NASHVILLE — Ronnie
Milsap — who is blind — will umpire a softball game
played by country artists. Fans of Garth
Brooks are wondering whether their hero will show up
unannounced — as he did in 1996 — to sign autographs for 23
straight hours. Others look forward to a week of fan-club parties and
very little sleep.
This is Nashville's giddy season, when country fans from all over the
world pour into Nashville to sit in the sun, drink beer, eat barbecue,
and watch nonstop concerts by some of their favorite artists. Those same
artists will sit in gaudily decorated booths, sign autographs and pose
for pictures for hours on end.
Monday, for example, kicks off Fan Fair week, when fans and artists are
on equal footing and where the former — for a $90 ticket fee —
get four days of virtually nonstop music in addition to the fan-club
events and other ancillary happenings.
Media access was curtailed this year, after more than 600 sets of
credentials were issued. And, for the first time, there will be a
separate pressroom for Internet reporters and photographers.
This year marks the 29th Fan Fair gathering; it is also the year fans
and artists will say goodbye to the funky Tennessee State Fairgrounds,
near Music Row. This is the event's last year at the deteriorating
agricultural facility, where the daily barbecue lunches are served up in
the cattle barn by Texas' famed Chuck Wagon Gang caterers and iced tea
is poured from 50-gallon drums.
"We've outgrown it, and we need better facilities anyway," said Country
Music Association (CMA) Executive Director Ed Benson. The CMA runs the
annual affair, which grew out of the former Disc Jockeys' Convention.
When fans got wind of the wealth of artist appearances at the
convention, they started showing up uninvited.
Seating has been limited to the 22,000-or-so seats in the fairground's
speedway facility. And ticket sales have been off the last two years,
after the Opryland Theme Park — admission to which had been
included with the ticket — was closed, though Benson said response
is up this year. Tickets also include free admission to the Country
Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium and other attractions.
Benson said venues being considered for next year include Nashville's
new Adelphia Coliseum, downtown; the Gaylord Entertainment Center, also
downtown; and a new Nashville Superspeedway, which is being built
outside of town.
Although Fan Fair doesn't officially get under way until Monday morning,
with opening ceremonies at 9:45 a.m., Milsap will kick off the fair when
he throws out the first ball at Sunday's City of Hope charity softball
"I have watched sports my entire life, and to finally be able to
participate in a game is a real thrill for me. I can't imagine why no
one has asked me to do this before," Milsap said.
On Monday, country artists from Giant Records, Atlantic Nashville,
Warner Bros., Reprise, Asylum and Sony Music Nashville will perform.
Tuesday will see a lineup from Curb Records, Mercury Nashville and MCA
Wednesday's shows will have artists from Lyric Street Records,
DreamWorks Nashville, Arista/Nashville and the RCA Label Group.
Thursday's roster will feature artists from Virgin Nashville, Audium
Entertainment, Rounder Records and Step One Records. The day will also
feature performances by international country artists and a bluegrass
Thursday evening will conclude with the fan-voted TNN Music Awards,
telecast from the Gaylord Entertainment Center and hosted by comedian