Sunday, June 12, 2011

Weekend adds to CMA Music Festival feel

By Lucas Hendrickson, Special for USA TODAY

NASHVILLE — Saturday at the CMA Music Festival always seems to take on a different feel, as Nashville’s regular downtown denizens have finished their workweek and the festival-goers truly take over. Music echoes constantly from block to block as eight different stages open to the public feature artists all day long. Newcomers and familiar faces alike are found on stages, in autograph booths, and sometimes in impromptu meetups, with fans’ point-and-shoot cameras further illuminating the already sunny Middle Tennessee afternoon.

Scotty McCreery poses for a portrait
before performing at the CMA Music
Festival. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)
Idol country: As expected, some of the biggest buzz surrounded country’s newest ambassadors, American Idol’s top two finishers Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina. (Check out a recap of their CMA Fest experience, including exclusive comments from the USA TODAY portrait room, at From this reporter’s observation, McCreery brought about the most extended individual freakout witnessed in 10-plus years of covering the event. After exiting the autograph line at the Idolwinner’s appearance in Fan Fair Hall Friday afternoon, a teenage girl walks over to her waiting family, very quietly says, “I got his signature” once before shrieking the phrase at the top of her lungs four more times and then breaking down in tears. That, dear reader, is a fan.

Always on the calendar: For Rascal Flatts, CMA Fest is frequently the tentpole around which so much of their year revolves. “We finish a tour somewhere around March or April, and then try to head back out for the summer tour after this week,” says vocalist Gary LeVox. “So this is always in the plan, and it’s one of the most exciting times of the year for us.” Bandmate Jay DeMarcus mentioned the event’s changing role in exposing fans to new acts, especially in the music business’ changing and challenging times. “Because it’s so much more difficult to get songs on the radio or sell records, people can go out, hit it hard and do a great show and win new fans here,” DeMarcus says. Meanwhile, given their presence within an NFL stadium, the Flatts got to thinking that the current league labor situation is causing some to consider career changes. “We’re hearing that (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell just got a label deal,” Joe Don Rooney quips. Counters LeVox: “He and (Tennessee Titans owner) Bud Adams are forming a band and replacing Brooks & Dunn.”

Truly touched: No one would’ve begrudged Trace Adkins for a moment if he had not appeared at CMA Fest, given the fire that destroyed his family home June 4, while he was on the road in Alaska. The gritty-voiced superstar, whose presciently titled new album Proud To Be Here releases Aug. 2, turned first to his family to make sure they were taken care of before figuring out the professional side. “All my girls are incredibly strong women and I knew that I was OK to fulfill all my obligations.” Meanwhile, Adkins remains visibly touched and humbled by the interaction with fans throughout the weekend. “They’ve been wonderful,” Adkins says. “Country music fans are the best fans in the world, and just the outpouring of generosity and sympathy and well-wishes has just been overwhelming.”

Give country a chance: Even though she has been through the roller-coaster rides of both Hollywood and Broadway, Kristin Chenoweth knows that the challenge for any newcomer hoping to make an impact on country fans is authenticity. So while she has been in and out of Nashville over the past year, working with world-class songwriters and musicians on her upcoming country debut (not to mention serving as a judge on the recently completed CMT’s Next Superstar), she hopes fans recognize this career move has been a long time coming. “I’m really not out to prove anything, I’ve just wanted to do this kind of record for 20 years,” Chenoweth says. “Not everybody knows this is how I grew up singing, so hopefully my fans, even if they’re not country music fans, they’ll say, ‘I wonder why she’s doing that,’ and they’ll come listen.”

Imagine what they could’ve done with a full minute: With an event consisting of as many moving parts as the nightly CMA Fest concerts, plans change. When USA TODAY was told that Lady Antebellum didn’t have a ton of time for a backstage portrait shoot, the photo team positioned the trio on two sets and captured 31 frames in a shooting time of 38 seconds. Says Charles Kelley, as the group ran back out the door: “Man, I wish they could all be like that!”

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