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CMA Fest 2018 – My Random Experiences

Get ready for one big CMA Fest mashup of a summary!  Oh, I’ll write some other more organized pieces about the festival, but consider this my miscellaneous file of stuff that happened that may or may not ALL be worthy of writing about, but some of it probably is, and since I’m not always sure what to do with such odds and ends, I’m just going to toss it all out there and see what happens.   Better writers would probably create something of beauty, but not me.  I’ll try not to ramble forever and I’ll even try to be somewhat entertaining.  I’ll just write the way I talk.  If you’ve ever talked to me, I’ll apologize in advance.  If you haven’t, I’ll still apologize in advance.  This could be a mess.

CMA Fest 2018 officially ran from June 7th to 10th, but it started early for me this year, as it has for the last few years with the Craig Campbell Celebrity Cornhole Challenge to Fight Colorectal Cancer.  No, I don’t play the game.  I don’t even understand the scoring system which is simple math.   I just can’t keep all those numbers in my head for more than a nanosecond.  Add it to the list of my many shortcomings.  Anyway, I’m just a volunteer for the event every year because I enjoy it and I believe strongly in the cause.


This year my assignment was to set up the VIP green room.   What does that mean?  Well, in a nutshell, it means you try to put a square peg into a round hole.  Over and over.  Seriously though, it means you do your level best to stuff A LOT of objects into blue canvas bags that are not meant to hold nearly the amount of things in which you are given to put in them.  Then, just when you have accomplished the impossible and get all those swag bags packed and you’re standing back admiring your outstanding handiwork, you are handed BOTTLES OF WINE to add to said bags.  Not those little sample bottles of wine you see at the checkout areas of liquor stores, but full-size wine bottles.  Now, you are considering calling in engineers from NASA to assist in the unpacking and repacking of these VIP bags, which also included approximately six ball caps, another full-size bottle of something “liquid” and other assorted gizmos.  My partner in crime, fellow Think Country Contributor, Katie Marker and I stood dumbfounded for a minute and then we went to work.  I’m not sure how we did it, but if you look at the photos of all those blue bags, they don’t look half bad, and not one of them is busting open at the seams.  That’s some clever packing or a miracle.  I’m siding with the miracle myself.  (The white bags you see pictured at the front?  Those aren’t the miracle bags.  It’s the blue ones in back that were perhaps strategically hidden from view that were.   WE did not place those white bags in front.  Those came afterward.  I call it a blessing.)

We also unwrapped a few guitars which the celebrities would sign to later be auctioned off.  That was like kindergarten work compared to packing those bags.  Am I complaining?  Oh, no way!  This was all for a great cause.  We laughed our way through it.  Hysterically, actually.  From the outside looking in, it probably wasn’t too far off from an “I Love Lucy” scene.  Thankfully, nobody was watching us.  The struggle was very real.

This job required me being there at 9:00 AM, but it also meant I was done by 11:00 AM.   That was convenient.  I had house guests for CMA Fest.  One from Milwaukee and one from Orlando.  Our house was NOT yet really ready and I also had pets at home that required care.  Generally, the cornhole tournament is an all-day event for me, this green room thing was a gift!  I need to sign up for that every year!  Of course, if I made any mistakes in the setup, I wasn’t there to hear about it.  They may have fired me for next year already.  I guess I’ll find out if they “don’t require my services” next year.

Just in case anyone is wondering, the tournament went great.  A ton of money was raised in the fight against colorectal cancer, the weather was beautiful and fans and celebrities had a blast.  It’s a fun event every year.  If you’ve never attended it, I highly recommend it.

Something I always enjoy is having friends over just to hang out on our patio, which Annette Gibbons (Think Country’s Founder) has named “Patio McClintic”.  In the calm before the storm that is CMA Fest, we did exactly that.  On “CMA Fest Eve”, which was  Wednesday, June 6th, we opted to lay low and stay home knowing how crazy things were about to be for the next several days.  Amy Westney, singer/songwriter and Think Country Contributor from the UK, was in town and we managed to talk her into playing us a few songs with a guitar borrowed from our very generous neighbor, Mary Beth Ippich.   That was a fun night and the perfect way to relax before the madness of CMA Fest began.

The next day was busy, I did stuff that I’ll write about separately, including an Ashley McBryde show at the HGTV Lodge and a show at The Wildhorse Saloon.  In between those two events I had great fun.  I drove from home to downtown and repeated the process and paid insanely inflated prices for parking both times, because during any major event (it’s Nashville, there’s almost ALWAYS a major event), the pavement between two painted lines suddenly does tricks or something and warrants more money to have a vehicle sit atop it.  I have yet to see any of these magical parking space tricks, but if you have, please let me know all about it.  I’ll wait.

