It’s been 25 years since Martina McBride first sat down to sign autographs at what was then-known as Fan Fair — a week in Nashville where fans came to town to collect autographs and meet their favorite artists.
“It was really exciting to me to meet fans and make new fans,” McBride tells PEOPLE of the experience back in 1992. “I had never been to a fan fair before so I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be like — there was a lot of excitement and discovery, the first time kind of feeling.”
Fast forward 25 years, Fan Fair, now known as CMA Music Festival, draws over 100,000 music fans to Nashville for a jam-packed four-day country music extravaganza. Reflecting on her quarter century career in music, McBride admits that it’s the fans that count.
“[CMA Fest] is our time to give back (artists are not paid to perform) and acknowledge how much the fans meant to us and our career. They can obviously make or break a career,” she says. “Fans are the reason why I didn’t have a five-year career and am still here 25 years later.”
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The “Independence Day” singer confesses that while performing at the stadium for the big nightly concerts is “fun and an honor,” it’s the more intimate moments from CMA Fest that she treasures most. As CMA artist of the day, “people come to see another side of you other then singing on stage — I just love it!” She adds that her fan club parties are “the beautiful moment I love — getting to be up close and personal.”
The 2017 CMA Music Festival continues in Nashville through Sunday, June 11.