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Early this June, Nashville, Tennessee, was the proud host of the 37th annual CMA Music Festival, as it has been since 1972. Beginning in 2001, this enormous tribute to country music has taken place right on the streets of downtown Nashville and in the Titans’ stadium, LP Field. This festival is about more than just country musicians flexing their musical muscle; instead, the CMA Music Festival is about the unique relationship between country artists and their ever-devoted fans. Dish Magazine was there for all the excitement, talking not only to the artists, but also to some of the fans who have helped their favorite artists reach new career heights.

The band Lonestar held its annual fan club party at Rocketown this year, and this was Dish’s first stop of the four day event. Members of the Lonestar Fan Club were treated to lunch and a private concert, a reverse question and answer session, and a chance to talk to the band members personally. This was no surprise to the fans, though, many of whom have followed the group all over the country, getting to talk to them at meet-and-greets at every venue. But they keep coming back for the CMA Music Festival in Nashville every year anyway, to get some more one-on-one time with the band.Cody Collins - Lonestar

Cindy Cossey of Bowling Green, Kentucky, who has attended more than 150 Lonestar shows noted, “They’re just like your brothers; they’re just so down home and so wonderful. They treat you like you’re a sister or a family member, that’s just how they are.”

This feeling of being more than “just” a fan resonates with David Garling of Seminole, Florida as well. “We consider ourselves friends and family,” Garling stated. “They all have MySpace pages, and we don’t bother them, but they will answer us if we email them. They’re extremely fan friendly. More so than most groups we’ve ever met.”

And Lonestar fans have certainly been there for the band during the recent changes they have faced. At the end of 2007, Lonestar lost its long-time lead singer Richie McDonald, who decided to pursue his music as a solo artist. Lonestar fans could not be discouraged, though, since the other members of the band chose an incredible (and adorable) singer named Cody Collins to replace him. Collins’ energy compounded with the love of the fans for the band made this event very exciting, as the fans jumped out of their seats to dance and sing along with Lonestar’s hits such as “I’m Already There,” “What About Now,” and the song “Let Me Love You” from their new album that is scheduled to be released in September and is sure to be a chart topper.

From Rocketown’s downtown venue, Dish ventured over to the one and only Nashville Palace, a honky-tonk known for its good food and its great live music. Fans were lined up out the door to see two legendary country stars: Mark Chesnutt and Tracy Byrd. Many of these devoted fan club members have already met Chesnutt and Byrd on countless occasions, but this didn’t lessen their excitement at all.

“I’ve come to see Tracy Byrd every year for about 11 years,” said long time Byrd fan Doris Baird of Nashville. “We were just talking about all the places that he’s been in Nashville for his fan club party. I’ve gotten my picture made with him every year. He’s a sweetheart, he really is.”

For some fans, like Copeland Duhon of Louisiana, the admiration goes beyond just liking an artist’s music; they want to someday have a career to rival their favorite star. “He’s a singer/songwriter,” said Charmane Duhon, mother of Copeland. “He wants to be a Tracy Byrd or a Mark Chesnutt.”

For a wannabe country star like himself, Duhon knows that the place to be is Nashville, and what better way to get to know the industry than to talk to someone who knows the ups and downs of the business. Duhon, who proudly states that he was a Byrd fan in the womb, got his chance to speak to Byrd personally before the show to get some advice on how to start his own career. Like Duhon, all of Byrd’s fans spoke of their admiration for the country star who never forgets who got him to where he is now.

Byrd echoed many of the sentiments felt by his longtime fans. He has been hosting fan club events every year for fourteen years now, and he personally knows some of his fans who have been to every single one! He jokingly remarked that he does not even have to e-mail his fans since he sees them so often. It’s no wonder, then, that he says his fans are his friends.

“You become friends with them,” Byrd said, “and they’re still your fans, but there’s a certain point, I guess, where you spend enough time and see somebody enough throughout your career that it crosses the line from fan to friend, because you genuinely like these people and they genuinely love you.”

And many of his fans have come up with interesting ways to show their love. Fifteen years ago, at the Blind Horse Saloon in Greenville, Byrd met one of his biggest supporters face to face, in what would become one of his most memorable moments with a fan-turned-friend named Brad Holliday.

