Fan Fair Extraordinaire? Or Not!?
Just by the title of this article, I feel like Andy Rooney from 60 minutes. I grew up watching him with my Grandma, although he looks just the same as he did when I was 3. So last night, when I turned the on the TV and he was there, I thought I would watch him to bring my Grandmother closer to me. Low and behold, he began talking about the packaging and marketing of items, and how companies, even software companies, have more hype then product. And judging by Fan Fair (www.fanfair.com), I would have to agree with him.
This was my first Fan Fair, so maybe I should give it a few years, but I also got the pulse of the situation from other Fan Fair attendees, the tried and true dedicated fans of Fan Fair. So let me start at the beginning. Being a novice Fan Fair goer, I did all of the wrong things. I didn't make reservations, and I didn't purchase tickets ahead of time. When I arrived at the airport, there was a woman waiting for me with a sign that had my name on it. (One of the perks of being part of Fan Fair I guess, but trust me, one of the very few! And I am smiling at that!) I arrived at my dear friend's house and started to unpack. The next day would be a busy one with the baseball game and some interviews.
When the next day arrived, Nashville was hit by a major thunder and lightening storm and when calling to rent a car, there were none available. My first lesson at Fan Fair, reserve a car! So I would be stuck hitching rides with friends or relying on taxis that are very cost prohibitive! The problem was that we couldn't get to the baseball game. All the taxis were taking forever and had to be called many times, and they still did not show. The one person that was nice enough to come get us didn't want to head in that direction because of the storm. Okay, then I would head to the Indie fest that had already begun.
When I arrived at the Indie Fest I met up with some friends from my last European tour and saw Jack Green and Ernie Ashworth, Grand Ole Opry Stars and true stars they are. You really should go check them out at the Grand Ole Opry whenever they are on! I already knew Ernie from touring last year. The Indie's played their hearts out, Sean O'Brien being one of the best I have seen in a long time. What a crooner, and someone else whose show you must check out if he plays in your town! You won't be disappointed! And women, he's a doll! BUT keep your lips for screaming when he sings only, because he is married to a very lovely and sweet wife. The Indie's were backed by some of Nashville's finest musicians, Bess Travers who played bass was awesome! "The Nashville Players" were there and incredible. Then I was told by someone at Indie fest who was working there, that the Grand Ole Opry Stars who were supposed to be playing at the Indie Fest, all 22 of them, were told they could not play there. I won't go into the reason's why, but when the crowd found out, they were disappointed! Stella Parton graced the Indie Fest stage as well as Bobby G. Rice.
After the show, a bunch of us headed down to the famous restaurant, Houston's. While the prices were expensive, it was worth every single bite! The food was fabulous and I would recommend anyone visiting Nashville to give it a try! While we were waiting, I ran into Jamie O'Neil and Neil McCoy (a true cowboy at heart). Neil was very casual and friendly. I thought wow, this is the beginning of what I expected at Fan Fair, the fans, meeting the stars and Fan Fair hadn't really begun yet!
After Houston's, we headed down to Broadway, and for those of you not familiar with Nashville, this is where you will find it all. The Ryman is less then a block from Broadway, world famous Tootsies is on Broadway and of course is a must see and then there is Legends next door to Tootsies just to name a few. All the bars had no cover charge and some of the best music I have heard in a long time. We danced the night away and landed home around 4 AM. The next day I hit Riverfest that had an inexpensive all day ticket of $10.00. The first 2 hours were acts signed to major indie labels, and let me tell you, some of the acts could not sing on key. It wasn't just my musicians' ear that was tweaked, I looked around and the crowd was cringing too! But then acts like T Graham Brown, Joe Stampley and The Great Divide came on and spiced up the crowd, giving renewed hope to audience. They were crowd pleasers and crowd stoppers and everyone loved them.
In between, a DJ from one of the radio stations in Nashville asked the audience how they liked the new venue. The crowd roared a huge "boooo, we hate it!." The DJ actually seemed overwhelmed and surprised by the reaction. I decided I would ask one of the people who was sitting beside me why he and his wife did not like the new venue. They said they had purchased platinum tickets to the Adelphia, where all the Fan Fair booths and concerts were held, and they were seated so far away during the concerts, that the stars looked like ants. I decided to do some research. I went around the crowd asking the same question, "Do you like the new format of Fan Fair. Why or Why not?" It was always the same answer. Too many people. Too much corporate, not enough stars and the few stars that actually showed up for something other then the concerts were only there for a brief time. Extremely hard to find parking spots, and too much traffic.
