Last year more than 191,000 fans attended the CMA Music Festival, it’s biggest turnout ever.
With the 38th edition set to begin Thursday, Country Music Association (CMA) CEO Tammy Genovese says she is optimistic that despite the current recession, the 2009 festival can match last year’s results.
“The tracking that we see so far makes us optimistic that we will equal last year if the weather is good,” Genovese said. “We have some last-minute advertising that we’ll be announcing right up to the festival start, and I think that more people will be staying home this year, something that should help us. We’re getting strong reaction and response regionally, and we’ve been very blessed the way that so many people have embraced this event from the beginning to the present day.”
In addition to the countless mega country stars appearing, including Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, Brooks & Dunn, Julianne Hough, Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, Dierks Bentley, Carrie Underwood and more, there will be some new attractions this year, many of them designed both to open the festival to more people and emphasize its prominence as part of the city’s overall marketing and public relations/image. For example, a new, free stage on the Public Square in front of the Metro Courthouse will be known as the Music City Zone.
“This is a test of our initiative in working to make the CMA Festival more of a downtown showcase,” Genovese said in explaining this new showcase. “One thing that we’re constantly exploring involves ways of getting more ownership of the festival by the various local communities and more identification of the city in the minds of the public. This will be one of the first tests for us with this new zone.”
In addition, the CMA has waived all admission charges for the Daytime Stages on the river, the concerts from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. An array of stars that range from veterans and hall-of-famers like The Oak Ridge Boys and Bill Anderson to emerging stars such as James Otto and the Randy Rogers Band will appear.
A complete schedule for all performers on those shows, as well as a list of other free areas and all related festival information about parking, ticket prices, etc. is available online at CMAfest.com. At press time four-day tickets to the nightly shows at LP Field at the Gold Circle and Floor level were sold out, but tickets still remained at the lower level, club level, upper level, and upper level general admission.
A major plus for this year’s festival involves the return of six-time CMA winner Reba McEntire, who’s not only performing but will be among the artists meeting fans and signing autographs in the Greased Lightning Fan Fair Hall.
“We regularly try to reach out and get those artists who haven’t appeared at the festival for a long time, but we use a rotation system because the artists who play the festival are sacrificing very lucrative fees to appear free. We can’t expect people to do that every year,” Genovese said. “This year it works out well for Reba, because she’s got a new single and some other things, and it works out well for us because we get someone that all our fans really love and enjoy seeing.”
Festival organizers are making some strategic decisions with the riverfront shows.
“We’re tightening up the shows, and giving people the chance to see an act do 30-45 minutes of a show rather than just do two or three songs, then we bring out the next act,” she said. “ This is part of our overall campaign to expand this event and really get the local community more involved in it, and we’re very excited about the prospects.”
This year’s CMA festival conflicts with Bonnaroo, but Genovese says that’s not quite the big deal some would believe.
“Our dates are set years in advance and we work with the city to determine when we can present the festival that works best for everyone,” Genovese explained. “I think there have been a couple of other times when there was a conflict, but I really don’t think there’s that much crossover in terms of our audience and their audience.
“The real problem that we sometimes encounter deals with things like instruments and equipment, because two events of that scope really put a strain on the resources of the area in those departments.”
Genovese also touts the presence of ABC, the CMA’s television partner, as vital in helping expand the festival’s presence and growing the CMA brand around the world.
“When we made the switch [from CBS], we did it because ABC’s audience had better ratings and exposure with a younger demographic.”
Plus, ABC has expanded its coverage of the festival.
“That’s going to mean more spotlights on the city, more segments that show the interaction between the audience and the performer, and more time to highlight the music,” Genovese said. “ABC has really put their money on the table for us, they work with us, and they’ve greatly expanded our brand in the digital and online marketplaces.”
Genovese also acknowledged that to many area music fans, the event will always be called Fan Fair, and the concert’s history in that regard won’t be forgotten.
“The place where the fans get to meet and greet both the new names and the veteran stars carries the Fan Fair name,” Genovese said. “We’ll always honor and recognize Fan Fair, because that’s what’s made the CMA Music Festival what it is today.”