The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum will unveil a new photography exhibition highlighting CMA Fest’s half-century history on Tuesday, June 6. The exhibit, titled In the Hands of the Fans: Fifty Years of CMA Fest, will feature photographs conveying the celebratory spirit of the festival and capturing memorable moments over the years. The exhibit is free and will be open to the public through November 2023 in the museum’s first-floor Community Corridor.
Celebrating its 50th year in 2023, the annual CMA Fest — four days of live music, autograph signings, photo opportunities, fan club parties and family activities held in June in Nashville — has been uniting country music fans and artists since 1972, when it was called Fan Fair.
Launched by the Country Music Association in partnership with radio station WSM, Fan Fair was intended to relieve over-crowding from the annual DJ Convention, a gathering of country music industry professionals and entertainers that attracted zealous fans to Nashville in hopes of catching a glimpse of their favorite stars. The first Fan Fair, held at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium in April 1972, was attended by 5,000 fans and more than 120 artists, including luminaries such as Roy Acuff, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Bill Monroe, Dolly Parton, Marty Robbins, Ernest Tubb and Tammy Wynette.
As country music’s popularity exploded, Fan Fair attendance soared, averaging 25,000 by the 1990s. In 2004, CMA assumed full sponsorship and changed the name of the event to CMA Music Festival. Last year, what is now known as CMA Fest drew more than 80,000 daily attendees from all 50 states and 39 foreign countries; and it featured performances by 260 acts, ranging from emerging artists to the biggest names in country music.
Photographs on display will include:
- Garth Brooks signing autographs and interacting with fans for 23 hours without a break at Fan Fair, June 11, 1996.
- Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum staff member Peter Cooper interviewing
- Country Music Hall of Fame member Ray Stevens at Xfinity Fan Fair X at Music City Center during CMA Fest, June 6, 2019.
- Singer-songwriter Carolyn Dawn Johnson performing at her first fan club party, held at Douglas Corner Café during Fan Fair, June 13, 2002.
- Fans thronging to meet Loretta Lynn at her fan club booth in the exhibit hall at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, Fan Fair, 1983.
- Barbara Mandrell, catcher and leader of women’s softball team the Do-Rites, making a dramatic catch during a game with Men’s Division team the Nashville Pickers at the Fan Fair Softball Tournament at Two Rivers Park, June 5, 1978.
- Paul and Linda McCartney — in Nashville to rehearse and record with their band, Wings — chatting with Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner backstage during the Third Annual Grand Masters Fiddling Championship, held at Opryland, June 16, 1974.
- Charley Pride signing autographs in the exhibit area at Municipal Auditorium during Fan Fair, 1977. That year, Pride hosted Fan Fair’s first annual International Country Music Show, which included acts from Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, England, Germany, Holland and Japan.
Other items on display in the Community Corridor exhibit will include posters, promotional items and a Guess stone-washed denim jacket, decorated with rhinestones and plastic stars, signed by 102 country music performers and personalities during super-fan Martha Allums’ visits to Fan Fair from 1991 to 2000.