As I boarded the plane en route to Nashville to fulfill my responsibilities as a student journalist for The Country Music Association (CMA) at CMA Fest 2012, my friends and family expressed their jealousy and desire for me to tell stories of their favorite artists, such as Brantley Gilbert, Luke Bryan and Carrie Underwood.
While they may expect to hear all about the four-night headlining concerts on LP Field or celebrity gossip from the press conferences, the stories I will choose to share are about the fans and how County Music deeply affects its listeners.
When I reached my assignment location at Fan Fair Hall Saturday in Nashville's downtown convention center, I interviewed people who were waiting in lines for autographs about their experiences at CMA Fest and what they enjoyed most about the artist who stood where the lengthy lines ended.
While many in Robin Meade's area recognized her from CNN Headline News or simply found her music catchy, Matt Pekoski and Ian Foster, who serve in the armed forces, came to thank Meade for her segment, "Salute to Troops."
"We are both in the military and every single day she does 'Salute to Troops,' and when we were on the boat, we'd turn around and watch. She's the only person who does something like that every single day," Pekoski said.
Foster agreed, "We'd wake up in the Caribbean every morning with coffee, eggs and Robin Meade."
Just as Meade touched the lives of these military men, The Band Perry has touched the lives of an entire community in Georgia.
I met the Bevill family in line at The Band Perry autograph booth in Fan Fair Hall Sunday. Standing off to the side with notebook in hand, I awaited The Band Perry's arrival, allowing fans to photograph the band from inches away before I asked any for an interview.
When Kenneth Bevill approached me, he inquired as to why I was the only person feverishly scribbling in a notebook. Once I told him my reason for being there, he shared with me his. He proceeded to tell of the heartbreaking suicide of 14 year-old Sydney Sanders in Richmond Hill, Ga. in April 2011.
"I coach a softball team and one of the girls I coached committed suicide and 'If I Die Young' was played at the funeral," Bevill said. "I talked to The Band Perry's publicist and we gave her the picture of Sydney and our home address to see if she would get the picture signed and send it back to us so we can give the autographed photo to Sydney's momma."
These instances are only two of thousands, maybe even millions, of stories artists at CMA Fest's meet and greets heard about how their music deeply affected another life, and I consider myself fortunate to have met fans such as these.
As I prepare to board my flight back home, my friends and family may be disappointed when I tell them that the concerts were forgettable. I will forget Underwood's outfits, Bryan's dance moves and Gilbert's song selection. But I can promise you that I will never forget the overwhelming chills I felt when I spoke with the Bevill family about The Band Perry or the depth of gratitude in the eyes of the two military men awaiting Robin Meade to give their thanks.
Those moments with the fans were the unforgettable moments, the moments that set country music apart from other genres and explain why country is on the rise -- its music and lyrics articulate the heartbreak and hope of so many, cutting straight to the heart.