June 13, 2022 CMA Week Wrap Up

My brother and I just spent a week in Nashville and heard music all day long every day. The weather was great.

We got in town Tuesday afternoon and headed over to the Music Valley area near the Opry. When we were young, the Opryland area was the happening part of Nashville and downtown Nashville was about dead. The few venues remaining in the Music Valley area tend to be much more traditional country than most of the downtown bars. We saw Anita Stapleton play a solo show at the Music City Bar and Grill. Her comfort zone is classic country covers. She covered such artists as Connie Smith, Tammy Wynette, Ricky Van Shelton, Janie Fricke, Loretta Lynn, and George Jones. Diane Berry was in the audience and sang a couple of songs, too. Anita and Diane often sing together on the Merlin Gene Show on RFD-TV.

Next, we went to the Bavarian Bierhaus. There was an excellent polka band playing called Toby’s House. One of the musicians used to be in Frankie Yankovic’s band and another had a Grammy, so these were top quality musicians. Be sure to check them out if you’re in the area. My experience is that many country fans don’t know polka, but a lot of polka fans know country. Then, there are people in my age bracket who grew up when the whole family gathered around the one TV in the house to watch Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk the same evening.

We finished Tuesday at the Grand Ole Opry. This was my brother’s first visit to the Opry in over forty years ago when we were kids, and we picked a great night, with legends Jeannie Seely, The Oak Ridge Boys, and Riders In The Sky, comedian Henry Cho, young artist Hannah Ellis (who was a last minute addition to the lineup after Morgan Wade cancelled), mainstream country neotraditionalist Jon Pardi, and superstar Carrie Underwood. The Opry is the best place to see Carrie, because she “countrifies” when she plays the Opry. She had two fiddles on the first song.

We began Wednesday at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. We always enjoy visiting whenever we’re in Nashville, which isn’t often. It is over 900 miles from our home in Texas to Nashville, and we drive, rather than fly. Screw Biden for making gas so damn expensive. I hate that stupid, smug, evil, demented sack of shit. Anyway, the CMHOF has two floors, and the upper half with the older country is in good shape. There is currently a large Bill Anderson display. Downstairs was an unholy mess. Two of the largest seasonal exhibit spaces were empty. One had been the home of the Outlaws and Armadillos exhibit and the other a Kacey Musgraves exhibit. I understand that there will be some “down time” between exhibits, but why schedule it during CMA week? You’d think they could have either waited until after the festival or pushed ahead and gotten the next exhibits open. As it is, there was a whole lot of dead space. The American Currents section featured some good artists, but some of the picks seemed as random as someone throwing a dart at a wall of names to decide whom to feature. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my visit and look forward to visiting again the next time I get to town.

We spent nearly the whole day at Robert’s Western World, which has a well-earned reputation as a classic country venue. I had seen Pork McElhinny before and knew he’d put on a good show. The solo artist played a lot of classic country covers, including audience requests, and truly excels at playing guitar. He sounds like he has some Jerry Reed in his musical DNA.

Next up was Wendy Newcomer, who also played a bevy of classic country covers. She walked around with the tip jar at the top of the hour and I mentioned to her that I had seen her accordion player Rory Hoffman (who plays all sorts of instruments and styles) in polka legend Alex Meixner’s band at Wurstfest in Texas a few months ago. A few minutes later, she had Rory play a polka medley for us, and I posted a phone video on my YouTube channel. I really appreciate this very classic country band at a very traditional country venue giving me that bit. We enjoyed the famous “Recession Special” fried bologna sandwich dinner.

Kelley’s Heroes was up next, and they brought fiery, fast-picking rockabilly. They were very high energy. We had to leave during their set to head over to the Ryman for Marty Stuart, but we tipped every band we saw at Robert’s and our excellent waitress.

Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam is a two-decade tradition. Marty and his guests performed at the Ryman for fully three hours. As with the Opry House the night before, we had great seats. Marty’s show is structured a lot like an Opry show. He even had the Opry square dancers. Williams and Ree were hilarious. Marty used several rare instruments during the evening. There were guitars that had been owned by Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Merle Haggard, etc. Hall of fame legends Marty Stuart, Connie Smith, and Emmylou Harris performed, but so did many young artists. Billy Strings and Marcus King are two of the most elite young pickers anywhere. I first saw Lainey Wilson at a crappy venue in my hometown in 2016, so it is really cool to see how hot her career is now. The Opry House and Ryman both allow photography, but request no audio or video recording, so I honored their request. Some others did take some nice video clips and I’m glad they went ahead and did so.

