As Blake Shelton gears up for his headlining gig at Nissan Stadium on Friday night (June 9), the 40-year-old superstar sat down with Nash Country Daily on his tour bus on Lower Broadway to reflect on his first CMA Fest experience in 1994, when the event was known as Fan Fair. At the time, Blake was a 17-years-old aspiring singer/songwriter who had recently moved to Nashville after graduating high school in Oklahoma.
“The first CMA Fest I came to was in 1994, and it was at the Fairgrounds out here, and I met Ronna Reeves, got my picture with her,” says Blake. “I met Deborah Allen, she gave me a kiss on my cheek. I met the Bellamy Brothers, and I saw Ricky Lynn Gregg.
“I wasn’t big on standing in super-long lines, but I think that’s really what had me hooked because those are all the artists at the time that I was hearing on the radio. I walked by all the booths. All the record companies used to have a booth and their artists would come sign. That’s back when artists would cooperate. Not like us big egomaniacs that we have now [laughing]. It was magical for me because it took all my dreams and all that stuff, even though I hadn’t accomplished anything. I’d just moved to town during that week. My dreams were literally in front of me. These were my heroes. Country music singers shaking peoples’ hands and taking pictures with them and talking to them, and these people were real, and it had a huge impact on me.
“To see how CMA Fest has grown, back then it was Fan Fair. I still call it Fan Fair now. It’s incredible because I miss it for personal reasons, being at the Fairground, being what it was, but what a blessing that it has grown to this proportion and now it takes over downtown Nashville. What that does for downtown Nashville, you can’t imagine how downtown Broadway has changed from 1994 to now. About this time of day right now, you’d be getting out of here, and now it’s literally unimaginable how far country music reaches around the globe and how far artists go out of their way to get here for this week. I don’t know anything else like it.”