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Fan Fair 2003

The CSO raving, I mean roving reporters Leah Anderson, Helen Neal & Helen Peterson (pictured right) spent 6 days at Fan Fair 2003! To follow their adventures keep reading! Thanks ladies... great job!

Day 6
Here comes the sun! The last day of Fan Fair and again we were sitting on the bank at the Riverfront Stages, listening to The Foxx brothers open the day with Gospel songs. Neither heat nor rain cancelled any events this week, but floodwaters threatened to. With the river rising to eight feet above normal, due to rain during the week and releases from the dam, crews were busy during the night and early morning. The barge that served as backstage had been moved away; other equipment including generators and the port-a-potty were moved from the lower level sidewalk. The crews were prepared to move everything from the permanent stage. They were practiced - the stage was flooded in May when Nashville had a record rainfall for the month.

On this last morning it was Legends time. Eddie Stubbs, Large Market DJ of the Year for 2002 and a walking encyclopedia of county music knowledge, emceed the show. Highlight of the concert was the reunion of Ferlin Huskey and Jean Shepherd, repeating their mega-smash of 50 years ago, "Dear John." Jean's quick wit and amazing voice were evident. She was the first female country artist to sell a million records.

Leaving the warm riverbank, we headed to the GEC (Gaylord Entertainment Center). Had to get our tickets for next year while there was a good choice of seats. Then onto the downtown park across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum for the Martina McBride YWCA Charity Auction. We just missed seeing the sale of Chris Cagle's shirt - right off his back. The auctioneers deftly worked the crowd, but the action really picked up when Martina appeared and personally held up items and walked the aisles. Last year's auction raised $62,000.

Then we went back to the Convention Center and checked out the booths. The line wrapped halfway around the center for Billy Ray Cyrus before he was even scheduled to enter his booth. Among the other attractions were Billy Dean, Neal McCoy, Rushlow, Bill Engvall and Lila McCann.

The Johnson sisters, Loretta, Loudilla and Kay were in the IFCO (International Fan Club Organization) booth. The debt that Fan Fair, fans, fan clubs and artists owe these ladies can't be measured. Loretta, who's been battling a ravaging illness, told how glad they were to be in their booth this year. They missed it last year because she was in the hospital

The buzz among the attendees was the article in the morning paper, revealing that next year the CMA (County Music Association) will change the name of the event from CMA Fan Fair to the CMA Music Festival. The name change goes with the desire of the CMA to bring in acts from other genres and to move away from the "countrified" image of the fan. Gee, folks, there's an old ethic in country music - "you dance with who brought you." Comments from the stages even echoed the feelings that were expressed by many during the day. Billy Ray Cyrus questioned the audience at the Coliseum show, "How do you feel about them taking the 'fan' out of Fan Fair?" You can guess the response. Later press releases attempted to soften the rhetoric in the first news reports. They declared that the musical element, a concert series mixing country and non-country acts, would be referred to as the CMA Music Festival. The autograph sessions in the exhibit halls will be billed as Fan Fair. Current country acts donate their time to this event, with half the proceeds going to the CMA and half to artist-designated charities.

Then we were on to the Coliseum for the last show, under some of the best weather conditions of a week of good weather - no rain tonight and pleasant temperature. Was there ever a show opener who could grab an audience like Neal McCoy? He came to entertain and he delivered! Everyone hummed to his hits, but it was his clever hillbilly rap of the theme from "The Beverly Hillibillies," that just wowed the audience. High energy was the keyword for the evening. Trick Pony's all-stops-out performance, Billy Ray Cyrus' dancing, Chris Cagle's energized vocals, Keith Urban's guitar licks, and Jo Dee Messina's fervor kept the crowd rocking. The show closed on a nostalgic note, as mom, Naomi, joined daughter, Wynonna, on stage to share two of their hits - a great finish for a great day, a great concert, a great week at Fan Fair.

As we headed for the finale, we were thinking how exciting this year's Fan Fair had been, and though the brain and body were beyond the state we nicknamed, "Fan Fair-fried," we knew we were already looking forward to next year. And, too, that those thousands heading out of town the next morning, though in the same weary state, were thinking the same thing! We'll look for you next year!!

