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Blast to the past: Fast facts for 50 years of CMA Fest

CMA Fest is celebrating half a century of honoring Nashville’s country music scene June 8-11.

An archival photo of the crowd's view from the stands, overlooking a Fan Fest stage at the Nashville Fairgrounds.

Did any of our readers attend Fan Fair when it was held at the Nashville Fairgrounds?

Photo via CMA Fest

50 years of one of Music City’s biggest annual events calls for a trip down memory lane. How many of these CMA Fest facts did you know?

1. CMA Fest began in 1972 as “Fan Fair.”

2. The first fest brought 5,000 fans to Nashville Municipal Auditorium.

3. CMA Fest is the longest-running country music festival in the world.

4. 2022’s festival featured 250+ acts across nine stages.

5. A portion of sales since 2006 have gone to the CMA Foundation, which supports music education initiatives for kids in grades K-12.

6. The name rebrand came in 2004 due to declining ticket sales associated with the word “fair.”

7. Fan Fair relocated to the Nashville Fairgrounds in 1982 before moving downtown in 2001.

8. The artists who play or appear don’t get paid for the event.

Garth Brooks signs his autograph for a fan in the midst of a crowd.

Garth Brooks signs autographs at Fan Fair.

Photo via CMA Fest

9. Garth Brooks surprised fans at the fairgrounds in 1996, signing autographs for 23 hours and 10 minutes.

10. The fest was first introduced as a way to prevent overcrowding at the industry’s annual Country Music DJ convention.

11. Some of the artists who performed at the first-ever Fan Fair included Roy Acuff, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Bill Monroe, Dolly Parton, Marty Robbins, Ernest Tubb, and Tammy Wynette.

A crowd gathers to visit booths for artist autographs.

A crowd gathers for artist autographs.

Photo by CMA Fest

12. The first Fan Fair was held in April before moving to the month of June the following year for better weather conditions.

13. Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton performed as a duo for the last time at Fan Fair in 1974.

14. Paul McCartney also made a visit in 1974, which marked the start of a tradition of cross-genre artist appearances at the event.

15. Kathy Mattea was on strict vocal rest in 1991 and communicated with fans via a personal computer.

16. Notable names outside of the industry have appeared at the event over the years, including Maureen McCormick from “The Brady Bunch” and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman.

17. Tammy Wynette and George Jones performed their first live performance together in 17 years at the 1995 Fan Fair.

18. The first recap of the festival aired on ABC on July 14, 2004 and has continued to air since.