It was Friday, June 8th when I was able to run into Fan Fair X and see what was shaking in there.  To be honest, aside from the air conditioning, which was wonderful, I wasn’t that impressed by anything except the adoptable dogs at Miranda Lambert’s MuttNation area.  That grabbed my attention.  Shelter dogs with names like Tim McGraw and Fancy were just waiting for new homes (all of them were adopted during CMA Fest), some in crates and some running and playing in a small fenced in area.  There were dog toys, bandannas, treats and anything your furry friend could ever want.  I could have spent my entire day there and been happy, but our own dog was waiting for me to come home and hang with her for a while before heading back out to the Nissan Stadium show that night.  My friend Denise Zylow was kind enough to buy Cassidy, that dog patiently waiting for me at home, a MuttNation toy tambourine.  Sturdy as it was, it went from an easily recognizable tambourine to a scrap of a rag within a few days.  As the old saying goes, “it was fun while it lasted.”

The one other thing I got to catch on Friday was Runaway June at the Chevy Breakout Stage.  These three ladies have been dubbed the most successful female country trio in 25 years.  Runaway June is comprised of Naomi Cooke, Hannah Mulholland and Jennifer Wayne.   Their songs are a great mix of perfect harmonies and self-reliant girl-talk lyrics that should be a catalyst for more female country BANDS.  The biggest treat of this quick show was hearing their new song, “I Can Buy My Own Drinks” performed live.  I had heard them sing it on the radio earlier that week and that little acoustic number coming out of my car speakers told me I needed to make it a point to get to that Chevy Breakout Stage to see it live.  Definitely a good decision.  I’m calling a hit right here, right now.

I won’t spend any real time on the Nissan shows here, except to mention the first thing I noticed upon entering the stadium.  The moths.  Wait.  Let me try that again.  THE MOTHS!!!  Like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock horror film, giant moths were EVERYWHERE.  They were flying in every direction.  They were kamikaze diving straight down.  They were coming in from the side and going for sneak attacks right behind your sunglasses.  They were flying UP from the field.  Swarms and swarms of these creepy flying jerks had people swatting and doing dance moves never seen before to keep them at bay.  With no exaggeration, they were awful.

What was going on?  I have seen some mosquito situations before, maybe some gnats, but never anything like this.  The woman sitting next to me mentioned that she talked with a security guard who told her they were coming from the sod on the field.  Aha!  I knew that stuff on the field looked way different.  Like dead grass.  She said they had put it all over the field this year to protect the turf.  Not sure who came up with this bright idea, but I hope they’re rethinking it for next year.  I went home and looked up moths and sod just to see if that was really a “thing”.  Guess what?  It is!


Sod webworms are the larvae that turn into those gnarly moths.  The whole thing is kind of disgusting to me (I’m not an insect person at all) and how this got by whoever handles the money for this event I have no idea.  I guess it must have sounded good at the time, but wow.  I hope whoever made this brilliant decision was forced to sit out there all four days and experience his or her brainchild just to see how well it turned out.  The ONLY saving grace was when it got dark outside.  The moths got a LITTLE bit better because they tended to gravitate toward the lights, but they were still there and they were still quite bad.  If I hear anything about sod on the field next year, count me out.  I’m getting kind of wigged out just thinking about it.

Enough about bugs.  Let’s talk about something better, shall we?  I didn’t spend much time at Ascend Amphitheater this year, but what time I did spend there was better than if I had seen every single show CMA Fest had put on that stage this year.

Flashback to February 2017.  It was the Randy Travis Tribute show at Bridgestone Arena.  I went there to review that giant of a show.  There were over 32 acts performing covers of Randy Travis’s songs while Randy and his wife sat on the stage watching.  I remember the lineup growing as the day of the show grew nearer and thinking how incredibly challenging it was going to be to review it.  My initial thought was just to pick and choose a few artists and make it work, but once I got there and realized the enormity of the talent and the sheer appreciation each artist had for Randy Travis, I knew I couldn’t just do my “mediocre best”.  I was also questioning my own writing abilities at that time.  I decided I needed to really test myself.  I wrote what I thought was a “pretty good” review.  I didn’t think it was stellar.  I thought I did the best I could do.

A few weeks later, an email came in to Annette Gibbons, Think Country’s Founder.  It was from Mary Travis, Randy Travis’s wife.  She read my review and she loved it.  In fact, it was brought to her attention by her daughter, so it made the rounds through the family.  Apparently, my “pretty good” review was better than I thought, at least in the Randy Travis camp.  To say it restored by confidence in my writing would be an understatement.  To this day, I can barely read that email by myself.  I find it hard to hold it and read it at the same time because I get so overwhelmed by what an impact it made on me the day I first got it.  It gave me exactly the push I needed to continue writing.

