This week proves to be an exciting one in Nashville with the CMA Music Festival kicking off. Close to 100,000 fans will attend the festivities in Music City each day. While the attendance might have changed over the years, there’s always been a twinge of excitement in the city each June. For over 30 years, the event was called Fan Fair – and Terri Clark has fond memories of what took place then at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds.
“I’ve been coming here this week since 1988 when it was called Fan Fair,” she recalled for Billboard. “I went and stood in line for so many artists’ autographs because someone got me into the back door at the fairgrounds. I’ll never forget that, what it means for people to come here for this week.” Among the artists that she recalls meeting were Reba McEntire and the late Keith Whitley – less than a year before his passing in May of 1989.
The songstress was one of many artists on the bill last night (June 6) at the Wildhorse Saloon as part of the Seventh Annual Darius and Friends concert. Organized by Clark’s fellow Grand Ole Opry star Darius Rucker, the concert benefits St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Rucker says that seeing the sold-out crowd that stretched around Second Avenue made him very nostalgic.
“It reminds me of the club days when you would show up, and the line was down the street,” Rucker said. “You felt like a lucky man. It’s really cool to see that and to know that they’re here to support St. Jude’s and this cause. It’s an organization that the Capitol Nashville superstar has become well aware of. “I’ve been down there to see the doctors and the work that they do – as well as the nurses, the kids, and the parents, and the administrators, and all the great work that they do. I’m just proud to be a part of it.”
The concert is part of a two-day series of events that Rucker is participating in on behalf of the hospital – his annual celebrity golf tournament. “That’s a good way for us to raise a lot of money for St. Jude’s. I always love raising money for good causes, but this is a lot of fun. All the industry comes out, and a lot of musicians, as well. It’s a fun day of laughter and golf, and we all try to beat each other.”
Is there any one artist that Rucker hopes to emerge victorious over tomorrow? Rucker jokes that Charles Kelley always has his time and attention. “Yeah, I think he’s playing,” Rucker said sheepishly. “That’s my guy. I’ll be watching him. I always keep an eye on what Charles does.”
Making the evening special for Rucker was the appearance of Country Music Hall of Fame member Charley Pride. “When he said yes, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “He’s such an icon and legend. I know that word gets overused, but he is, because of the kind of person he is and what he’s done in the music business. I’m blessed to call him friend, and that he would come out and do this for me.”
Pride admitted that the feeling was mutual. “I met him backstage at the Grand Ole Opry when he broke into Country Music. I’ve considered myself to be friends with him ever since. I like him, and he’s having a tremendous career. I’m very proud of him,” stated the singer, who hinted at a possible upcoming collaboration with Rucker on a duets album.
A repeat visitor from last year’s concert was Scotty McCreery, who agreed that St. Jude’s deserves every bit of its’ esteemed reputation.
“I had heard a lot of good things about them over the years,” said the former American Idol winner. “But, until you go down there and see what they’re doing, you have no idea. There are some kids down there that are going through some very serious stuff, but they are smiling. They’ve got doctors that are spreading a good vibe all around. The energy there is incredible. I’ve been to a lot of hospitals before, and performed for kids, but there’s never been one like St. Jude’s. They take care of the patients, as well as their families. And, it’s thanks to events like this that they can do that.”
Rucker, whose current single is the emotional ballad “So I Sang,” says he’s glad his event serves as the unofficial kick-off to Country Music’s biggest week.
“I remember when we started this that we wanted to do something for St. Jude’s. We knew there was nothing on Monday during CMA week, so it worked out good. Now, we sell out before anyone knows it’s coming. So, that’s a pretty cool feeling.”
The CMA Music Festival runs June 9-12.