June 15, 2009 — When Kenny Chesney pumped out the final notes of "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" at Nashville's LP Field sometime around 12:40 a.m. Monday, tens of thousands of fans trudged back to their cars or hiked back across the bridge to their downtown hotels — many of them planning early-morning trips to the airport.
As they leave the annual CMA Music Festival, they'll take home autographs, sunburns, photographs and a whole lot of memories. The festival, which officially began Thursday, had plenty of lead-in events going back as far as last Monday. That made for a lot of time to hit late-night music clubs, meet stars during the day and catch wall-to-wall concerts, climaxed by the nightly shows at the Tennessee Titans' NFL stadium .
Even with a three-hour rain delay on opening night, the evening shows alone presented 140 songs by 28 artists, including Trace Adkins, Reba McEntire, Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean and the Zac Brown Band. And that was just a starting point. Multiple stages churned out music each afternoon, downtown clubs offered bonus late-night shows, an exhibit hall gave fans an opportunity to meet their favorites in person, fan club parties presented exclusive bonus performances and plenty of auctions, benefits and star-related sports events filled the calendar.
"Only country music could get away with this," Brad Paisley said in the press room, according to Dial-Global. "You could do it in rock, but everybody would be mad by the time they were done. You could do it in jazz, but I don't know, it's not the same. They don't scream for jazz musicians when they walk in, you know? It's fun, it's cool. They do the jazz fest and that's basically what their version of this is. But this is for people who are rabid fans, and it's great to give back like this."
An average of 56,000 people attended daily, the Country Music Association told The Tennessean. That represented a 7 percent increase which, coming in the middle of a national economic slump, surprised even the CMA.
The event will be highlighted with a three-hour ABC special, "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night To Rock," on Aug. 31.