June 12, 2009 — At least four official CMA Music Festival concerts were going on elsewhere on Thursday when an estimated 120 people crammed into the circular information center at the Sommet Center for a private concert and fan club party with Rodney Atkins.
They were serious fans. Many could sing along with almost every word of every song, and when he hit the chorus of "These Are My People," the vast majority got animinated in their involvement, some pointing back at him as if to say "We are your people."
Many of the faces were already familiar to Rodney. He'd seen them through the course of the year at other fan-related events — many at concert meet-and-greets, where the artist provides=2 0an extra proximity that's not available from the stage.
Rodney's fan club party was just one of many that were slated for this week's CMA Festival. Bucky Covington, Martina McBride, Little Big Town, Gary Allan, Phil Vassar, Craig Morgan, Sara Evans and Jo Dee Messina are just some of the other acts who planned special sessions for their most-ardent devotees.
"You're takin' more time, slow down and visit each person a little bit more," Rodney says, comparing the fan club party to fan events on the road. "When it comes to meet and greets, you'll have 70 or 80 people, and you're havin' to go pretty quick. 'Cause when the doors open at a venue, there's a time that you have to go onstage and all that, you're gonna rush. This, you're not rushed."
Fans formed a line to get a few moments with Rodney, but they also got the benefit of an acoustic performance in a much more intimate setting than they could experience during a standard tour date. Even the back row of the venue was no more than 15 yards away from the singer and his three backing musicians, and Rodney gave them seven songs, delivering them with conviction. He backed up his sincerity by recalling a time when he rarely found a venue to play. In this instance, he had a number of followers sitting on the floor when they ran out of chairs.
The fans got a quick look at his life and relationships, particularly when he introduced each of his parents, as well as seven-year-old son Elijah and wife Tammy Jo. On Friday night, tens of thousands will see Rodney perform during the daily stadium concert at LP Field. But in this instance, a smaller crowd got more exclusive access and the opportunity to think of themselves as his people.
"You just slow down and let folks know you appreciate 'em for comin'," Rodney says, explaining the relaxed nature of the experience. "I love it. I love that kind of feeling."