“I walked into sound check,” Byrd explained, “and there’s this one big pickup truck sitting out there. [Holliday] opened the door and said, ‘You Tracy Byrd?’ And I thought, ‘Oh gosh, this is a big ol’ son of a gun, I’m gonna have to fight.’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘I’m a big fan of yours. You like beer?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘You like Crown Royal?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Well, I brought you half a gallon of Crown Royal.’ And I said, ‘Well, I like this guy already.’"

The fans who had logged the most “T-Byrd” miles, as Tracy jokingly calls them, would undoubtedly be Ted and Glynis Austin of Herne Bay, Kent, outside of London, England. Their lovely accents were almost lost in a sea of Southern drawls, yet they held their own as devoted fans despite not living near Music City.

“We’ve been coming over for fourteen years,” Glynis Austin explained. “And we’re big fans of Tracy Byrd. Tracy’s our favorite.”

Surprisingly, Austin maintains that there’s a high demand for country music in England, especially since CMT is no longer available through her cable provider. “Well, we are cowboys in England. We dress western. We line dance, and we try to promote country music. But a few years ago, CMT pulled out, and we don’t get any country music now,” Austin admits. “We need more people to come out because there is a big following out there.”

Austin does what she can on her own to promote her love of Tracy Byrd and other famous country artists in her hometown. “I buy CD’s here, and I take them over for friends, and they say, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize it was so good. Now I see what you see in him.’”

Austin and other fans like her make up a devoted fan base that new country artists could only dream of having one day. A new nightclub in downtown Nashville called Fuel hosted an entire day of up-and-coming country artists at their World’s Largest Fan Club Party. In all, they showcased 21 new artists, and each artist was given half an hour to wow the crowd with his or her set, followed by a half a hour meet and greet session. Dish was there to get the scoop on several new artists who just might, if they are talented and lucky enough, be making headlines in the future.

One such artist is twenty-two year old Jessica Urick, whose dreams of becoming a country star were no surprise to her musical family. “Well, my father is a musician, so it runs in the family. I started writing when I was eleven. I wrote my first song called 'Romeo and Juliet,'” Urick explains. “I danced my whole life and was in musical theatre for a very long time. I got a scholarship to a musical theatre school in Rome, Georgia, and in doing that, I kind of realized that I wanted to write my own music. I want to do my own thing, and country is what I love, it’s what I grew up on, it’s everything I am.”

Though she had made up her mind to quit college after only two semesters and join the country music business, Urick still needed to tell those nearest and dearest to her.

“I called my Mom, and I said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’” Urick fondly remembers. “And [my Mom] said, ‘We’ve been waiting.’ They knew. That was in 2005, and we really started doing this in 2006. We got a band, and everything just took off. It’s been such a blessing.”

Though still new to the business, Urick already has plans to record an album at the studio “Southern Tracks,” where famous names such as Aerosmith and Sugarland have recorded their music. Urick is not signed with a record label, but she expects her CD entitled “Country Fried Princess” to be released by the end of August of this year. After releasing her album, Urick also has plans to tour southern colleges to promote her music.

Urick’s fan base is growing steadily, and like the veteran country artists who played at the festival, she realizes that the love of the fans is what propels her on toward new endeavors.

“Honestly, the only reason I do this is for people. Anybody that says they’re doing it for the fame and the money is doing it for the wrong reasons,” Urick firmly states. “When I listen to music, for instance, it’s on the soundtrack of my life. It touches me in some way. I recall a certain point in my life, and I want to do that for other people. I want people to listen to my music and think ‘I had my first kiss to that,’ or ‘I broke up with my boyfriend and it made me stronger,’ or ‘Man, I went out with my buddies and went drinking in Athens.’ That’s what I want to do for people.”

Urick is still new to the business as she strives to get her music heard, but her feelings about her fans are no different than the feelings of country stars who have already made it.

“The fans are everything,” Urick adds. “The people that love your music make this worth it. It’s the only reason you do it.” / Issue 83 - September 2018
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