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Country music fans are just part of the family
Visit to CMT Music Awards offers up-close, personal look at stars
Marty Stuart and Keith Urban jam at Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam, Wednesday at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. - photo by Tasha Biggers

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — One of the many things I love about country music is that its stars are famous for being regular.

The twang that comes out of Nashville echoes the one I heard growing up, from my Uncle Wayne’s guitar.

It sounds just like the gospel voices that fill the tabernacle each August at Union Grove Camp Meeting.

And the substance of a country song is very often the substance of my life: I live on a farm. I love my Mama. I have a Southern voice.

So when I heard about the Middle Tennessee Flood last month, and how its waters seeped into the Grand Ole Opry House so deep people were kayaking up on the stage, it felt kind of like Mama called to tell me my childhood home had washed away.

I told my husband, Heath, that I wanted to go to Nashville — that everyone should, so tourism would keep the city alive.

Now, let’s be real. I always want to go to Nashville. Flood or not, it’s one of my favorite places in the world. It wasn’t a big sacrifice.

So we went to the Opry last Tuesday, which was held at Nashville Municipal Auditorium. And it was wonderful, as usual. I even got to meet Eddie Stubbs, the beloved Opry emcee.

Stubbs shared with me the fact that he’s not very technologically inclined — he doesn’t even own a microwave or have an ATM card. Not surprising, since he’s basically a walking anachronism whose voice would sound just right narrating the Opry in the 1940s.

Stubbs posed for a photo with me, and then obliged again when the first one didn’t turn out right.

I saw the same kind of friendliness at the Country Music Hall of Fame, where Trisha Yearwood signed cookbooks Wednesday. As I toured the museum, I would check once in a while to see if Yearwood was still there. She was, for more than three hours, standing, signing autographs and laughing with fans like they were family.

Another exciting part of our trip was the CMT Music Awards, which had a little more glitz and glamour, even if it was the country kind.
We stood in the mosh pit, and our reward for standing was a close-up view of just about every popular country singer alive.

Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Faith Hill, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Hank Williams, Jr., Reba McEntire ... they were all about 20 feet from us, accepting or presenting awards, or performing this year’s hits.

North Georgia-based Zac Brown Band performed with Kid Rock, Jamey Johnson, Martina McBride and others for the show’s opener.
We even got to see some celebrities of the non-country kind. Kenan Thompson, from Saturday Night Live, was there to do his impression of McEntire, who came on stage to let him know — as if there was any question — that she is the real Reba.

Comedian David Spade presented an award with Kid Rock, and joked that he got his country cred from playing Joe Dirt — and that Kid Rock needs a scrunchie.

We stood there, singing along, taking hundreds of photos and looking up at the arena around us, filled to the brim with diehard country fans.

We also were pretty close to the area where performers were seated, and watched Swift chat with Kellie Pickler, and Nicole Kidman smiling as her husband, Urban, walked by fans, giving them high-fives, to accept the award for Male Video of the Year.

We bounced huge red balloons around the arena as Paisley sang “American Saturday Night,” and he popped one with his guitar, sending confetti flying.

In short, it was awesome.

And after the award show, we still wanted more Nashville. So we walked over to the Ryman Auditorium for Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam.

Stuart led the show, along with Stubbs, who must never sleep, hard as he works.

Urban came on stage for a couple songs, commenting, “That’s the way it should sound,” in reference to the ideal acoustics of the Ryman.

We were glad to have a seat, especially on one of the Ryman’s pews, and we ate some really good chicken fingers as we listened to artists like Vince Gill, who sang a new song that drew cheers from the audience.

Stuart also brought to the stage little kids — children of his friends — like the little boy who threw guitar picks out to the audience in a charming, star-in-the-making fashion.

He told the story of how he and his wife met, and talked back and forth with the audience, whose voices could be heard plainly since, after all, it is the Ryman.

And when fans went to the stage, some to donate cash to flood relief and some to take a photo, the stars responded to them with a handshake or a smile.

We found that, even in the midst of one of the biggest tragedies to hit Nashville in 100 years, its spirit still lives among the people who take the stage and the ones sitting in the audience.

And that’s why I love country music.

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