The CMA Music Festival in Nashville enjoyed record attendance in the 60,000 range for its June 7-10 run in downtown Nashville, up 21% from last year.

Using an aggregate attendance from all events, the CMA says 191,154 people attended CMA Fest, which includes nightly concerts at LP Field and daily shows at Riverfront Park, along with numerous fan events in a wide range of downtown venues. Four-day passes sold for $125-$275, per-show tickets at the stadium were $40-$30, and single day tickets to the Riverfront Park shows were $14.

"Literally it was a success on all levels," Tammy Genovese, CMA chief operating officer, tells Billboard.biz. "It just felt like a really good vibe from the music and artist community. Every year I say it's the best, but I just can't say anything bad about this year's event."

Tony Conway, executive producer of the CMA Fest, was similarly enthused. "Honestly, I don't think that it could have been done any better," he says. "It was just monumental. Perfect."

Attendance was nearly triple the last year CMA Fest, then known as Fan Fair, was held at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in 2000. The event moved downtown the next year.

Conway cites three reasons for the growth. "I think we had the strongest talent lineup we've ever had. We had over 180 acts perform and almost 400 artists appear, that's a big factor," Conway says.

"The marketing and promotion we did over the past 12 months was the best we've ever done," Conway continues, adding that a prime time network television special, set to run July 23 on ABC, has also been an impactful promotion. "To my knowledge we're the only festival in the United States that has a television special. I think people watching that over the past three years has been a big marketing tool, a giant commercial for us." A wide range of country music's most successful artists performed this year, including Rascal Flatts, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Martina McBride, Big & Rich, John Anderson, Gretchen Wilson, Taylor Swift, Montgomery Gentry and many others. Surprise guests included Ted Nugent and Kelly Clarkson.

But notably absent were some of country's biggest superstars including Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and George Strait, most of whom are currently on tour. Artists are not paid for their participation in CMA Fest, though a sizeable donation is made each year to benefit local school music programs.

"I do think artists now are making the connection that while they're not getting paid, they're giving back and making a difference in a child's life with the music education program we're donating to, and the only reason we can do this is because they do play for free," says Genovese. "If we had to pay the artists, we'd never have enough money to give back to the charity component, and I think that's resonating now with the artists. It's probably not going to make them from a business perspective give up a paying date, but I think it makes them feel better about playing for free than they have in the past, and its something that we continue to try to educate the artists and the community about."

Conway downplays the fact that some big names did not perform. "I have never, ever, expected every act in country music to appear at the CMA Music Festival every year, especially the artists at the superstar level," he says. "What we've asked them is when you can, do it, and when you can't we understand."

Given the high paydays available to country acts these days, indeed the support is remarkable. "Only in country music, only in Nashville, Tennessee, could this event happen," says Conway. "I can't say enough about the artists supporting this event, because without them there is no event."