My friend took out the Fan Fair booklet and counted only 26 actual signing booths for stars out of the 100 some odd booths in the Adelphia building. WOW! Wait a minute. I thought this was Fan Fair, not Gizmo and latest Gadget fair. According to previous Fan Fair attendee's, Fan Fair used to be held at the fair grounds. There were a lot of stars and star booths, concerts, and everything was in one place. No hopping about, trying to find parking and trying to make it to something that already happened before you arrived. Another huge complaint was that the venue used to be held during the week and was longer, and now it was held during the busiest time, the weekend and it was shorter. I did not hear a single positive remark from the fans about the new format.
But lets get back to my experience at Fan Fair, the Riverfest stage. Sherrie Austin came out, and the men went wild. She sang up a storm and sounded as good live as she does on her CD. After she finished, a bunch of us decided to go grab a bite to eat before we watched the next round of people on stage. We headed up to Broadway and started looking. I went into a cute little store called Cotton Eyed Joes, to get a bag to carry some things I had in hand. Nice little store, inexpensive, with a lot of touristy type items for those of you looking for that type of thing. As we walked up the street, one of the gals I was with said she wanted some french fries and that she wanted to go into Hooters to get them. I said, 'Are you crazy?! I have never been in a Hooters in my life and I don't want to start now.' For those of you who have seen me live, it's not a threat to me, it's that I feel it's degrading to women. Of course none of the men in our group objected... LOL! Like they would. Snicker. So, in we went, into Hooters, and my friends were pushing me in saying I should get a job there. NOT! Okay, so I was wrong, it wasn't at all what I expected it to be. Instead of the bikini-clad women I had seen in the ads, they were wearing T-shirts, which didn't offend me while I was eating.
Our plans were crushed, while we sat eating our cuisine at Hooters (just the name is offensive to me, sorry guys!), rain started pouring and a lighting storm of huge proportions started hitting the fair city of Nashville. It rained the rest of the day, so our plans to head back to Riverfest to see some of the more popular artists for that week, were dashed. By evening, the rain had stopped and we headed for the Nashville Palace with some friends. The cuisine left much to be desired. Not one of us liked our food or our drinks, but the entertainment was great. Vern Gosdin showed up, greatly improved after his stroke and sang a few tunes, much to the delight of the entire audience. What a legend! The house band was awesome and I started realizing how ordinary one feels amongst such great talent that is everywhere, on every corner!
After dinner we headed down to Tootsies where I knew Wild Horses was to make a surprise appearance (their first single will be out in July after 4 years and, I believe, 4 different labels. I am so happy for them!). They were awesome! I love this group and the way they have stuck together through some tough moments! Their sound is pure and refined and I wish every success for them when they come out! They did 4 songs and then started to leave when the crowd cheered them on to do an encore, to which they so generously complied. Then Darryl Worley showed up, he was very nice and great also! We left Tootsies and made the rounds to different bars, soaking up the Nashville atmosphere and hearing some wonderful talent play throughout the town.
What was surprising to me was that the cover bands were playing mostly Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Willie Nelson songs, to name just a few of the legends - and the crowd would roar for more. You would hear, 'We want more Merle', 'Play another Dolly tune', 'I want another Waylon tune'. And these requests continued throughout the night. You rarely heard a Shania Twain or Faith Hill song, and never a Billy Gillman or Jessica Andrews song. What I found so interesting was, whether the people in the crowd were 25, 72, 43, or 14 (and there were quite a few in the teenage group around), they all knew every single word to the old standards and wanted to hear more. I even heard several teenagers, when one of the newer songs was played yelling, 'We don't want to hear that! We want Merle!' So the trend record labels have of letting the "old" ones go may not be what the public wants, who knows, maybe that is why Country Music is dying and record labels are going out of business. Could it be they aren't listening to what the people want, and only seeing the demographics of what they consider the main buying populace? Is there a place for the "old" with the "new?"
