Heartland -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By CRYSTAL CAVINESS, United Press International  |  May 15, 2003 at 4:46 PM
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NASHVILLE, May 15 (UPI) -- Imagine gathering scores of country music entertainers and sitting them in front of more than 20,000 fans day after day to sing and sign autographs.

That scenario will take place June 5-8 at the 32nd Annual Fan Fair in Nashville, at what is billed as the "world's biggest country music festival."

"Fan Fair has more artists and more music performances than any other festival I know of," said Ed Benson, executive director of the Country Music Association, which organizes the event. "The interaction of the celebrity and fan in the exhibit hall (is unique). Also, it has proven to be a popular and safe type of event and a wholesome event. ... You often see kids, and their parents and their grandparents. Very few musical events turn out three generations of family."

The premise for the event is simple and primarily incorporates two separate activities: an exhibit hall set up with hundreds of booths, most created by fan clubs, where celebrities sign autographs; and musical performances at stages at both the Coliseum, home to the NFL's Tennessee Titans, and Riverfront Park, set on the banks of the Cumberland River.

Of course, many other activities coincide with Fan Fair, including fan club parties and celebrity charity events.

True to its trademark slogan, the biggest stars, along with legendary entertainers and ambitious newcomers, will be in town as country music fans from all over the world descend upon the downtown area of Music City.

Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney, Terri Clark, Alabama, Patty Loveless, Brad Paisley, Jo Dee Messina, Marty Stuart, Darryl Worley, Trick Pony, Pam Tillis, Charlie Daniels, Rhonda Vincent and Andy Griggs are among the celebrities slated to perform at concerts held from mid-morning until dark. In fact, according to Benson, the activities will likely take place around the clock during the long weekend.

In the Fan Fair After Hours program, Benson said, many area clubs, restaurants and merchants will extend their hours to accommodate fans once the concerts end at 11 p.m., creating additional recreational opportunities until the early hours of the morning.

In its 32nd year, Fan Fair has evolved from sweaty and frequently rainy days at the dusty Nashville Fairgrounds to a varied and more cosmopolitan event that incorporates a revitalized downtown area, including the Country Music Hall of Fame, Frist Center for the Arts and the beautiful multi-storied Nashville Public Library, all new structures within the past three years.

"The general setting downtown during the day with the Hall of Fame and the various shops has really changed the whole way the event looks and feels to people," Benson said. "Today the mixture of people who come is certainly a much younger crowd and much more into the music, which is a big change from the old days which skewed older."

The move in 2001 from the Fairgrounds to downtown has proven to be a positive one for not only the CMA, but the entire Nashville business community. In 2002, the event brought in $17.5 million, as compared with $11.5 million in 2000, the last year the event was held at the Fairgrounds, according to an independent study conducted by students at Middle Tennessee State University at Murfreesboro, Tenn.

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