My trip to the Country Music Association Fan Fair Festival in Nashville is one of the highlights of my life. I attended the festival with a friend of mine, who is also a huge country music fan. I was thrilled and excited when Connie asked me to go along with her on the five-day travel tour.

Connie and I joined up with the tour at the Greyhound Bus Station. I was taken by surprise to see such a large group of people of all ages. The chartered bus ride took some getting used to, as it was jam-packed with adults and children carrying lots of excess baggage. We had plenty of time to get acquainted with some wonderful people. We departed from Minneapolis and traveled to Chicago where the bus driver made a preliminary stop.

The travel guides had a well-planned itinerary, which included an overnight stay in Indianapolis, Indiana. The guides were well versed in history and elocution, filling us in with interesting tidbits along the way. One spectacle to see was the showroom of superior racecars at the Indianapolis 500 raceway. This was just the beginning of a fun-filled week of exciting events. Leaving Indianapolis, we headed south through Kentucky to arrive in Nashville, Tennessee.

The scenes and sounds of Nashville astounded me from the moment that I stepped off the tour bus. Our first stop was the Old Ryman Auditorium where I could almost hear the resonance of great preachers. The Old Ryman is steeped in history and was once a Church. The building resounds with echoes of the people’s past. It’s halls ring out with the sounds of sermons and song.

Standing in front of the podium on the stage of the historic Grand Ole Opry was a Kodak moment. The polished boards under my feet once held the legends of Gospel and country music. There is no telling all those who have stood on its platform. The Grand Ole Opry has since moved on to bigger and brighter pastures, but it’s nostalgia lives on.

The weeklong festival was filled with a menagerie of stars and activities. The big event at Nashville Fan Fair was getting up close and personal with the country music stars. Connie and I waited anxiously for hours in long lines to meet and get our pictures taken with our favorite performers. The musicians signed autographs and were friendly and receptive to their fans. We met Marie Osmond, The Judds, Kathy Mattea and others.

The living legends and the up-and-coming newcomers to country music would later go on to perform at concerts all week long. The music ranged from bluegrass to Cajun to country and Gospel acts. Connie and I attended Lee Greenwood’s fan member’s club concert, where Connie awarded him with a bouquet of roses. We experienced the famous WSM radio show at Opryland and were privileged to hear Loretta Lynn sing her famous song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” live and out of doors.

There were so many consecutive concerts going on day and night, that no tourist could see and hear everything that was planned. A Special Olympics fundraiser was another way the stars came out in full force. The sounds of rhythm and blues resonate from the joints of Nashville’s famous music row into all hours of the night. It was not just the music that intrigued us.

Strolling through the opulent Opryland Hotel we viewed huge hand-painted murals on the walls, which brought the old Southern Plantations back to life. The carpet was an unusual shade of green with a pattern of plants and vines. Connie and I also visited the Country Music Hall of Fame where we observed Elvis’ pink Cadillac and Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors”. Minnie Pearl’s famous price tag on her hat was displayed at the Minnie Pearl Museum. What was most astounding of all was a real-life replica of the Greek Parthenon right smack-dab in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A.
The culmination of my trip was on the bus ride back to Minnesota. While heading north on the tour bus, I had no idea what Connie was up to and no clue of what was in store for me. Earlier in the week Connie had encouraged me to make a demo tape in Nashville. I had gone to the Barbara Mandrell “You Can Be a Star” Studios to have a cassette tape made as a gift for my parents. My voice had been dubbed in as I sang Karoake-style to my favorite song, “Amazing Grace”. Connie secretly found my demo tape and passed it to the bus driver. He listened to it and decided to broadcast it over the loudspeaker for everyone on the bus to hear! When I heard my own voice being played over the intercom, I was so embarrassed that I not only turned a few shades of red, but I shrank a foot in my seat. I never expected the reaction that I received.

I got swarms of cheers! The whole bus was clapping and whooping, and people were patting me on the back. Several others were hollering accolades at me and telling me that this was going to be the start of my musical career. Connie and I minced a few words, but afterwards, I had to be thankful. Personally, I have always suffered from painful shyness and considered any situation where I received attention rather emotionally distressing. The rest of the trip remained uneventful and Connie and I returned home to Minnesota safe and sound, along with some newfound friendships.

Connie and I have grown apart over the years, but there are some things that I will never forget. The images and sounds of Nashville that are etched in my mind will remain treasured memories. Next stop? Bristol, TN-VA, heart of the Appalachian country and the birthplace of country music.

© 2017, Denise Fletcher

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