BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 18: Singer/songwriter Taylor Swift accepts Pop Song of the Year awards at the 58th Annual BMI Pop Awards at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on May 18, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Taylor Swift
"I started crying instantly," Broome said. "And when we got called down here I started crying instantly because it's way too overwhelming."
Broome was one of thousands who got the kind of access to country music's biggest stars over the weekend that fans usually only dream about.
Swift wasn't the only star pressing the flesh before and during the four-day CMA Music Festival, which draws fans from around the world.
Tim McGraw, signing for the first time since 2000, gave out 3,000 autographs in two hours. The Zac Brown Band put out food created by Chef Rusty Hamlin, the Smyrna, Ga., restaurateur who feeds the band and fans at every tour stop.
Martina McBride had lunch with party attendees and let them make their own CDs at Blackbird Studios. Carrie Underwood played a game where she sang snatches of lyrics and challenged fans to finish up. And Rascal Flatts made the day of several hundred fans with its first signing since 2002 and a two-song performance.
The band's usually on tour during CMA Fest, but with this year's summer travel a few weeks off, the trio decided to celebrate its 10 year anniversary with the fans.
"I think it's always great to get face to face with the people you directly affect," Rascal Flatts bassist Jay DeMarcus said. "It means as much to us as it does to them because we love to hear their stories and their experiences and about how long they've waited and the last time we saw them and the next time we're going to see them, so it's all great,"
Brad Paisley arrived by boat to his party at the Nashville Shores water park and sang some old favorites to a crowd that knew all the words. It was a multigenerational gathering and kids played on an inflatable slide. One young boy bobbed on his father's shoulders near the front of the stage.
Paisley said his wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, was shocked when she first saw the kind of access her husband, one of country's top stars, gives fans. You won't find that kind of interaction in places like Los Angeles or New York where celebrities try to create a wall between themselves and fans. And neither rock 'n' roll nor hip-hop's biggest stars are doing anything like this, either. But that's the way it's always been in country.
"It was important to guys like Ernest (Tubb) and Roy Acuff and these early guys on the Opry," Paisley said. "The saying I think was, 'Keep it close to the ground, boys,' which meant makeit relatable, make it real life. This is what our format is and so we do this really well."
Swift's fan gathering was the biggest by far with organizers reporting 10,000 in attendance at the meet and greet in the Bridgestone Arena. People came and went all day. There were activities for fans, pieces of her Fearless Tour set on display and a free four-song acoustic concert that was attended by several thousand.
Fans made signs expressing their love for Swift. One group of girls held up a banner that read, "Taylor Swift is our hero!" as they made circuit after circuit of the arena's concourse while chanting "Taylor Swift! Taylor Swift!"
There were makeovers, the chance to peek inside Swift's t-party room and so many hugs. Swift wouldn't break the endurance record at CMA Fest — that's held by Garth Brooks, who once signed for an entire day — but she had to be approaching the hug record.
All 2,000 people who met Swift got at least one. Broome walked away with three.
Swift said in an interview between autographs that when she was growing up, she often daydreamed that if she ever became a star she would do her best to give everyone autographs. She charted Sunday's progress by marking the hours on her arm and wasn't flagging one bit after scrawling a "7'' near her elbow with a black Sharpie.
She planned to sign for 13 hours because that's her favorite number, but ended up sticking around for 15, coincidentally the title of one of her biggest hits.
"I'm having a blast," Swift said. "I'm surprised my legs aren't hurting yet. I'm surprised that there's no aching going on. I'm really having so much fun because like we're all having a very good time today. They're all telling me really sweet stories."
Swift held up her arm. Her left forearm was two-thirds covered in a multicolored array of bracelets given to her by fans.
"Thisis just today," Swift said. "I don't know. This has been one of the coolest days I can remember."
The same goes for Broome, who traveled to Nashville with her mother, April. Broome, wearing a pink Taylor Swift sundress, was visibly shaking as she described her time with Swift, who signed Broome's iPhone and her hand.
"That's never ever coming off," Broome said. "If I could get a tattoo I would."
Copyright 2010 by Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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