Day 5
.. And still going strong. Our fan club agenda is winding down, but there's still such a grand musical buffet in town. The trouble is there's just not enough time to taste it all. We were schedule-squeezed in our very first outing of the day. In order to keep another commitment across town, we had to leave Mark Wills' fan club party before he was able to arrive,. Our disappointment!

Our other fan club parties for the day were Tommy Shane Steiner and Wild Horses. We returned to the site of the GAC breakfast, Graham Central Station, for Steiner's party. Steiner's rapport with his fans was evident as he and guitar accompanist, John, sat down on two stools to face the friendly crowd. Questions from the audience focused on the next steps Steiner would be taking in his career and requests for songs. He said he was in a song selection process now. That he was trying to get a project ready to take to the several record labels that were interested. Apologizing for not having prepared a set program of songs for the party, he good-naturedly fielded requests and asked for the audience to aid him when he missed a word. They were more than happy to oblige!

Much later in the day we joined Wild Horses for their fan club picnic by the lake in Shelby Park. Quite a departure from the rooms we'd been in throughout the week. Blessed with great weather, the crowd really enjoyed this outing with their favorites. If you live in a hug-deprived world, head for a Wild Horses' event. Angela, Michael, Steve, and Ralph believe in letting their fans know how glad they are to see them. And the fans reveled in the high-energy performance of original music. You don't know yet what B.B.S.W stands for? There are lots of sources to get the answer - listen for their next single release, check the song titles on their album, ask one of the members of the "Loyal Order of the Herd," or anyone who caught their riveting performance at Riverfront Park Stages earlier in the day.

And speaking of Riverfront Park Stages - we were in and out of there several times during the day. It's one of our favorite spots - sitting on the terraced riverbank, enjoying the acts that alternate on the two stages located on the anchored river barge. The Coliseum sits on the opposite riverbank and you can see the landscaped steps and path that water borne Titan fans take up to the stadium in the fall. Tugs, barges, and pleasure boats occasionally glide behind the stage. No jet skis today - the recent rains powered a very strong current, plus they would have been dodging a lot of free floating logs.. We got there just in time to see Lyric Street Records' Rushlow, a new act led by Tim Rushlow former lead singer of Little Texas. That concert included country traditionalist Billy Yates, Grand Ole Opry staple Jeannie Kendall going solo since her father died, Wild Horses and Jill King. Great country music fare for the sampling! Later in the day you could have enjoyed Andy Griggs, Kelly Coffey (ACM's Top New Female Award), Michelle Wright, Little Big Town and others - all in one of the best concert settings ever.

OK, so sue us. We opted to miss the big show at the Coliseum again tonight. We're saving up for tomorrow evening, the grand finale of Fan Fair. Downtown for the late night action, we strolled Broadway - listening and looking. One thing about having Fan Fair downtown instead of at the old fair grounds, is the wonderful overflow of unrestricted, non-piped in music. Just stop at any door and listen and follow your ears. We checked out Tootsies and Legends. We entered The Stage, one of the clubs that line Broadway as Joe Nichols and his friends were leaving. We just missed his impromptu performance for the smallest audience he'd faced for the week. Two-thirds of our crew heads home to Wisconsin in the morning. Have a safe trip, Leah and Helen. You're gonna be missed!

Day 4
Today was the second official day of Fan Fair 2003, our fourth day on the run. Raring to go, we headed to Joe Nichols' Fan Club party at the Baldwin Showcase. What an interesting venue for the event! In one corner of the huge room, the band covered a raised platform, fronted by several hundred white wooden folding chairs. In the rest of the area, pianos of every kind and color had been moved aside to make way for the stage, the audience, and the fried chicken buffet. Nichols' rapport with his fans was very evident. As he emceed his party, he deftly and charmingly interspersed the music with question and answer banter with the audience. Every one of them was standing by the end of the show. That mellow voice wrapped around traditional country songs and packaged with personal warmth and natural charm propelled his first two major label singles to number one status. His is the story of how "overnight success" comes in Nashville. The twenty-six year old has been working the roads and going for his dream ever since his mid-teens.

