By Vernell Hackett

The annual CMA Music Fest is in Nashville this week, bringing its annual crowd of 50,000+ fans from around the world. In addition to that, the Nashville Predators hockey team are in a battle for the coveted Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and they will also be in town for two nights, with 20,000 enthusiastic fans in the arena, on the streets and in the bars.

It’s going to be an interesting week in downtown Nashville!


Darius Rucker (courtesy CMA)

Although CMA Music Fest doesn’t officially get underway until Thursday morning, June 8, there have already been multiple events in the city in conjunction with the festival. Darius Rucker held his eighth sold-out benefit concert on Monday (5) night, with surprise guests Brooks & Dunn along with Dan + Shay, Luke Combs and Michael Ray, John Oates of Hall & Oates and KISS guitarist Tommy Thayer, Paul Sanchez to perform for a full house at the Ryman Auditorium. The show benefits St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, and this year’s concert, auction and golf tournament raised $402,000 for the worthy cause. The cumulative figure is now $1.2 million dollars for the hospital.

“You can’t help but be moved by the amazing work that St. Jude does,” Rucker says. “To raise this kind of money and awareness for them and for the families that rely on St. Jude, is just incredible. I’m so grateful to all our friends who came out and donated their time to be on the show – and Brooks & Dunn for surprising me onstage. Wow!”

Florida Georgia Line combined the grand opening of their new FGL House in downtown Nashville with a Predators viewing party on Monday (5). The new club is just one of several that artists have opened in the popular Lower Broadway area of Nashville. Alan Jackson has AJ’s Good Time Bar, a honky tonk that befits the country singer. The bar has three floors and a rooftop patio.

Little Big Town (courtesy CMA)

Dierks Bentley is opening his third Whiskey Row Restaurant, this one housed in the building that once was home to the famous Gruhn Guitar store. Scheduled to open this year, the restaurant will feature three stages and a rooftop deck. The other two restaurants are in Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona.

Marty Stuart held his Late Night Jam on Wednesday (7), featuring Wynonna Judd & The Big Noise, Booker T. Jones, Ashley McBride, Connie Smith & the Sundowners, and many more. CMT also held their video awards show on Wednesday as well, with Keith Urban taking the prize for top video with “Blue Ain’t Your Color.”




Miranda Lambert (courtesy CMA)

The beauty of Music Fest is that it is the only festival like it in the world where fans and artists mingle, shoulder to shoulder, with fans taking numerous photos at the concerts and lining up for autographs in the booth area during the day. For the artists, it is a perfect way to say thank you to their fans.

Keith Urban (courtesy CMA)

Lee Ann Rimes says she always sees familiar faces when she comes to Music Fest. “I get a lot of funny comments from people who come through my line. So many of them have followed me since “Blue” came out and then some of my fans from Texas have followed me since I was on the local Opry shows in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It’s incredible, they know everything that there is to know about me. It’s cool to still see familiar faces plus a lot of new faces, young kids that are just getting turned on to my music – there’s such a wide range of ages and different kinds of people.”

Jason Aldean says it can get a little crazy in the autograph line, but “that is one of the coolest parts of the week because you get up close and personal with ever ybody. “It’s a fun week, you get to see all your fans in one spot when they come in town, so for me it’s a blast.”

Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys says the group has been at every Music Fest, from when it started out as Fan Fair at the Municipal Auditorium, through its move to the Tennessee State Fair grounds and on to downtown. “It’s just gotten bigger and bigger and when it outgrew the fairgrounds, CMA (Country Music Association) decided to make it big and huge and move it downtown. From our stand point as longtime residents of Nashville and part of the music business, we are thankful to see this event going and to see the big crowds. I think it means more to us than it ever has.”

Reba McEntire (courtesy CMA)

Reba Mc Entire also remembers those early years of Fan Fair. “My first Fan Fair was in 1977, and I remember all the buses and pop out tents and awnings behind the stage at the fairgrounds. I think that first year I came in a car because I didn’t have a bus, and had borrowed clothes from my roommate because I didn’t have many fancy clothes and she did because she was was in rodeo. The fans are here to see all the entertainers, and you know we have the most loyal fans in the world, in any business. Being able to come here and show our appreciation to our fans is very special.”

Trace Adkins (courtesy CMA)

Trace Adkins is quick to point out that his fans don’t hesitate in giving him their opinions about things going on in his career and even his personal life. “But bring it on, that’s fine. I think we as a (music) genre have given our fans the opportunity to be able to do that because they can get to us and speak to us and ask questions. It’s something they get to do that I don’t think fans of other music genres get to do.”

Brad Paisley agrees that the fans are the most important thing and it’s great to give something back to them. “This is important that it is fan driven and it says thank you to all these people who are so loyal to us as entertainers. They are a different breed of fan more so than in any other form of entertainment.”

Dierks Bentley (courtesy CMA)

Dierks Bentley may have the ultimate Music Fest fan story. His first year for the festival was when it was still Fan Fair, in 1995, and he was actually working as a volunteer with the CMA, before he had a record deal.

“I had my headset on, and I drove this golf cart around with Jo Dee Messina in the back out there at the fairgrounds. I remember she said to me, ‘I wonder if anyone w ill know who I am here,’ and when I dropped her off where she was going to sign autographs, she got mobbed, and I told her, ‘I think you’re gonna do alright.’

Now Bentley is the one being driven around on a golf cart by volunteer workers, and he appreciates the irony of the story. “Music fest has special meaning for me, because I’ve see it from both sides, and I’ve had the chance to come full circle, to be the guy behind the mic who gets to stand up on that stage and lead the party. Every time I get up there it really means a lot to me to be there.”


CMA Music Festival runs Thursday through Sunday, June 8-11. It’s impossible to list all the performers, as there is constant music beginning at 10 a.m. on the satellite stages throughout the downtown area. The stadium concerts in the evening begin at 8 p.m. and run until around midnight, so there really is non-stop music for more than 12 hours during those four days.

CMA Fest is a country music fan’s paradise, the place to be in June when they know their favorite performers, and perhaps a few who will become favorites, will be in one place – Nashville – to thank them for their support throughout the year.

For more information about the festival, click on



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