Country music fans from across the globe will descend on downtown Nashville this week for CMA Fest. But for Hendersonville native Melissa Luman Phillips and countless others, the four-day festival will forever be known as Fan Fair.
Started in 1972 by the Country Music Association and WSM, Inc., the Fan Fair that Phillips remembers was less about filling stadiums and more about the personal connections the artists – many of whom made Hendersonville their home – made with their fans.
Phillips, whose dad Bob Luman enjoyed a string of hit records in the 1960’s and 70’s, keeps the Fan Fair tradition alive and well for both old and new fans of her dad’s music.
And she’s not alone.
For the past eight years, Phillips has joined other sons and daughters of legendary country music crooners to create a nostalgic look back for fans young and old.
Friday’s 8th annual Next Generation: Sons and Daughters of Country Legends at the Nashville Palace will include Conway Twitty’s son Michael; Waylon Jennings’ grandson, Whey Jennings; Faron Young’s son Robyn Young; Glen Campbell’s daughter, Debby Campbell; June Carter’s daughter Carlene Carter; Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr., son of Jean Shepard and Hawkshaw Hawkins, as well as Phillips.
Many of those featured grew up in and around Hendersonville and still call the area home.
“We call ourselves the Nashville Brat Pack,” said Phillips who is also a local mortgage loan officer. “I tell people in our audience that we’re not as rowdy as that Brat Pack on the West Coast though.”
Phillips was 12 years old when her dad, a member of both the Rockabilly and Texas Country Music Hall of Fames, died from pneumonia in 1978.
She said she shares a special kinship with the other Next Generation performers.
“I guess the comradery is most important because all of us kids grew up the same way with one or both of our parents never home,” she said. “And we all took the same ridicule at school. You know, by hearing things like, ‘Your daddy is a singer, you must be rich.’ We’ve just all experienced it.”
Additionally, almost all of the Next Generation singers have lost their parents.
“It’s a way for us to keep our parents’ memories and music and legacy alive because if you don’t listen to Willie’s Road House or 650 WSM, chances are you’re not going to hear a Faron Young song, or one of my dad’s songs,” said Phillips who entertains with her dad’s two biggest hits, “Let’s Think About Living,” and “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers.”
Phillips said she was asked to be a part of the show by Faron Young’s son Robyn.
At the same time, Robyn also enlisted Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr., to perform.
Hawkins is the son of long-time Grand Ole Opry member Jean Shepard and crooner Hawkshaw Hawkins.
Hawkins’ song, “Lonesome 77203” hit the top of the charts in March of 1963 – the same week he died in a plane crash along with Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and pilot Randy Hughes.
Hawkshaw Jr. was born a month later.
A singer-songwriter in his own right, Hawkins Jr., sings songs from both parents’ repertoires at the Next Generation show.
“It’s our way of keeping our parents’ names alive,” he said. “People will always remember the Johnny Cashes and the George Joneses but my mother paved the path for so many others like Patsy Cline, and in the process her achievements kind of got overlooked,” said Hawkins.
Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011, Shepard first gained popularity in the 1950’s.
“No mere ‘girl singer’ with a band or part of a husband-wife team, she was one of the first women in country music to front her own tours, thus helping to pave the way for artists such as Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette in the 1960s and beyond,” according to Shepard’s bio on the Country Music Hall of Fame’s website.
Shepard, who died in 2016, hit number one on the country charts and number four on the pop charts in 1952 with, “Dear John Letter,” a duet with Ferlin Husky.
Hawkins says the song has become a popular one at Next Generation shows.
Last year he sang the duet with Ferlin’s daughter, Jennifer Husky.
“They absolutely eat that up when we do that song,” he said.
Hawkins, whose own music is tinged with a Southern rock flavor, says a lot of his parents’ fans seem to want to see him succeed in his own right as well.
“I get a lot of older people who come to my shows - who knew my mother or father. But at the same time, many are my age – people who want to see a second-generation performer succeed.”
Hawkins has plans to release a new CD in the fall.
Phillips says she has fond memories of running around backstage at the Opry with Hawkins and other Next Generation performers as kids.
She enjoys hearing others’ memories of her father as well.
“They just want to breathe the same air and tell you stories of that concert they went to way back when,” she said. “They’ll tell you things like, ‘he put on a heck of a show and I’ll never forget it.’ It’s wonderful [to hear].”
“There are people who still come here who want to hear real country music,” Phillips added. “Our parents are gone - and we’re the next best thing.”
The 8th annual Next Generation: Sons & Daughters of Country Legends sponsored by Springer Mountain Farms Chicken include: Robyn Young, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Melissa Luman Phillips, Michael Twitty, Debby Campbell, Carlene Carter, Aubry Rodriguez, Tess Frizzell, Lorrie Carter, Whey Jennings, and Terry, Jennifer and Julie Husky.
For tickets, go to Nashville-palace.com.