On the way to the Convention Center, we stopped at Demos on 3rd Avenue for an excellent lunch special of Greek chicken spaghetti. As we stepped outside, a lucky fan had just stopped Richie McDonald and Dean Sams of Lonestar for a quick autograph as they headed down the sidewalk. The Convention Center was filled with fans waiting to endure long lines to see familiar faces and hoping to get an autograph of some future rising star. We did a double take as we ambled by the booth of Thom Shepherd, co-writer of "Riding With Private Malone." We stopped for a chat, a picture opportunity, and his new CD. Montgomery Gentry was in their booth signing autographs and posing for pictures. Nashville Star winner, Buddy Jewell, was in the Tower Records booth, and Lonestar had drawn a crowd to their area. The Great American Country (GAC) and Country Music Television (CMT) had an impressive line-up of artists scheduled to meet fans. Occasionally you'd here a loud whoop from one section of the center - the signal that a highly anticipated artist had arrived at the booth. There were plenty of stars to be seen!

Then came the rain as we exited the center. Some fans who braved the weather - and there were lots of them - attended CMT's Most Wanted Live at the Plaza outside the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Lonestar and Darryl Worley were the featured artists. Worley testified to the rigors of Fan Fair for the artist. Declaring that this year, his management had done better by him in scheduling Fan Fair. He only had to get up at 4 am and go to bed at 1 a.m. He revealed that he'd passed up a trip to Kuwait with the President to keep his commitment to his fans for the week.

Expecting another day with every minute filled, we headed back for some rest. Actually, we'll just have to confess that we wimped out on the Coliseum show because of the rain. Tomorrow we plan to leave bright and early to catch the fan club parties for Mark Wills, Tommy Shane Steiner, and Wild Horses, and the concerts at the Riverfront Stage. We are wishing for more hours in the day to fit in all of the great events that are being offered! Come back and see us tomorrow!

Day 3
Today, Fan Fair officially starts, and everywhere you go you see lanyard-wearing fans, cameras loaded, sunscreen ready. Though this year fans haven't yet been subjected to Nashville's infamous 90/90 (temperature/humidity) weather. Pleasant breezes, seventy-ish temperature, it's hot only if you're standing in the sun.

It was an early start again this morning for all of us as we went different directions. Keith Urban must still be on Australia time, since his fan club party started at 8:00 am at the Gibson Bluegrass Showcase. We weren't the only ones up early - nearly 500 fan club members were in attendance. urban delivered a high energy show as always, and then posed for photos with the fans.

The GAC (Great American Country Television) breakfast was held at one of the many medium-sized bars (holds 200) that dot the city; each one with its own form of a small stage. McHayes (the new duo of Mark McClurg and Wade Hayes) opened the show with a trio of songs, a question and answer session led by Suzanne Alexander (GAC personality), and a signing session. That format continued with the other rising star acts featured on the show. It's an up-close and personal event for the fans and the performers. Listening to Jimmy Wayne tell the life stories behind his songs brings tears. What a country music morning - that delightful mix of artists, fans, great music. And the breakfast was good, too!

The City of Hope Celebrity Softball Challenge was on the other side of town at Greer Stadium. It can be described in one word-HOT! This event has raised a tremendous amount of money to help millions of people with life-threatening diseases. Lorrie Morgan, Vince Gill, Montgomery Gentry, Sixwire, Sammy Kershaw, Joe Nichols, and John Michael Montgomery were just some of the artists displaying their athletic prowess. Chris Cagle made many plays from shortstop, while Ira Dean from Trick Pony kept the fans laughing from the dugout.

We nominate the Andy Griggs 3-D Archery Challenge, as the event we attended and would most like to have seen. With fans standing five-deep at the fence it was nearly impossible to see what was happening, even from the temporary bleachers. We did determine that 3-D meant that they were shooting at animal dummies and not bulls-eye targets. The equipment looked impressive and an occasional glimpse at an artist was impressive, too. But as for the winner, we'll have to wait to see who claims bragging rights. The trash talk for the week between Andy Griggs and Blake Shelton was heavy, but who knows, a rank amateur may have taken the prize. Anyway, we decided that after seeing Andy, Blake and Troy that we could skip the play-by-play action for a steak at Longhorn's.

No other Country Music Festival in the world has a roster of country artists with the magnitude of the Coliseum shows at Fan Fair. Sawyer Brown, referred to as the "Rolling Stones of country music" kicked off the first of the nightly shows. Other artists included Joe Nichols, Darryl Worley, Jessica Andrews, Vince Gill, Steve Azar, and more. The show wrapped up with a display of fireworks after four hours of great entertainment.

