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In waterlogged Nashville, the show must go on
Crowds of country music fans lined up at the corner of Demonbreun St. and Broadway in Nashville to await performers as they were dropped off at the blue carpet for the CMT Music Awards Wednesday. The awards were sold out. - photo by Tasha Biggers

NASHVILLE — It has been 42 days since the Middle Tennessee Flood devastated Nashville, and although the losses were great to residents and the music industry, tourism has picked back up in Music City.

Country music fans descended on the city Wednesday for the CMT Music Awards and CMA Music Fest, the annual fan-centric festival that features autograph sessions and concerts throughout Nashville. The festival officially began Thursday and ends today.

"We come for CMA every year," said Carmen Dellutri, 43, of Fort Myers, Fla., who attended Marty Stuart’s Ninth Annual Late Night Jam at the Ryman Auditorium on Wednesday.

Dellutri said when he heard about the flood it didn’t keep him away from the festival, which he has attended with his wife for 10 years.

"It didn’t affect us. It actually made us want to come even more, to see how everything worked out," he said, adding that he was impressed with Tennessee residents’ volunteer spirit.

But some visitors were affected, including a tour group from the Educational Talent Search of Morehead State University.

Jordan Brown, 14, from Salyersville, Ky., came with the group, and said their plans changed due to flooding in the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

"We actually (were) going to stay at the Opryland Hotel, where it was flooded, but we moved to Embassy Suites," Brown said.

Brown’s visit was far from ruined, though.

"I met Jason Aldean," he said. "We went to the celebrity softball game and met all those people."

For many, this year’s CMA Fest has been a mix of fun and charity, as artists like Stuart gave fans the opportunity to donate to help flood relief organizations.

At Stuart’s Late Night Jam, Eddie Stubbs, longtime Grand Ole Opry emcee, invited attendees to come up to the stage to donate during the concert, and Stubbs and Stuart, along with Stuart’s wife, Connie Smith, thrilled fans by taking the money themselves.

"A lady came forward here tonight that I know personally, and she got out of her house trailer with the clothes on her back and an automobile to get out of the flood zone on Murfreesboro Road. She gave a contribution," Stubbs said at the event.

The contributions at the late night jam went to MusiCares, the nonprofit entity of The Grammy Awards that provides financial assistance to artists in need.

Debbie Carroll, executive director of MusiCares, said the losses in the industry were significant.

"Primarily, we’ve seen a significant amount of loss to people’s homes, where they experienced water that was 6 feet deep in their houses and have lost everything and have to completely rebuild," Carroll said.

Another loss to the music community was the Grand Ole Opry House, which has yet to set a reopening date, and many historical artifacts housed there.

Despite the Opry House’s temporary closing, the Grand Ole Opry has not missed a show, moving around Nashville to venues like the Ryman Auditorium and the Nashville Municipal Auditorium.

Carroll added that Sound Check, a storage facility for artists’ equipment, lost the gear of more than 250 artists in the flood.

In the aftermath of the disaster, donations have increased to MusiCares, she said, and even those who lost everything have put it all in perspective.

"It’s interesting. What I’ve found to be so remarkable is that everyone who I’ve spoken to who has experienced great, great losses related to the flood, has a positive attitude," she said. "They’re able to see the silver lining in this. They acknowledge that their loss was great, but they feel appreciative that they can rebuild."

Although tourism may have rebounded, Carroll said it will be a while before the music industry itself recovers.

"It’s not going to be a fast and easy fix. It’s going to be a slow and methodical fix, and it’s going to take some time before Nashville gets back on its feet."

Judi Turner, a former Gainesville resident who now lives in West Nashville, said she experienced the flood in her own living room.

"About 11:30 (Saturday) night, it started raining really hard," Turner said. "In 30 minutes, we had 2 inches of rain, and after the heavy rain was over, I kept hearing something in my living room. I went in the living room, and part of my ceiling had fallen from around the chimney in my fireplace."

Turner said repair work like her living room needed was given last priority, last in line "until they (got) some of the more pressing problems fixed."

Like others, Turner said the response to the flood from Nashville residents has been to volunteer without complaint.

"When it finally stopped raining Sunday night, by Monday morning, there were relief organizations and neighbors helping neighbors, and churches, people immediately banding together," she said. "Because there was such a great spirit of volunteerism here, I think that that’s what kept it from being a bigger story than it was. Because there was never any looting, there was never any crime that we were told about. It was all just orderly, and people helping people."

Gainesville native Bruce Burch, a songwriter who heads the John Jarrard Foundation, lived in Nashville for 28 years.

"It was sad, because a lot of it was right there in my neighborhood," he said. "It’s a big loss. It kind of reminds me of New Orleans."

Burch said the country music industry is self-reliant when it comes to situations like the flood.

"You haven’t heard a lot about it in the news and that kind of stuff because they’re kind of just taking care of their own, as they call it," he said.

"That’s the thing about the music business. In the music business, the mantra is, ‘The show must go on.’"

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