Josh Turner answered questions
before the coliseum show. He
touched he's been
by the stories fans have shared
hit single, "Long Black
Train" and its influence
on their lives.
Billy Ray Cyrus responds to
reporter's questions at the
pre-concert press conference.
stated that this would
probably be the last year
popular TV show, "Doc."
He's looking forward to
a world tour.
I've attended the IFCO Shows in the past but this year was the first time I was able to go backstage at the world famous Ryman Auditorium. As a journalist you get rather desensitized to fame but to stand where Willie and Pasty and Minnie stood in the past, reminded me why I was drawn to this genre of music in the first place.
The air in the Ryman theatre is charged with electricity and you can feel the aura of greatness in the walls, the curtains, and the floor. From the wings of the stage you look out at the pews and up to the old church windows that filter the sun and send it down in a rainbow of colors across the balcony seats. You can look across the stage to the old WSM broadcast booth and imagine how it must have felt to be a performer there. It is also easy to close your eyes and picture folks gathering around their old radios at home, unaware that as they are entertained, they are also witness to an incredible, musical history. Or look down at the front rows and imagine sitting there as Patsy Cline belted out a new song that Willie had just written for her while they were sitting at the bar in Tootsie's, waiting to go on the Opry show.
The Ryman is an awe-inspiring place to be and as I listened to Robert K. Oermann introduce Loudilla, Loretta and Kay, affectionately known around the world as the Johnson sisters, I wondered how many people realize what a valuable contribution they have made (and continue to make) in the preservation and promotion of country music, in fact, all music.
- The Johnson Sisters (Right): Loretta, Loudilla, Kay with
Cheryl's husband Christopher pictured at their booth in the
These three, beautiful, unimposing, gracious ladies really started this whole fan fair type thing with the International Fan Club Organization (IFCO). Marjie McGraw, a Nashville Lifestyles journalist wrote a few years ago that the sisters are "the perfect anecdotes to a corporate world where music is scored on accounting ledgers and hype outweighs heart." If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting the Johnson sisters, you know this is so true. But despite having a history of their own that easily rivals some of the biggest names in Nashville, they remain unassuming, gentle souls (albeit with an outrageous sense of humor and always at the ready for mischief). As co-presidents of IFCO, the only fan club monitoring organization in the world, they have been the dedicated voice of the fans, and the artists, for thirty-seven years. They are the glue that binds the many facets of this industry together.
What began as a hobby back in 1963 has led them down a marvelous, musical path through history. Not only the history they witnessed but history they helped make. IFCO now monitors over three hundred fan clubs, including those of some of the biggest names in music. Being validated by IFCO is a first step in the right direction for any artist.
In 1968, four years before the first Fan Fair, the sisters held the first annual IFCO Show. It wasn't just a showcase for the artists, it was also a chance for the fans to meet their favorite artists and get an autograph. They've come a long way since then and have managed to keep pace with their peers while always putting the desire of the fans first. They were also one of the first music related businesses to claim an address on the World Wide Web. Today, they maintain an impressive data base and a website with, literally, thousands of pages. They have also expanded their support base to include all genres of music and other modes of entertainment.
The Johnson sisters are such an integral part of the country music industry and the concept that has grown to be called CMA
Music Fest/Fan Fair can be traced back to these three utterly disarming, totally charming, wildly-whacked-out, funny, unassuming, promotional genius's. They are the Yin to Nashville's Yang. If you have ever been fortunate enough to meet them, you know exactly what I mean. They are also an enigma in the sense that as they promote towards the future, they are fervent keepers of the past. They are truly
Nashville treasures and some would argue that they already qualify, by their contributions to the preservation and support of country music around the world, as
This year's show was an eclectic gala headlined by Tracy Byrd and Mark Wills. The two hour extravaganza also included (alphabetically) Deborah Allen, Brad Cotter, Cowboy Crush (they were awesome), Andy Griggs, Brian McComas, Craig Morgan, Michelle Poe, Rushlow and Josh Turner.
If you missed the 37th Annual IFCO Show, you missed out on more than just entertainment and if you are looking for the true heart of country music -- look no further than Loudilla, Loretta and Kay -- the incredible Johnson sisters.
For a detailed history of IFCO and information on all IFCO artists:
I’m the only one of the CSO staff that is Nashville based (born and bred, as they say), but I’ve lived other places and those experiences have helped me know and love my hometown. I enjoy showing it off and most of my out-of-town friends have had to endure one of my two-bit, four-bit or six-bit tours of the city. But at no time do I relish being here any more than during Fan Fair.
There are great musical experiences everywhere and what aces it for me are the friends who come to town to enjoy those experiences. Some who stayed in my home this year have weathered several Fan Fairs with me. And I use the word “weathered” advisedly. The week is notorious for alternately drenching and searing the crowds. This year we added some drama to the weather mix with emergency evacuations of venues when strong thunder and lightening storms raced through the area.
Years ago, the weather caused us to originate the phrase “Fan Fair Fried.” When the event was held at the old fair grounds, where long lines to the artist’s booths had to wind around the outside of the building, you could measure fan devotion by the depth of the sunburn. Now for us, it’s become a term that means near mental and physical exhaustion, but in a fun way. And since we cover fan club parties and shows before the event, we’re usually “Fan Fair Fried” by the first official day and “Fan Fair Cindered” by the time the last guitar chord has been plucked. But we love it!!
As well as welcoming back old friends, it’s tremendous fun for me to meet new “old” friends – the ones that I’ve developed a relationship with through e-mail. We’ve linked together through common interest in an artist, and this is our chance to meet face to face. It usually goes, “Are you going to be at such and such’s party or at this show?” Corporate boards don’t have any harder time trying to make schedules mesh than do busy Fan Fair goers. Something usually works out and getting together adds to the delight of the week.
This year was my first time to be assigned to the media center for interviews with a variety of artists during the official four days of Fan Fair. Did I say variety? The stars were as varied as were the stories. We heard newcomer singer-songwriter Glenn Cummings tell about his young daughter sharing the song in her head with him. What a tender moment! Restless Heart’s Paul Gregg and Dave Innis told of restoring their friendship and their musical destinies after an explosive blow-up that broke-up the band years ago. And I could have listened for hours to Chely Wright tell Minnie Pearl stories.
You wouldn’t expect Duke, the Bush bean dog, to share any secrets, but Jay Bush was glad to tell us the story of Duke’s rise to stardom. And we won’t keep it a secret that Jay Bush is a charmer of the Southern gentleman variety.
Another first for me was attending the press conference held at the Coliseum nightly before the big show. Schedules for the week limited me to one; I wish I could have attended more.
Brad Paisley talked about how unique Fan Fair is, that it could happen in no other musical genre. He spoke of the special relationship between country music artists and their fans. He‘d just come from his fan club party. Of the 400 there, he estimated that he could call 200 of them by name, that they’d been there for him the whole 5 years.
Billy Ray Cyrus brought the cast of Doc to the pressroom with him. They laughed about the cast’s first experiences in Nashville when they were rookies to Fan Fair. He cautioned them that they might walk easily down the streets of Toronto, but here they were likely to draw a crowd. Sure enough, Andrea Robinson (Nurse Nancy Nichol) had to be rescued from a swarm of fans.
The Mavericks were fresh from “touring mode.” The re-configured band, fronted by lead singer Raul Malo, had just returned from Europe. Their newest album, self-titled and on the Sanctuary label entered the market last September.
Cyrus stated how much he loved making music, and that he was planning a world tour after the shooting of Doc was no longer the major part of his calendar. Cyrus’ penned 8 of the 10 songs for his next musical project, an album titled Left-handed.
Montgomery Gentry talked about their continuing awe for Hank Williams, Jr, and how they’re looking forward to being on the road again with Brooks and Dunn. Eddie cracked up when he talked about how he donned a costume that included a long dark wig and a cowboy hat to enter the Wrangler Exhibit Hall as fictitious country artist, “Josey Wales.” He made the rounds of several booths, taunting and teasing his friends, until “security threw me out.” Reportedly, only one artist, Buddy Jewell, recognized him under the disguise.