By this time, we were across the river and back downtown. It was Rippy's, a bar and restaurant on Broadway, that caught our eye. From across the street, we could see someone playing the stand up bass with lots of energy and animation. The place was packed, and the rockabilly band from Memphis called The Dempseys never slowed down.

Home for a few hours of sleep. Yes, it was the first official day of Fan Fair,but we've been at it for three days and we're fast approaching that state which we've dubbed, "Fan Fair Fried."

Today, Friday, we are planning to attend Joe Nichols' fan club party, catch some shows at the Riverfront Stages, and check out the exhibits and artist booths at the Convention Center. Look for another update tomorrow.

Day 2
Still feeling the effects of our long drive down, or our too late the night before, we pulled ourselves out of bed to head for Blake Shelton's early morning fan club party. Several of the fans, some from as far away as England, won autographed door prizes. The winners who really hooted won a pair of Shelton's jeans with his autograph on the back pocket!

Next stop - Darryl Worley's party at the Baldwin Showcase. The enthusiastic crowd of over 300 fans were on their feet as Worley closed his set with "Do You Remember?". Worley spoke with the fans as if they were all personal friends, talking about everything from his support of the military, to his mother's ordeal with cancer over the past year, to his new haircut and shave. Look for his next single, Tennessee River Run.

Hardly a breather and we were walking through the doors of Chris Cagle's party at The Trap. Cagle was on a limited time schedule since he was performing at CMT's 100 Greatest Hits show that evening. He vowed that any fan club members that he did not get a chance to spend some time with would have their meet-and-greet on his bus when the tour brought him to their area of the country. We wondered how many people went straight to the back of the meet-and-greet line!

With several options to choose from for the evening, we decided to go downtown to the Wildhorse Saloon for the ASCAP Live show. This month's show featured some definite talent, beginning with the great voice of 12 year old Ashley Gearing, recently signed with Lyric Street records. Next up was the "man band"- they are tired of being referred to as a "boy band"- Sixwire. What a bundle of energy! They had the whole place moving to their music. Bryan White closed the show by introducing several new songs from his soon to be released CD. One of the songs, The Little Things, was co-written by White when he found out he as going to be a father this coming November. Of course, the crowd would not let him go without singing a few of his old familiar hits.

We couldn't leave downtown without checking out the activity on Broad Street. Outside the legendary clubs where many well-known artists have gotten their start, a crowd gathered around four young men performing on the sidewalk. Brock, Spence, and their two friends were fresh, spontaneous, and definitely entertaining. Knowing we had a busy day on Thursday, we headed back to get some rest.

Today (Thursday) we are going to Keith Urban's fan club party, the GAC breakfast, the City of Hope Softball Game, the Andy Griggs Archery Tournament, the nightly concert at the Coliseum featuring Joe Nichols, Darryl Worley, Vince Gill, LeAnn Rimes, and more, then back downtown for some after hours activities. Wish you were here!

Day 1
We kicked off our Fan Fair week with the Trick Pony Fan Club Party at the Trap. The party was at least twice the size as last year's. They have vowed to have one of their musical heroes on each of their albums. Their debut album featured Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. Their sophomore album included Willie Nelson. They announced at the party that they will be asking Loretta Lynn to be a part of their third album. Also at the party, Ira Dean said that he thinks Waylon Jennings came back to life as a pelican. You'll have to wait for the write up for details on that!

After an afternoon of resting up for the full week ahead, we headed downtown to see what was going on. Even though it is still early in the week, the after hours venues were full. Wolfy's, who has great burgers by the way, had Bart Hanson on stage when we arrived. He sang with a traditional country sound and had a large gathering of people there to watch. Next up were the Mickeys. These sisters and their band played a variety of music, mostly from their debut CD to be released July 1st in Europe. Their voices sounded great together and they seemed to have chosen some good musicians to back them up.

Two days before Fan Fair and we're in high gear already. A very appreciative audience at the Ryman welcomed the many talented acts at the annual IFCO (International Fan Club Organization) Fun Fest. For the 36th time this stage exhibited some of country music's finest performers. Always a treat to attend this one, because you know you're going to see a mix of those who are big, have been big, or are going to be big.

Today (Wednesday), we will be heading out early to Blake Shelton's fan club party, then off to Darryl Worley's party, Chris Cagle's party, and John Berry's. Should be an interesting day!!

Pictures!

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