Steppin’ Back in Time…Fan Fair at the Fairgrounds

Time for your history lesson again!  After growing exponentially in the 1980s, Fan Fair (the old name for the CMA Music Festival) became so big that it was moved to the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in 1982 to accommodate more fans.   Not long after, Patty Loveless swung by Vince Gill’s booth at the 1985 Fan Fair for an autograph and picture with him.  Though she wasn’t a star yet, she told Vince she would be soon.  And boy was she right!  Just two years later, Vince was singing on Patty’s debut album, and she went on to win CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year in 1996.   

Coming full circle -- After getting Vince's autograph in 1985, Patty takes a turn at giving autographs in 1990.

Coming full circle -- After getting Vince's autograph in 1985, Patty takes a turn at giving autographs in 1990.

At the 1988 event, complete darkness from a power failure didn’t keep George Strait from seeing fans and signing 1,500 autographs.  A few years later, another trooper was Kathy Mattea, who, despite under strict orders from her doctor not to talk during the 1991 Fan Fair due to injured vocal cords, was determined to interact with her fans, and did so via personal computer.    

Kathy Mattea wasn't able to sing for the Fan Fair crowd in 1991, but here she is rockin' it in 1990.

Kathy Mattea wasn't able to sing for the Fan Fair crowd in 1991, but here she is rockin' it in 1990.

One of the most famous Fan Fair moments belongs to Mr. Garth Brooks.  In 1996, he made an unexpected appearance during Fan Fair’s 25th anniversary and signed autographs for more than 23 consecutive hours.  Yes, I said consecutive.  No bathroom breaks.  No food.  Just Garth, a Sharpie, some water, and the love of his fans.    

Here is Garth Brooks with fans at Fan Fair’s 25th Anniversary.

Here is Garth Brooks with fans at Fan Fair’s 25th Anniversary.

Fan Fair returned downtown in 2001 occupying The Coliseum (now known as LP Field), The Nashville Convention Center, and even the banks of the Cumberland River as venues for the now four-day event.    

The crowd in 2001 at the banks of the Cumberland River, one of the newly introduced concert venues.

The crowd in 2001 at the banks of the Cumberland River, one of the newly introduced concert venues.

Over the years, Fan Fair has tapped an even more diverse audience by bringing in Lance Bass of *NSYNC, Verne Troyer who was “Mini Me” in the “Austin Powers” film series, and Teresa Earnhardt, widow of racing legend Dale Earnhardt.   

Do you have any favorite memories or funny stories from this era of Fan Fair?  We’d love to hear ‘em!   

-Merrill

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3 Responses to Steppin’ Back in Time…Fan Fair at the Fairgrounds

  1. Karla Hale says:

    It is nice to remember the good days at the fairgrounds. But what this whole site needs is some up to date information on this years ” fan Fair” and I still call it fan fair. Usually by now there is a site where we can find out who plays what night. Some list for who is in the booths and who is at Riverfront. Also we have parade…do we still have the stage in front of Sommet. Please give us some info so we can plan our week. As is this site is useless to us!

    • Cory Chapman says:

      Karla- Actually we hadn’t made the first talent announcement or launched CMAfest.com until mid-March last year. We’re WAY ahead. Stay tuned for the details on the Fan Fair Hall exhibitors, the parade and the Sommet Center stage. All is coming, I promise!

  2. Cindy Fleming says:

    Let’s get JOE NICHOLS invited to perform at the LP Field this year. He should be performing there EVERY year. He’s an incredible entertainer and clearly the most talented vocalist around.

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