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VOL. 39 | NO. 23 | Friday, June 5, 2015

Opry has become big part of CMA Fest

By Tim Ghianni | Correspondent

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The relationship between the Grand Ole Opry – the 90-year-old radio program and down home variety show – and CMA Music Fest is a pretty simple formula.

“A win for CMA Music Fest is a win for the Opry,” says Pete Fisher, vice president and general manager of the nation’s longest continuously running radio program.

“We have a marketing partnership with the CMA (Country Music Association),” he says. “It’s beneficial to all of us to insure Music Fest is as successful as possible from the Opry’s perspective.

“Before we can sell a ticket to the Opry, we have to sell a ticket to Nashville. And CMA Music Fest is an ideal way to do that.”

There are financial rewards as well, with plenty of tickets to be had from the Opry for performances and activities during the week.

“Tuesday night, June 9, is one of our biggest shows of the year, no doubt. We actually do two shows, and so many country fans come to town early for CMA Fest,” he says, adding those two shows have become CMA kickoff traditions for many fans.

The Opry shows that night – 7 and 9:30 p.m. – will be filled with a variety of performers from the classic Del McCoury Band to the country pop of Carrie Underwood.

Other performers will include Scotty McCreery, Easton Corbin, Mickey Guyton and Billy Currington. More names are expected to be added, depending on Opry members’ availability.

The shows will be preceded by the country fun of the Opry Plaza Party at 5 p.m. At 5:30, Mickey Guyton will be hosting a signing of her new EP at the Opry Shop.

The Opry has its 7 p.m. Friday show stacked with classic country talent, with performers including Charley Pride, Mel Tillis, Joe Diffie, Mickey Gilley, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Vince Gill, Josh Turner and Chuck Wicks.

Saturday is an interesting day for Fisher and his charges, beginning with the City of Hope Celebrity Softball Game pitting Opry stars against I Heart Radio personalities.

“We’ll be playing from 9-11:30 at the new First Tennessee Park,” says Fisher, who serves as coach to the Grand Ole sluggers in the charity event.

From there, the Opry travels downtown for the Saturday matinee at the Ryman Auditorium, a 3 p.m. show featuring Chris Janson, Kristian Bush, Morgan Evans, Jamie Lynn Spears and Charles Esten (of TV soaper, “Nashville’’).

Then it’s back out to Donelson for the 7 p.m. show with “Nashville” star Clare Bowen, Pride, Tillis, Phil Vassar and Clay Walker.

There also are backstage tours, Fisher adds, “which we run seven days a week.

“Tours begin every 15 minutes, and people can get behind the scenes, see our 18 themed dressing rooms and then finish the tour at the circle (mid-stage highlight carved from the Ryman stage, where Hank and Lefty and Maybelle performed),” Fisher says.

And while it’s not the Grand Ole Opry House, folks might also consider taking the tour of the Ryman Auditorium, a good way to get out of the heat and celebrate the heritage of the music that brings them to Nashville.

Fisher said the Opry was instrumental in the old Fan Fair at the State Fairgrounds, but is even more supportive of it since it was dubbed CMA Music Fest and moved downtown.

“I think the Opry is the perfect manifestation of what makes country music so unique and special,” Fisher says. “We honor and respect our elders. We celebrate a variety of musical styles from traditional to contemporary.

“Definitely the most enthusiastic country fans come out to CMA Music Fest” and the Opry shows that take place during that period. “It’s really an incredible week.”

Information and tickets: Opry.com.

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