Could it be that this industry and others that are following suit have thrown away traditions because anyone over the age of 40 is too old? That's sad. It seems the people in charge have taken over what we are allowed to think, feel and see. Somehow, in the Americanized part of the world, anyone over the age of 25 has become outdated and too old - and forget it if you are 40 or older. I don't know about the rest of you, but I love my Grandma more then anything. I think of her more highly then anyone I have ever known. And on top of everything else, she is a virtual library of information. She is beautiful and interesting and fun. No one is going to tell me that because she is older, she is not of value!
Recently, when I was viewing the site of a popular radio station, I saw a statement and list that read as follows: "Artists we play," "Artists we respect, but don't play". All the older more established artists and the legends were on the 'respected list', and all of the "up and comers" were on the 'we play list'. I called up and asked for the Program Director and asked why a certain artist, who I thought was "newer" because she had had a number one hit just last year, was on the 'respected, but not on the 'played' list. I already suspected why the other ones were on there, although I did not agree. I was told that while they respected the older artists, the artist I was referring too was too old because she had just turned 40, and they didn't play females past the age of 40 on their station. What amazed me was that he had the guts to tell me this. Aren't there age and sex discrimination laws? He said their demographic listening group liked younger artists only. How I wish he had been in Nashville that night!
What an eye opener that statement was for me! My reply to him was, "Okay, so you're telling me that Cher, Ella Fitzgerald, and Kenny Rogers have lost their voices and can no longer sing and we should put them out to pastor now? Right!" I hung up on him. Cher and Kenny Rogers have both had huge hits in the past 2 years and we all know they are over 40! Okay, enough of my ranting. Back to Fan Fair and the original point. In the majority of the bars, the old standards were the most popular, especially Merle Haggard, and that was what people wanted to hear.
The next day we rehearsed for singing at the Blue Bird Café, which was a huge thrill for me. I had never been to the Blue Bird. My friend Joanne Myrol had been asked to sing there, and she had asked Shelly Streeter and I to do the harmonies for her. We rehearsed, hung out by the pool, and then went to the Blue Bird. There was some big talent there. So many wonderful singers, I can't name them all! For those of you who have never been to Nashville, please make sure to hit the Blue Bird Café. It is very small, so get there early or there won't be a seat for you. If you can't make it there or to Nashville, they broadcast live on the Internet so you can hear the talent there too. We did the gig with Joanne and people came up to us telling how they loved it - we were able to breathe a breath of fresh air. That was nice. We headed back downtown and back to Broadway to see the happenings there.
Daryle Singletary showed up at Tootsies and sang his hits from a few years ago. He was incredible. What a velvety voice. What I would like to know is why he was let go from his contract, and why isn't he signed again yet?! The crowd went wild for him, the women were cooing (me too... whoooo baby... what a hottie!), and the men loved him too! Someone needs to snatch him up, or he needs to start his own label. This was the last night of Fan Fair, and my last night in Nashville, so we had to make the best of it. We hit just about every bar on the strip, learning new dances, hearing the talent, seeing old friends and breathing in the last of the home town country feel, or at least the best you can get in a big city. My last stop was at the Grand Ole Opry Hotel, a real touristy thing to do and it was about midnight, but what a great last stop. It is the biggest hotel in the world with some 2000 rooms and a wonderful tropical environment smack dab in the middle of their huge atrium. What a sight and how beautiful. There was a fabulous light show that happened with water just after we arrived and we spent 3 hours just walking around and looking at the beautiful architecture.
My general opinion of Fan Fair is that I would not go again. There were not enough stars for the general fans and it wasn't at all what it had been built up to be. I would go to Nashville over and over and over again. I love that town! It's a great place, a great environment, with a lot of fun things to do, and a plethora of talent that is unbelievable! If I were doing an Andy Rooney bit about Fan Fair, I would say, there was so much air in this huge package, and once you put a hole in the package and let all the air out, there was hardly any product. Most of the fun I had in Nashville, I could have had whether Fan Fair was there or not. Even though I have never been part of the previous Fan Fairs, my vote is cast for the old venue to bring the stars back home!
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