Monday, 17 June 2019 16:15

WVMEA President Recaps CMA Fest Experience

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I have always liked country music. Some of my first memories of singing harmonies are centered around baking cookies in my Nana’s kitchen with the Oak Ridge Boys and the Judds playing in the background. So when my husband (who’s also a music educator) and I had the chance to see what the CMA Fest was all about, I was all in. I was expecting four days of performances by various artists, opportunities to visit vendors, and eating as much great barbecue as possible. What I wasn’t expecting was to be impacted so greatly as a music educator.

Andi Hasley at CMA Fest

As you may know, WVMEA was a recipient of the 2019 CMA Foundation Advocacy Grant. Our organization used this money to host our very first “Hill Day” in Charleston, WV the day before our 2019 In-service Conference. It is through that connection that I was afforded the opportunity to attend CMA fest. After all, this event is a big part of the reason those grant monies even exist.

For starters, a brief explanation of what CMA Fest actually is. The Ultimate Country Music Fan Experience™ began in 1972 as Fan Fair®, which drew 5,000 fans to Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium. Now in its 48th year, the legendary CMA Fest has become the city’s signature Country Music event. CMA Fest is filmed for an ABC Television Network special. This is the 16th consecutive year the event has been filmed for a network television special, a feat no other music festival has achieved. Since 2006, a portion of proceeds from CMA Fest has been given to music education initiatives supporting students K-12 across the U.S. through the CMA Foundation. The performing artists donate their time during the weekend. (Source: cmafest.com/history/

Andi Hasley at CMA Fest 2019

Upon arriving in Nashville, TN the energy was palpable. More than 50,000 people showed up for this four-day event. Despite the crowds, it was well-organized and security was similar to that of a college or NFL football game and the lines moved quickly. Each day’s events began at 10:00am, though we did have a few rain delays. Overall, the days are filled with about 16 hours of live musical performances - everything from up-and-coming artists at the “Break-out” stage to artists that have been performing for decades at the “Forever Country” stage. We were able to catch about 50 different performers throughout the four days. We first visited the Riverfront Stage, where we saw former WV music student Donnie Marple (drummer for Lee Brice) perform. Following this performance, we headed down Broadway and Whiskey Row, visiting vendors along the way, and made our way to Music City Center. This is a large convention center and was filled with more vendors. Everything from recording studio booths hosting artist meet and greets, to local merchants and food vendors were available. That evening we headed to Nissan Stadium for the first of four nights of “headliners.” Each night’s concert began at 7:30pm and usually wrapped up shortly before 1:00am. Additionally, we attended a screening of portions of the Ken Burns documentary “Country Music,” which will air on PBS on September 15th at 8:00pm. WV artist Kathy Mattea was a significant contributor to this project. You can find more info here: pbs.org/kenburns/country-music/

Former WV music student Donnie Marple

The overriding theme of CMA Fest is Music Education. Everything from photo backdrops to decorated pianos were all over downtown Nashville, all of which featured the slogan “It starts with M.E.” (music education). All of the concerts featured videos about music teachers’ classrooms or ensembles, emphasizing the importance of music education. It was amazing to watch the crowd react to these videos. In fact, on the last night of concerts at Nissan, the group of people with whom we had been sitting stood up and clapped for us after learning we were music educators. (They might have figured it out when I started crying after Page Jackson Elementary choir sang for 50,000 people.) Every performer that we saw humbly thanked the audience for being in attendance and for supporting country music and music education. Many of the performers seemed genuinely shocked that people were singing along with their music. And remember, NONE of the performers received compensation for their participation in this festival. They all give their time to the CMA Foundation.

CMA Fest 2019

It's not unknown that West Virginia teachers have taken a beating the last two years by our state politicians. It’s been tough. Being at this festival for four days reminded me that people really DO value music education. I think this text from our Air BnB owner says it all. “Yes, keep teaching music. I learned everything I needed to know about myself on an athletic field but I learned how to succeed in diverse groups by playing music in band. A band is a life group project way better than other academics. Music makes the world go ‘round.” (FYI - He is an orthopedic surgeon and a football coach.)

If you ever get the chance to attend this festival, do it. Not only is it four full days of live music (there’s nothing better) but the emphasis is on music education. And, the barbecue food trucks are out of this world.

In appreciation,
Andi Hasley, WVMEA President

For more information about CMA Fest, visit their website at cmafest.com/

You can catch the Three-Hour Primetime Concert Special on Sunday, August 4 at 8pm on the ABC Television Network.

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