The CMA Music Festival is a four-day music festival centered on country music hosted each June by the Country Music Association (CMA) in Nashville, Tennessee. Beginning in 1972 as Fan Fair, the event now draws over 400 artists and celebrities who hold autograph sessions and perform in concerts offered throughout the festival.
Half of the proceeds from the festival each year (estimated at US$200,000 in 2001) are donated to charity, while the other half are earmarked by the CMA for “the advancement of country music”.
Fan Fest (1972–2003)
WSM, coordinating with the Country Music Association (CMA), created Fan Fair in 1972 so that fans would refrain from attending the annual radio industry-only convention meant more for radio hosts and other radio dignitaries that the CMA hosted in the fall. The inaugural Fan Fair was held from April 12–15, 1972, at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium. The inaugural four-day event was attended by 5,000 fans and featured 20 hours of live entertainment and 100 exhibit booths, including autograph booths. The following year, Fan Fair was moved to June in the hope of finding better weather conditions—attendance doubled to 10,000 fans. In the third year, Paul McCartney, the first non-country musician in the lineup, was invited to perform, and Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner performed a duet for the last time before dissolving their partnership.
By 1982, the festival was moved to the Nashville Fairgrounds, and the All American Country Games competition was added. This event, which raised money for the Tennessee Special Olympics, was cancelled in 1989 to add more shows. In 1991, singer Kathy Mattea attended Fan Fair despite being under doctor’s orders not to speak so that her injured vocal cords could heal. She used a computer to type messages for her fans to read as she held “conversations” with them.
Garth Brooks decided at the last minute to attend the 25th anniversary of the festival in 1996. He was swarmed with fans, and stayed in his booth signing autographs for 23 hours and 10 minutes without a single break.
Fan Fair underwent large changes in 2001. For the first time, the event was held over a long weekend (Thursday, June 14 to Sunday, June 17) instead of during the week. At the same time, the festival moved from its long-time home at the fairgrounds to several sites clustered in downtown Nashville, including Adelphia Coliseum, the Nashville Convention Center, Gaylord Entertainment Center, and Riverfront Park. The fairgrounds was converted to a temporary campground for attendees.
Until 2001, the evening concerts were organized by record labels, with each label choosing which of their artists would be able to perform, and for how long. Beginning with Fan Fair 2001, these main concerts were grouped instead by record distribution group. This allowed for four main concerts, for Sony, WEA/EMI, UNI, and BMG. The artists are not paid to attend the festival or for their performances during the festival.
CMA Music Festival (2004–present)
Sugarland performing at CMA Music Festival in 2008
In 2004, the CMA renamed the event to the CMA Music Festival in order change negative perceptions, embrace the CMA brand, and to expand its appeal. Also in 2004, the ABC network televised the event as a two-hour special known as CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock. The first special, which aired on July 14, 2004, ranked number 16 in viewers, with an estimated 9 million people tuning in. The annual special, re-edited from the three days of events, continues to air on ABC as of the present.[when?]
A new attendance record was set in 2007 with 191,154 fans attending. Those in attendance participated in more than 100 hours of concerts, 30 hours of organized autograph signings, family activities, celebrity sports competitions, interactive exhibits, giveaways, games and much more. Over 400 celebrities made appearances at the 2007 CMA Music Festival.
The 2020 and 2021 events were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.