When Brad Paisley turned up the swaggering chords on “Alcohol” just after midnight, he brought out Darius Rucker, Justin Moore and Chuck Wicks for an early-Monday finale to a CMA Music Festival that set some records for the downtown event.
For the first time in history, the Country Music Association sold out all the single-night tickets and the four-day passes for LP Field, meaning the NFL stadium — configured to seat about 49,000 people — could hold no more.
And while country fans might have wanted more, realistically they got plenty over the course of the festival, with wall-to-wall concerts and intense autograph signings, capped by Taylor Swift’s mammoth 14-1/2 hour scribbling frenzy at the Bridgestone Arena.
Particularly heartening to Nashvillians was the fact that the city could attract record numbers when the main attractions for the festival, LP Field and Riverfront Park, were soaked just six weeks ago when the Cumberland River rose over its banks and spilled into the surrounding area.
“This is more important than ever obviously, being what we’ve just been through as a city,” Brad said backstage. “When you drive around and go downtown and see this stadium and the surrounding area, it almost looks like nothin’ ever happened already. That was what I think we wanted to accomplish as a city. So that’s a big deal.”
The concerts were an endless parade of stars — Kid Rock, Kellie Pickler, Reba McEntire, Trace Adkins, Rascal Flatts and Martina McBride, just for starters. Plenty of acts made a point of meeting their fans for photos and autograph sessions; GAC’s exhibit-hall booth alone hosted more than 60 signing stars, including The Band Perry, Luke Bryan, Mark Wills, Emerson Drive, Lonestar, Love And Theft and Jo Dee Messina. CMA Fest also featured a number of benefit events and an array of fan-club parties that offered more intimate face time with the likes of Lady Antebellum, Josh Turner and Gary Allan.
Fans waited hours to meet their favorites, and they endured some scorching temperatures to take in the weekend’s music. The heat index reached 101 degrees on Saturday.
The fans’ dedication is part of the reason the event has lasted 39 years.
“It’s fan-driven,” Brad said. “It’s something that says thank you to all these people that are so loyal and such a different breed of fan from I think maybe any other form of entertainment.”
The 40th annual CMA Festival has already been slated for June 9-12, 2011.