashville during Fan Fair, I came down a few times before I had real reason to be here to watch. It's a great event. It's come a long way since Fan Fair of '99, which was the first time I played, back before anyone knew who I was. It's interesting to see it evolve. Last year, I did a performance at a club downtown, and the crowd was young and excited, and it felt like the festival was young and new, and that was a good feeling."
Dierks Bentley describes Music Fest as being like Thanksgiving, where you count your blessings and think of all the things you're thankful for. "You get to see all your fans and thank them for this great life you get a chance to live," he explains. "Living out your dreams, that's CMA Music Fest. The fan club party is like sitting around the family table. There are faces there that I've seen now for five or six years. We've kind of grown up together, gone through a lot of shows together, shared life experiences together. It's a two-way street. I get a lot out of it, and hopefully the fans do too."
Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean are appreciative of their fans and the fact that they have had the opportunity to grow every year before they come back to Music Fest. Luke will be at Music Fest for his fourth time. "The first year I wasn't busy enough to get run down, but that second year, by the end of the first day, I felt like I had been in a marathon! My voice was gone and I felt terrible. Last year I was a little more prepared and even though it was ten times busier than both the other years put together, I understood my endurance and I had a chance to really enjoy it. I just ... jump into the whole week and get with the fans and just have a good time."
Jason says last year's Music Fest was great because he had grown more in his career and had new songs to perform. "To me, that's what it's all about, growing your career and your fan base a little more and creating a little more excitement for the people when they come back to see you. It's all been good so far."
CMA Music Fest officially gets underway Thursday, June 10, in downtown Nashville. In addition to the shows at the Riverfront Stages and LP Field, and the autograph sessions in the convention center, there will be numerous other activities and many satellite events including fan club parties and charity concert events that will take place through Sunday.