This is the 41st anniversary of the CMA Music Festival, which began and endured until 2004 as Fan Fair, an event that attracted about 5,000 people to Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium in 1972 before moving to the Nashville Fairgrounds in 1982. In those very early days, the event was all about getting the fans and artists in close proximity—orchestrating numerous opportunities for fans to get autographs and photos with their favorite country stars—while also giving those stars a chance to perform for and thank fans who loyally support them.
Since its move to downtown Nashville in 2001, the festival has lost some of that up-close fan interaction, partly because it’s logistically tougher to maintain it in a city environment where venues and activities are spread out more than in the tight confines of the Municipal Auditorium and Fairgrounds, and partly because the festival now is orchestrated, at least to some degree, to look good as a television broadcast later on. But, while we may never again see an artist/fan bonding event like the marathon autograph signing—23 hours and 10 minutes—by Garth Brooks in 1996, Taylor Swift’s more than 13-hour signing session a couple of years ago shows that the spirit of the old Fan Fair lives on in many of the artists who come to the festival each year.
That’s why, for my money, no aspect of CMA Music Fest is more enjoyable than the private fan club parties many artists throw for members. And Darryl Worley’s is always one of my favorites. His party at The Stage on Broadway a couple of days ago was a true family affair, and not just because Darryl’s aunt and uncle were there, along with Darryl’s wife, Kimberly, and their daughter, Savannah (see photo of them onstage with Darryl).
No, it went beyond that. Because Darryl talks with and otherwise treats his fans, or “friends” as he calls them, as if they are family. That means he wears his heart on his sleeve around them, as he did at The Stage when he got emotional a couple of times—the first while thanking his Uncle Johnny for his Viet Nam service and apologizing for being too busy to call him this past Memorial Day, and the second while thanking wife Kimberly for her steadfast devotion to bringing up their daughter so well and doing such a good job while Darryl is on the road. Darryl also obviously was touched when a female soldier who had heard Darryl when he performed for the troops in Afghanistan came onstage to thank him with a heartfelt presentation of a Wounded Warrior t-shirt. Those are the kinds of lump-in-the-throat moments that let the fans know how much Darryl trusts them and appreciates them.
He shared those moments, as well as performances of old favorites like “I Miss My Friend,” “Have You Forgotten” and “Awful, Beautiful Life,” plus news about his upcoming new record, which, based on the songs he’s already revealed will be on the project, should be outstanding. Among the tunes on the upcoming record are new recordings of great Worley tunes like “Slow Dancing With a Memory,” which never was, but I hope eventually will be a single, along with excellent new tunes like his current single, “You Still Got It,” a great summer song with a strong Carolina beach music vibe. And, like the woman he sings about in the tune, Darryl Worley’s definitely “still got it.” His is one of the best voices in all of country music, and he’s at the top of his game as a vocalist. If he had recorded his performance at the fan club party, it would’ve been good enough to release for sale.
Fans who lined up for photos, autographs and hugs—on the main floor of The Stage for those with physical challenges and on the second level for everyone else—let Darryl know how very much they appreciate him. That’s why, no matter what else takes place this week—and I like a lot of it—nothing else captures the essence of the festival for me the way spending an hour at a Darryl Worley party does.
Photos: David Scarlett