Back to present day.  My husband Bill, while shooting photos at Nissan Stadium, came across Randy and Mary Travis and got to chatting with them.  He mentioned my review of the tribute show.  As soon as Mary found out it was me who wrote “that” review she told Bill she wanted to meet me.   Me?  Yes.  Me.   She also mentioned that Randy was going to be receiving an award at Ascend Amphitheater the next night.  Do you see where I’m going here?

It was a bit of an odyssey getting to Ascend Saturday evening, however.  A friend and I had to drive a little bit too fast to get from my house to downtown.  Then we had to make a quick decision.  Taxi or pedestrian bridge to Ascend?  Decision was to walk over the bridge.  Cars were backed up on the Korean Veterans Bridge, we had a better chance by walking.

We had exactly 14 minutes to get to the venue on time for Randy’s award ceremony.  We were dodging people left and right, people that were, for the most part, going in the opposite direction, because they were all heading toward Nissan Stadium.  Our next split-second decision was whether to take the stairs down or the elevator.  We opted for the stairs until we saw the elevator coming up as we got near it.  We lunged toward the elevator and then, rudely out of character for both of us, hit the “close doors” button and shut out anyone else approaching the elevator.  Hey, we had somewhere important to be and now we were down to single digits in minutes.  This wasn’t looking good for us.

We moved as fast as we could, looking like complete hot messes by now, until we reached a lone security guard at Ascend.  Asking him where media security was, he said, “There is no media tonight.”  Our mouths must have both dropped, because he then laughed and said, “Just joking.”  No dude.  Not the time.  He directed us to the back of the venue to some OTHER security person who didn’t offer much more help, so in a panic I just called my husband who was ALSO panicking, “Where ARE you guys???”  I told him we were in back of Ascend by the tour buses.  In the end, he came back, grabbed us, we got rushed through security and you know what?  Morgan Evans, who was supposed to be done with his set so Randy Travis could get his award at 8:30, was STILL playing!  It was now quite a bit past 8:30. All that rushing and we ended up watching a little bit of Morgan Evans anyway.  One day, if I get to meet Morgan Evans, I am going to thank him for running late.  Not only did I get to see a little bit of his set, he helped me out with MY bad timing.  What a guy!

The good news was Randy Travis was presented with The Cracker Barrel Country Legend Award.  The very first one ever.  It was so cool to see him come out and receive that award.  What was even better is it was his first time wearing boots since his stroke.  He looked great!

What was really special about that night was getting to meet Randy and Mary Travis.  We talked about my review a little bit, but then we talked about regular stuff.  We talked about Texas.  How our daughter lives in Texas, about the Texas state flower, the blue bonnet.  We talked about Lady Bird Johnson, humidity.  I can appreciate regular people who just happen to be well-known.  They were wonderful.  It was something I won’t ever forget.  It was worth jumping through a bunch of hoops to get there on time, even if nothing happened on time anyway.

After Ascend, we headed over to catch the rest of the Nissan shows and on the way home, I had a little encounter I didn’t enjoy quite as much as meeting Randy and Mary Travis.  I got to meet one of Davidson County’s finest!  Denise Zylow (that kind friend who bought our dog her MuttNation tambourine) and I were just driving along and suddenly, I saw blue flashing lights behind me.  I was a little confused.  It didn’t “look” like a Davidson County/Nashville police car.  I’d read about those criminals that pretend to be cops and pull you over only to pull a gun on you and rob you or worse.  I wasn’t sure if I was actually being pulled over or what.  I stopped anyway, but I was nervous.  I wasn’t sure what I’d done wrong.

Nobody was getting out of this dark colored vehicle behind me right away.  I was getting more nervous.  Just as I was contemplating driving away (I wasn’t in the best neighborhood at the time), a guy that appeared to be an actual policeman walked up to my window.  He told me I went through a blinking red light.  Oh.  Sorry… I think.  (Please don’t give a ticket, please don’t give a ticket… I’ve had a pretty good day, I haven’t had a thing to drink.  I haven’t been pulled over in years.  I’m a nice person.  Please don’t give me a ticket…)

To keep it brief, I got off with a warning, he was decent with me.  I told him I would be better in the future, and I will.  You can bet I’ll never miss that blinking red light again and I thanked myself for not having one single drop of alcohol.  Probably what saved me from a ticket because there were police out all over the place that night and I’ll bet I was one of the few that was completely sober.  I was happy to drive away with my warning and happily sang the Travis Meadows song “The Davidson County Police Know My Name”.  Luckily, they probably forgot it very quickly.

