by S. Parks
since Paul McCartney played here in 1975, concerts have been the
centerpiece of the CMA Fest.  Every honky tonk in Music City hosted an
artist of a notoriety to match the size of the venue, artists who will
one day move up to the main stages after an incredible amount of dues
Larger concerts were held at the
Wildhorse Saloon with Darius Rucker and Luke Bryan while Rodney Atkins
thrilled the crowd on an outdoor stage.  The line was long for the
Wynonna and Lonestar show at 3rd and Lindsley and the 9th Annual Stars
for Second Harvest Benefit Concert rocked the Ryman Auditorium with hit
songwriter Craig Wiseman who welcomed Florida Georgia Line with Nelly,
Ronnie Dunn and the remarkable singer/songwriter Sarah Buxton who stole
the show with “Stupid Boy“, her composition for Keith Urban.  A few
blocks away, artists by the dozen, including Steel Magnolia and Bo Bice,
played the main stage at the Hard Rock Café during the week long
The celebration concert for the
issuance of the Johnny Cash postage stamp was a treat for early risers
with a morning show at the Ryman Auditorium, the mother church of
country music.  It starred Mel Tillis, Marty Stuart, Jamey Johnson, The
Roys, Randy Travis, John Schneider, Larry Gatlin and the Oak Ridge Boys.
Cash‘s daughter, Kathy,  spoke of how her father would be proud of the
honor as he loved to write and mail letters.
the elegant Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the HGTV network had
constructed an air-conditioned Lodge to be home to an intimate and busy
concert schedule, which is, after all, what they specialize in doing on
HGTV.  Big Machine artists Brantley Gilbert, Thomas Rhett and Florida
Georgia Line were among artists enjoying the venue with fans during the
festival.  Lisa Marie Presley, Luke Bryan, The GooGoo Dolls, Little Big
Town and many more enjoyed meeting fans who were lucky enough to have
tickets as hundreds more waited in the “hopefuls“ line.  
Grand Ole Opry became the scene of a welcome-home party for country
sweetheart, Kellie Pickler, upon her return from winning TV‘s “Dancing
with the Stars” competition.  She was joined by her dance partner, Derek
Hough, before an entire audience holding up their number “ten” score
paddles, indicating the judges’ points from the show. 
Kellie, Kree Harrison, the most recent American Idol alumnus, made her
Opry debut, joined by Keith Urban.  He commented that, when he was a
judge on the show, he would close his eyes and imagine her singing at
the Opry – now it’s a dream come true for her.  Lennon and Maisy from
the ABC TV show “Nashville“, Ricky Skaggs, Diamond Rio, Bill Anderson
and Rascal Flatts were on the bill as well. 
Friday, the Grand Ole Opry celebrated Carrie Underwood’s fifth year as a
member, having been inducted by Garth Brooks in 2008.  After covering
Loretta Lynn’s fiftieth anniversary with the Opry only a few months ago,
it is easy to visualize Carrie with the same honor four decades from
The official CMA Fest stages spanned the
downtown area, covering a three mile radius, much to the exhaustion of
fair-goers.  Stages in the Fan Fair X autograph signing area showcased
numerous artists including Lady Antebellum, Craig Morrison and dozens
more. The Transitions Performance Park Stage, across from the Country
Music Hall of Fame, had a line-up which included Danielle Peck, Due
West, The Cleverlys, Holly Williams, Chad Warrix and a special
appearance by Festival veterans, the Marshall Tucker Band, with a
special delight – “Can’t You See”. 
The Bud
Light Stage outside the Bridgestone Arena, where the CMT Awards were
held a few days earlier, hosted some of the finest country music has to
offer.  Artists included the LoCash Cowboys, Pam Tillis and Lorrie
Morgan, Krystal Keith, Emerson Drive, Lauren Alaina, Robin Meade, Bucky
Covington and star singer/songwriter Rose Falcon, co-writer of “Give in
to Me” from the film “Country Strong”, played to huge crowds. 
next concert stop was the Riverfront Stage, where the fans were
overjoyed with the comfortable weather rather than the usual high temps
and baking sun.  Joe Nichols, Phil Vassar, Craig Campbell, Casey James,
Darryl Worley, Jerrod Niemann, David Nail, The Grascals, Love &
Theft, Gloriana, Maggie Rose, Colt Ford, Gretchen Wilson, Lonestar,
Ronnie Milsap and more left the huge crowd on the banks of the
Cumberland River screaming for more. 
And, of
course, there was more, indeed.  The Fan Alley acoustic stage welcomed
favorites such as Eric Lee Beddingfield, Striking Matches, Carolyn Dawn
Johnson, and, Ireland’s charmer, Pete Kennedy, 2012 British Music Award
The Buckle Stage on Broadway brought
us dozens more  singer/songwriters to surprise the visitors with songs
they know well but had no idea who had written them.  One of the most
refreshing was the performance of showman J. T. Harding, a co-writer of
Uncle Kracker’s “Smile”, who has been collecting Number One honors in
the industry.  
Before sunset on each of the
four days, after the numerous stages had put their sound systems to bed
for the evening, over 60,000 people walked, drove, or shuttled over the
river to LP Field for the nightly superstar spectaculars – if they were
lucky enough to have a ticket to the sold-out events.  Not that long
ago, the actual “Superstar Spectaculars” were held on the Grand Ole Opry
stage with such stars as Loretta Lynn, Trace Adkins, Jack Greene, Tammy
Wynette, Pam Tillis, LeAnn Rimes and dozens more on each evening of Fan
Fair.   (See also “CMA Fest Concerts at LP Field – With Surprises” by
S. Parks)

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