NASHVILLE Confused faces, due mainly to parking problems, were in evidence as the 30th annual Fan Fair made its long-trumpeted debut Thursday at Adelphia Coliseum. It didn't take long, though, for the crowd to acclimate to the mammoth new location.
Fan Fair is country music's annual gathering where popular country artists make themselves available to their fans in a series of concerts, fan-club gatherings and autograph and photo opportunities.
While the Country Music Association declined to announce attendance figures until Monday, first-day attendance appeared to at least equal last year's turnout although the gathering of 20,000 or so may have seemed smaller in digs designed to seat 65,000.
Speaking at a press conference before the grand-opening ceremony, CMA executive director Ed Benson reiterated that Fan Fair's move from the state fairgrounds to downtown Nashville was the right choice. "We needed to reinvent it, rearrange it or just quit doing it," Benson said. "We quickly took 'just quit doing it' off the table."
One benefit of the move, Benson noted, is a much larger main stage. The new 13,000-squre-foot stage is divided into two areas, thus eliminating setup time between acts. Enormous video screens made every onstage action visible throughout the stadium.
The opening ceremony was surprisingly lackluster given the occasion's significance. The Tennessee Scots Pipe Band performed "Amazing Grace," a tune not usually noted for inciting festivity.
Bobby Jones and the Nashville Superchoir enlivened things with a medley of spirituals "I'll Fly Away," "Down by the Riverside" and "When the Saints Go Marching In." When Jones tried to engage the audience in a sing-along, the audience elected to fan itself instead.
Accompanied onstage by a color guard, Lee Ann Womack offered a subdued and respectful rendition of the national anthem, followed by a burst of fireworks.
"I heard the bombs going off and thought it was Travis Tritt and Montgomery Gentry cleaning their guns backstage," cracked Marty Stuart when he appeared a few minutes later to greet the crowd on behalf of the Country Music Foundation. Glancing up at the cloudless sky, he continued, "Welcome to the world's biggest honky-tonk without a roof."
In addition to daytime activities and events at Riverfront Stages and the Nashville Convention Center (where artists have their own autograph booths), nightly concerts will take place in the Coliseum. The Friday (June 15) show will feature Trace Adkins, Tracy Lawrence, Jo Dee Messina, Mindy McCready, Sawyer Brown and Trick Pony.
Saturday night's lineup is Gary Allen, Terri Clark, Vince Gill, Jamie O'Neal, Rascal Flatts, SheDaisy and Trisha Yearwood.
The Fan Fair concerts conclude Sunday with Tracy Byrd, Kenny Chesney, Sara Evans, Andy Griggs, Alan Jackson, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Lonestar, Martina McBride, Lorrie Morgan & Sammy Kershaw, Brad Paisley and Phil Vassar.