NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Forget email or a handwritten note. Country stars thank their fans with an entire festival.
Brad Paisley, Jason Aldean and the Zac Brown Band are some of the artists who helped kick off the Country Music Association Music Festival in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday night with performances at LP Field.
"It's a unique festival. It doesn't happen in any other style of music. We're talking about something where people come out of the woodwork, drive to this mecca of Nashville and sort of assemble in a stadium to hear all their favorite artists who put on this exhibition of what they're about," said Paisley.
One reason it's so unique? The artists play for free, and the proceeds are donated to charity.
"None of us are getting paid," said Paisley. "We're here to say thanks."
Since 2006, CMA has donated nearly $4.8 million from CMA Fest proceeds to Metro Nashville schools through its "Keep the Music Playing" campaign.
There are countless events and activities downtown that are part of the four-day festival, but the nightly concerts at LP Field provide the biggest star power in one place. The artists like it because it provides them with a massive audience usually reserved for only a handful of top country acts.
"I love playing the stadium here. I tell people all the time, it's like it gives me a taste of what (Kenny) Chesney gets to deal with every night," said Aldean. "He gets to play stadiums every night, but we don't. So doing this is cool. It gives us a chance to get up close and personal with the fans. It's just a cool night for them, I think, and also for us."
Pop singer Kelly Clarkson joined Aldean on stage to sing their crossover hit "Don't You Wanna Stay." The Zac Brown Band also had a little help from their friends during their LP Field performance Thursday night. Country legend Randy Travis sang his song "Forever and Ever Amen" with Brown. Alan Jackson showed up to perform his part in the hit collaboration "As She's Walking Away," and Amos Lee helped with vocals on "Colder Weather."