Other CMA Fest observations this year.  Maybe it was just me, but this was the first year I really ran into some bad apples as far as attendees.  The first one was a lovely lady at Mellow Mushroom on Broadway.  All I wanted to do was grab a quick lunch, a Coke and get out of there.  That’s it.  I was trying to get some work done for Think Country.  I wasn’t looking to take up a lot of space or time in there.  I needed food, a little air-conditioning and I was gone.  I walked in, went upstairs, found a table, sat there for about 20 minutes, had a bunch of servers walk by me over and over and never acknowledge me, so I left.  As I was about to walk outside, I noticed a table downstairs was open.  The ONLY table that was open, so I grabbed it.  Maybe someone would notice me here.  It was worth a shot.  A server did notice me, so I ordered.

About 10 minutes after that, that lovely lady I mentioned walked in and looked at me and said, “Really?  A whole table to yourself and there’s only you?”  At this point my husband had called and said he was going to meet me there.  I told this lady that my husband was coming to join me.  She said, “Still, a whole table for two of you?  Do you want to sit at the bar?”  I told her we couldn’t because my husband had a whole lot of photography equipment and it wouldn’t fit by the bar.  She got mad and started slamming bar stools around for her party and complaining about me.

Then there were the nice folks sitting next to me at Nissan Stadium.  They were angry because the seats weren’t numbered.  Well, seat number 5 was.  Their seats started with number 4 and went up from there.  Rather than do the math and count the seats and figure out where they belonged, they chose to just stand and complain.  The gentleman, who I’ll refer to as the “Chief Complainer” who was standing closest to me and holding a very full drink, was very nearly spilling it on me every time he moved.  I was fairly certain I was going to be wearing that drink if I wasn’t vigilant.

Eventually security paid them a visit to find out why they were standing there looking so confused.  They weren’t standing and getting into the show, you know “woohoo!” and all that type of thing.  They were just, well, standing there sloshing drinks around.  It was weird.  Apparently, security noticed them and decided to check their tickets.  They were in the right row, but they just didn’t sit down because they didn’t know where to sit because the “(expletive) seats aren’t numbered!”  The security guard had to play teacher and remind them that they weren’t toddlers and he was sure they could count to at least 10.  They continued to stand there looking like baffled dogs until he counted off the seats for them.  There was that one seat, seat number 5, clearly marked as such as a starting point.  “Chief Complainer” did not take kindly to any of this and although he didn’t get ejected from the stadium, I think it was close.  He complained LOUDLY for a while afterward until finally he and his significant other left, hopefully to find a room, because it was getting awkward to glance to my right after a while.

That left the other couple they were with who were also in need of a room, but at least they were quietly intoxicated.  They, however, were to have other problems.

They decided to stand up again and during one of the female’s dance moves, her drink spilled on one of the women in the row in front of us.  Well, this woman wasn’t having it.  In fact, she let the drink spiller have it instead.  She really told her off.  I wanted to high-five her for that.  She didn’t hold back.  Between the moths and the drunks and the rude people, I’d had enough that day.  I felt like that woman was my voice.  I don’t know where she is right now, but if she’s reading this, she’ll know I’m talking about her and I’m thanking her.

I just want to go back to every other CMA Fest I’ve ever been to.  Everybody was happy and friendly.  This year it seemed like I was running into all the crabby people.  I know not everybody was crabby.  I was just having crummy luck, but there was something different going on.  Was it the lack of the fan photo lines?  I know a lot of fans were really unhappy about that.  I mean, really, really unhappy.  Could something as simple as that have made people edgy?  I know those parking fees were horrible.  They always are, but this year?  Way worse.  I think Fan Fair X needs to get beefed up again.

More artist/fan interaction that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.  I’ve heard so many complaints about that.  I heard fans weren’t allowed in to Fan Fair X with guitars to have artists sign this year.  That has fans saying they won’t be back next year.  Come on now.  Aren’t we going a little too far?  That’s what made CMA Fest special.  Can all of this be brought back to the table and talked about over the year?  Pretty soon it won’t be worth it for fans.  The cost of the event is already way more than fans can afford, yet they scrounge up every extra cent they have because they love it so much.  They don’t seem to be loving it very much lately.  This year especially.  I never remember hearing so many complaints and seeing so many grouchy people.

I think a whole new campaign needs to be launched for next year.  A super fan-friendly CMA Fest again.  Where it really is about artist/fan interaction and not just about the almighty dollar.  In the end, a simple meet and greet with an artist means more to a fan than all the apps and light shows and fancy things technology can bring to this festival.  How about going back to basics?  The glitz is great, but it isn’t really what the fans want.  At least not from where I’m sitting.  They want to hear music and get up close and personal with their favorite artists.  All of these bells and whistles are just causing people to become jaded.  That ain’t very country.







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