NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – CMA Fest is back for the first time since 2019 after two years of COVID cancellations. Fans have been the core of the event for decades.

It all started 50 years ago as an event called Fan Fair brought five thousand people to Municipal Auditorium.

Ten years later, the so-called Ultimate Country Music Experience moved to Nashville Fairgrounds as big names took time to sign autographs and mingle with crowds.

“Over the 49 years that we’ve celebrated the unique tie between artists and the fans, we’ve certainly been in different places. We’ve been over at municipal auditorium,” said Sarah Trahern, CEO of Country Music Association. “When I first came to town, it was over at the Fairgrounds, so I got to experience the autograph booth around the smelly stalls the artists came out and did and that created lifelong relationships.”

Nearly 20 years later, the festival grew into a four-day event with acts performing at Nissan Stadium and other venues around downtown Nashville.

In 2004, Fan Fair became the CMA Music Festival, drawing tens of thousands of people from across the U.S.

Throughout the years, a focus on the fans has remained intact.

“I’m trying to be myself out and about meeting as many fans as I can,” said Brian Kelly of Florida Georgia Line.

He continued, “I know they’re trying to meet as many artists as they can. So, you know, I know it was called Fan Fair back in the day. In my mind, I’m still calling it Fan Fair just because I’m trying to make as many fans as I can.”

Sometimes those fans grow up to be the stars.

“There are a number of artists – that Kelsea Ballerini being one of them – who came as a fan. She showed me one of the pictures she has with Keith Urban here at Riverfront Park where she’s the fan and he’s the artists, and then later, they got to play on the stage together. How amazing is that?” said Trahern.

All those fans bring in millions of dollars to Music City. A financial boost that’s so important to businesses and the city as it looks to the future of tourism.


CMA Fest is back! News 2 crews are giving you a front row seat to all the action as country artists and fans flood Music City for the first time in two years. Follow our continuing coverage right here on WKRN.com.