Like country music itself, the annual event known as Fan Fair has evolved from a down-home meet-and-greet to large-scale musical theater.
Fan Fair began in 1972 as a convention for music fans. Each year, the event grew as more and more people wanted to meet their country idols in person. Fans bought tickets months in advance, camped out at the state fairgrounds, and yearned to see, touch, and speak with the stars. Fan Fair delivered. Stars endured marathon autograph sessions — Garth Brooks famously spent 23 hours signing autographs without a bathroom break — and they performed to crowds of their most dedicated fans.
But country music’s remarkable boom of the 1990s was the end of that kind of Fan Fair — the music simply outgrew the event. Country music was no longer the step-child of the recording industry; it was corporate, and it was big business. Fans, politicians, and industry representatives tangled over the future of Fan Fair. One plan to move Fan Fair to the Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon was nixed because it would take the event out of Nashville.
In the end, the Country Music Association Music Festival replaced Fan Fair in 2000. With venues at Riverfront Park and LP Field, there is still plenty of music. Stars perform day and night. The autograph sessions continue in the Nashville Convention Center, but the artists you’ll find here are the unknowns and up-and-comings. You need an invitation to meet and greet the stars.
The rebirth of Fan Fair as the CMA Music Festival still attracts criticism, especially from those who remember the glory days of the old Fan Fair. But today’s fans delight in the modern event, and even some of the critics are coming around.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition