“Only In America”

Posted by Kevin Lorance on 02/24/2008
Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn, speaking at a business breakfast in Nashville the other day, said that all the country artists who’ve been performing at the CMA MusicFest event for free are going to need to be paid for such performances in coming years.  Some say Kix just voiced what’s been whispered for years, but could this be the beginning of “The Long Goodbye”?
Brooks says that the point of his comment is that for the festival to continue to be successful on the same level as ones like the Houston Livestock Show, attracting artists will require paying them.  Brooks says that maybe some of the sponsors of the event can pitch in to foot the bill.  The event is definitely a boon for the Nashville tourist industry.  The Country Music Association (CMA), the prominent event sponsor, does donate funds to support music programs in Nashville public schools.  Last year’s donation was a little over $600,000, which is reported to be ½ the net proceeds generated.  The least expensive tickets for the festival, formerly known as Fan Fair, are just a little north of $100.

At the same time, Brooks says that artists give up a considerable amount of income to appear at the CMA Music Festival for free, since the June event is during a hot touring season.  Meanwhile, similar Country Music events such as The Stagecoach in California do pay artist for their performances.  Please keep in mind though that the CMA MusicFest is more than the nightly concerts under a “Neon Moon”.  It also features highly-anticipated autograph sessions with the Country stars, daytime riverfront concerts, fireworks, fun zones, sport zones, “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”, and more. 

Are the artists being greedy?  Are the event sponsors greedy?  Is the CMA greedy?  I don’t have a clue, but I’m sure there will be a lot of healthy debate about this.  CMA President Tammy Genovese says that, taken out of context, Kix’s complaint paints an inaccurate picture of the festival situation.  And we have to believe her because “She’s Not The Cheatin’ Kind”.

The one thing everyone needs to keep in mind is that this is for the fans.  Country music fans are some of the most loyal fans in all of music, and the main reason why this annual festival was called Fan Fair when it started.  It is a way of saying thank you to them, without it costing the fans an arm and a leg to attend.  Thankfully Brooks did not say, “let’s raise the ticket prices!”

What I do know is that, up until now, if you asked me about the CMA MusicFest, I’d say “It’s Getting Better All The Time”.  But Kix Brooks' comments have cast a cloud over the festival, at least here in Nashville.  The different parties involved haven’t taken off the gloves yet, but there’s some finger-pointing going on already.  It’s hard to know who to “Believe”.

This is all a little strange for an established event that the country music artists have always said they love because they can thank their loyal fans.  After all, “That’s What It’s All About”.

So it seems the best thing to do is for CMA and the local Nashville tourist industry to figure out a way to pay each artist some money, or donate it to an artist’s favorite charity.  And let’s bury the issue as quickly as possible.  Or else this thing could end up “South of Santa Fe”.

Of course, speaking of playing for free, remember you could “play” at this year’s CMA MusicFest for free, as CountryHound.com, Goo Goo Candy, and Southwest Airlines are bringing two lucky fans to the Nashville festival, all expenses paid. 

So you can take some comfort that fans still like to “play” at CMA MusicFest for free!