The 2014 CMA Music Festival kicks off Thursday with hundreds of country stars performing on 11 stages in downtown Nashville through Sunday night. More than 100,000 country fans invade the city for the annual event, which Keith Urban describes as a country music "summer camp."
Keith first began performing at the CMA Music Festival back in the late '90s when it was called Fan Fair and held at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. He says, "Since Fan Fair, it’s just been that sort of week-plus of energy, the whole town just explodes, and what it is that we love about this genre and the community aspect of it. I always love it."
Lady Antebellum 's Hillary Scott grew up going to Fan Fair back at the fairgrounds with her mother, CMA Award winner Linda Davis .
Hillary tells ABC News Radio, "I would actually take photos of her with her fans going through the line."
Now, Hillary is on the other side of that camera meeting Lady Antebellum fans along with her band mates Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood . They've been performing and signing autographs at CMA Music Festival since 2007, and Charles is still in awe of how dedicated their fans are year after year.
He says, "It's the most diehard fans. They're really passionate about country music, so to get to see kind of the top of the top, so to speak, of the fanbase of country music, it means a lot."
Blake Shelton attended this event as a fan when he moved to Nashville 20 years ago. As a hardcore country fan himself, Blake was ecstatic to meet any artist he'd ever seen on TV, including '90s acts Ronna Reeves , John and Audrey Wiggins and country legends The Bellamy Brothers .
"I was just running around crazy trying to meet all these people, get 'em to sign something and take a picture with me," Blake remembers. "Now, when I come back, I remember that feeling because I see these people walking by. They're having that same feeling."
Cole Swindell is taking part in his first CMA Music Festival since scoring a #1 hit with "Chillin' It." This time last year, Cole didn't even have a record deal, but he knew all about the event because of his work as one of Luke Bryan 's merch guys.
Says Cole, "When I worked for Luke, I remember him throwing his fan club parties and just getting a chance to be around the fans, the people that keep you in the business."
Now that he's got a lot of fans of his own, Cole adds, "It's just gonna be cool to get to hang with them and just tell 'em how much I appreciate 'em."
The biggest event at CMA Music Festival is always the nightly concerts at Nashville's LP Field. The big shows start Thursday night with performances from Brantley Gilbert , Luke Bryan , Dierks Bentley , Rascal Flatts , Tim McGraw and Alabama . Go to CMAFest.com for a complete list of who's appearing where this weekend.
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