Later, when I exited the Coliseum to the parking lot on the side of the river, the beauty of the city at night struck me. The new pedestrian bridge was illuminated and gleaming like silver, the well-lit shapes of the buildings on the far side of the river created a distinctive skyline, and music hummed up and down the canyons of the streets. It was awesome. Forgotten were the frustrating road construction delays, the little butterflies in my stomach before each interview, and the nights with too little sleep. I stopped to look and to revel in my city!
For me this year’s Fan Fair was a wonderful mix of new experiences and old friends - like it always is. I can’t wait for next year!!
During the long drive back to Wisconsin from Nashville, I had a lot of time to think about what is it about Fan Fair that brings me back year after year? I thought it was the same thing that draws every fan from every corner of the world; after all, Nashville is the official home of country music and the CMA Fest/Fan Fair is Country Music’s biggest and best party. But after many miles of driving, and a lot of thought, I decided that isn’t it at all – at least not for me.
Fan Fair affords you a rare opportunity to spend a few hours at the intimate fan club parties throughout the week. Looking at my itinerary — Keith
Urban, Trick Pony, Darryl Worley, Joe Nichols and Chris Young's fan club parties started our week. Ty Herndon, Trace Adkins and Buddy
Jewell’s parties finished it. The fan club parties are definitely my favorite part of Fan Fair and I just realized that the reason for that is because this is where I am most emotionally connected to this business. I’ve been fortunate to work with some truly great artists as they climbed up the ladder of success and it is always nice to see them again -- the fan club parties give me the opportunity to do that.
I am also always on the look-out for the next super star. This year it was newcomer Chris Young who won us over with his incredible talent, professionalism and charming good looks. Being around him reminded me of a Fan Fair seven years ago when I was saying the same things about a handsome unknown by the name of Joe Nichols. I will never forget the hours shared with Joe and his friend, guitarist Brian Spradlin, as they sat in the living room singing song after song and we prayed for a label, any label, to give him a shot.
I guess I just answered my own question about what keeps me coming back to this gig year after year. Getting close to Joe Nichols these days takes some real maneuvering. He only has time for a quick wink of recognition and a wave as the industry people surrounding him rush him towards the bus without allowing anyone near him. But that's okay. I have my memories and I can tell people as we sit around talking about brushes with fame that I consider Joe Nichols a friend and I know that he feels the same. So, for me, the neatest thing about Fan Fair is the chance to discover the next Joe Nichols, Wild Horses or Daniel Lee Martin – all dear friends, and magnificent artists, discovered in previous years.
This year I wasn’t alone in my superstar discovery. Chris Young struck a pronounced chord with every member of the CSO staff and I realized as I am writing this that I actually do come to Fan Fair to find a new artist that I can get excited about. Someone who already shines like a star but can use a little support getting into orbit.
I want to encourage everyone to take notice of the unknown artist singing on a stage in a club downtown, the artist singing for tips on a street corner, or the new artist with no line at their booth in the Wrangler Exhibit Hall. Do yourself a favor and stop and introduce yourself. Remember, the artists with the long lines this year were all very approachable before fame gobbled them up.
As I drove home, I wondered how many years it will be before Young sees me from the stage and only has time for a quick wink of recognition and a wave as the people surrounding him rush him towards the bus without allowing anyone near him. That's okay. I'll smile and feel a wash of nostalgia as I call up my memories of Fan Fair 2004 and my discovery of him and those memories will be stored right along side my Fan Fair 1997 memories of discovering Joe Nichols.
At the Fan Fairs in future years, I hope you will remember what I've written and
discover your own next superstar. There is no greater feeling than sitting in the audience before a major artist appears on stage in front of thousands of people and being able to say, “I knew them when….” There is also no greater reward than knowing that, in your own small way, you helped them get there.