Thursday through Sunday were the official four days of CMA Fest itself. Doors open at 10AM and the stadium shows ended after midnight, and we were there from pillar to post every day. We heard a tremendous number of artists. Our usual daytime hangout was the Spotlight Stage inside Fan Fair X. This is the smallest of all of the official CMA Fest stages, but it is inside and comfortable. Acts play 20 minute sets, and most are lesser known artists, though a few of them also appeared on larger stages during the week, even the stadium. The Spotlight Stage is also where they put songwriter rounds and international artists. We saw acts from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, El Salvador, and Canada. We spent a lot of time at the Spotlight Stage at the last CMA Fest we attended, also. I went to CMA Fest in 2017-2019.

There are some good, young acts on the smaller stage who are much more traditional than most of the acts on the bigger stages. You could drop someone like Kimberly Kelly in the middle of Ameripolitan and she’d fit right in. Paige King Johnson is as country as it gets, too. Brit Taylor has a new album on the way that’s produced by Sturgill Simpson. Her set was right after Jenny Tolman, who is another good young country artist. The songwriter round with Brett Sheroky, Marla, and Joe Fox was really funny. I’d be typing all day if I tried to mention everyone I saw.

We did a meet and greet with Catie Offerman from New Braunfels, Texas (20 miles from where I live), and saw her at the Reverb Stage in front of Bridgestone Arena. She had steel guitar on every song, and some harmonica and other country goodness. She has some background in polka, but she’s very much a country artist.

We saw Andy Griggs at the Vibes Stage and he closed his set with a great rendition of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” I thought I had it on my phone, but somehow, it didn’t take.

I posted dozens of phone videos from the last four days on my YouTube channel, so please enjoy. I posted a clip from Carly Pearce and Wynonna, and it was taken down by YouTube for a “copyright strike” with a warning that if they decide to take down anything else they’ll kill my channel, which I’ve worked on for seven years. I’m not trying to monetize anything. I’m just trying to share some music at a festival that exists supposedly for the express purposes of fan access. One of the acts I saw on a small stage even asked the audience to take video, so that her family and friends could see her. To be on the safe side, I removed several of the stadium videos, since those might be more likely to have copyright strike issues. People were really enjoying those videos, so I hated to take them down, but I have spent seven years building up my channel and I’d hate to lose everything because of some stupid copyright thing.

The evening shows featured mostly big, current names, but the first act each evening was a bit older (which I generally prefer). For the most part, the small, indoor stage full of unknowns during the day is more my speed than the huge arena rock spectacle in the evening, but there were moments there, too. The crowd was very into the surprise appearance of Wynonna in a duet with Carly Pearce. Carrie Underwood sang a bit of “How Great Thou Art” in one of the best vocal moments of the festival. Old Dominion played “Chattahoochee” because Alan Jackson was originally scheduled to be and cancelled, and they wanted to honor him and give something to his fans in the audience. I just got to Corky’s BBQ in Memphis and ordered my lunch, so I’ll wrap this up.

In general, this year’s festival needed more of the older stars, as they inexplicably got rid of the dedicated classic country stage this year. Many of the hottest current artists were also absent from the festival, like Chris Stapleton, Morgan Wallen, Blake Shelton, and Miranda Lambert.

If you’re a “real country” fan, you’re likely turned off by a lot of the non-country crap on various stages during the week, but if you do your homework, you’ll find that there are also still many country singers, even if they’re toiling away on the smallest stages for years and have been told they’re “too country” by the “industry.” Meanwhile, there’s a huge banner for Breland hanging over the front of the country hall of fame and Breland has a display in the country hall of fame and Breland had a guest appearance on the largest stage at CMA Fest, Nissan Stadium. His debut album doesn’t come out until September, and he has already been handed all of that over everyone else. I hear many stories of talented country artists who have been in Nashville (and elsewhere) for a decade or more who work lousy day jobs just to be able to keep making the country music they love, who never receive a tiny fraction of the recognition and opportunities as this Breland guy.

Anyway, I had a whole lot of fun this week and I posted a lot of video clips on my YouTube channel and some photos of the Opry and Marty on the Facebook page. As always, thanks for reading my page.

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