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Lambert, McEntire, Paisley Reflect on CMA Fest Memories

Posted by Kristina Carrodeguas on 06/10/2010
Brad Paisley on Austin City Limits
Nothing will keep Country Music fans out of Nashville for this year’s CMA Music Festival. But not too long ago, some of our favorite performers were still hopefuls watching from the crowds and waiting in lines for autographs.
Miranda Lambert remembers her first trip to LP Field in Nashville. She wasn’t front row, but she got as close as she could. "I used to come as a fan, on family vacation," she said. "Now it's all about the fans. We'll rock for them because they're awesome and dedicated."
Jimmy Wayne was also a diehard fan before he became a CMA Fest performer. "I drove in from North Carolina in an old pickup truck, it had an engine block in the back and a bicycle just in case the truck broke down," Wayne remembered. "I pulled into my friend's driveway, and he said, 'Let's go to Fan Fair.' Back then it was at the fairgrounds, and I remember standing there as a spectator watching the artists on stage, and saying to myself, 'One day I hope to be up there playing.' It was always a dream of mine. And 11 years later, I got to stand on stage for the first time and play before 60,000 people."

Reba McEntire began participating in CMA Fest when it was held at the Tennessee Fairgrounds and has seen the Festival undergo major changes. "Air conditioning is the main difference, to not sweat," she said. "These days, I can wear long sleeves and be very comfortable. It never ceases to amaze me, the dedication of a Country Music fan. They always come up with something for me to go, 'Wow. Now why would you do that?' But they've always been there, they are sweet."

Sara Evans started out at the Festival while still an up-and-coming artist. "There were two or three Fan Fairs when I was just praying that somebody would stop for an autograph," she recalled. "In this business I have never taken anything for granted, so the fact that the people are here and are excited is great. The fans always make me feel like a princess, so being at Music Fest and signing autographs and performing is awesome."

Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry of Montgomery Gentry look forward to June every year for a reunion with friends. Montgomery noted, "This is the only genre of music period where we don't call then fans, we call them friends. Nashville opens up and you're among your friends and it's one hell of a party. People plan their vacations to be here during Music Fest and it's totally awesome."

Brad Paisley was another of the artists who came to the event as a fan first. "I used to visit Nashville during Fan Fair, I came down a few times before I had real reason to be here to watch. It's a great event. It's come a long way since Fan Fair of '99, which was the first time I played, back before anyone knew who I was. It's interesting to see it evolve. Last year, I did a performance at a club downtown, and the crowd was young and excited, and it felt like the festival was young and new, and that was a good feeling."

Luke Bryan remembered the physical toll his autograph sessions had on him. "The first year I wasn't busy enough to get run down, but that second year, by the end of the first day, I felt like I had been in a marathon! My voice was gone and I felt terrible. Last year I was a little more prepared and even though it was ten times busier than both the other years put together, I understood my endurance and I had a chance to really enjoy it. I just ... jump into the whole week and get with the fans and just have a good time."

CMA Music Fest officially began Thursday morning. To see a schedule of Friday's events, click here.