Heartland -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By CRYSTAL CAVINESS, United Press International
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NASHVILLE, June 13 (UPI) -- The weather gives it away. Fan Fair is in town.

The 31st Annual Fan Fair, billed as the world's largest country music festival, has gotten underway in Nashville -- complete with concerts, fan club parties and meet-and-greet opportunities galore through Sunday for more than 20,000 die-hard fans.


In what has become a typical Fan Fair forecast, the mercury is reaching into the 90s, with an occasional rain shower, just enough to keep the humidity at an insufferable level.

But, also in typical Fan Fair manner, there is no complaining, just hoards of T-shirt-clad tourists with cameras and smiles waiting for a glimpse of their favorite stars.

The Fan Fair fun began with the CMT Flameworthy Video Music Awards, a twist on what had been the TNN/Country Weekly Music Awards, with fan-voted winners.

Favorites Kenny Chesney, the Dixie Chicks and Martina McBride took home the top honors in this video awards show.

Even before the official Fan Fair opening, many people traveled to Nashville earlier in the week. Because of that, country music artists held additional activities in the days leading up to the Fan Fair kick-off.


Chely Wright held her second annual benefit for her Reading, Writing & Rhythm Foundation on June 11. Fans helped her raise more than $100,000 for public school music education. Gary Allan, Steve Azar, Diamond Rio, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Tommy Shane Steiner, Cyndi Thomson and Keith Urban all performed during the concert at Nashville's Wildhorse Saloon.

In an auction, roundtrip airfare to Nashville and dinner with Wright earned $7,200, while a Wright-guided tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame brought $4,200.

Fan Fair is filled with surprises, typically for the fans. Sometimes, however, the stars get surprised too.

During the Reading, Writing and Rhythm Foundation benefit, Wright was shocked when Loretta Lynn walked onto the stage of Nashville's Wildhorse Saloon to serenade her with "Coal Miner's Daughter." At the middle of the song, actress Sissy Spacek, who won an Academy Award for portraying Lynn in the 1980 film Coal Miner's Daughter, joined them onstage. The three women finished the classic song together.

"I can die now," Wright said, "I can absolutely die."

In an ever-evolving format to please the crowd, this year's event is more family-focused than ever. A "Family Zone" will feature entertainment, such as a petting zoo, inflatable rides and characters from the popular public television series "Between The Lions." The game show "Wheel Of Fortune" will also be on-hand Friday and Saturday to audition contestants for an upcoming "Wheel of Fortune's Country Music Week," where a game show participant will be paired with a country music artist.


Of course, Fan Fair is really about country music, which will be plentiful. Nightly concerts at Adelphia Coliseum will feature the biggest stars, from Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn, Toby Keith and George Jones.

Other shows throughout the downtown area will feature just about everybody, from future Fan Fair superstars, such as BNA's Kellie Coffey, to classic entertainers such as Connie Smith and Johnny Lee.

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