The Art of Wrangling Kellie Pickler and “Duck Dynasty” at CMA Fest

The Art of Wrangling Kellie Pickler and “Duck Dynasty” at CMA Fest

Nothing comes easily to those who document the CMA Music Festival for ABC Television. But as challenging as it is to capture the nightly concerts at LP Field, a whole new set of logistical issues present themselves when filming in Downtown Nashville during the day.

James M. Rink knows this first-hand. As Co-Producer of “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” for the past 10 years, he has worked mainly away from the stadium and concentrated on filming vignettes, or “interstitials,” right in the midst of Festival attendees who tend to be startled, then delighted, and then intensely interested in getting close to the action.

Such was the case this year, when Rink oversaw a shoot that involved Kellie Pickler and the “Duck Dynasty” cast on Lower Broadway. “Kellie had just won ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and she had done a lot for CMA Music Festival in the past,” Rink noted. “So we felt she would be a great ambassador for Country Music and ABC, to show the guys of ‘Duck Dynast’ around the Festival. She played their tour guide. She was up on the tour bus, going ‘on your left is this, on your right is that.’ She took them to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, to Fan Fair X … she just shows them Nashville during the CMA Music Festival.”

One problem: All of this had to happen with multiplying numbers of onlookers crowding around the artists and crew. “We’re always in the middle of staging chaos,” Rink explained. “But chaos can be great television. You want to allow the fans to have high-touch engagement and interaction with the star, because that’s what makes CMA Music Festival great, going back to its Fan Fair days. But you try to let that happen organically while at the same time having plenty of security around so everybody is safe. That’s probably the biggest thing I’m concerned about as a producer: putting stars into a highly concentrated outlet with fans.”

Fitting in with the idea of “staging chaos,” Rink lets everything unfold without a script. “But we do give all management, handlers and talent a rundown of what we’re walking into,” he added. “We know going into it that we’re going to start this segment with Kellie introducing the story element. Then we’re going to leave things for them to be playful with, give them a couple of story beats to set up where we’re going and to transition things.

“For example, Kellie really wanted the guys to go into Tootsies Orchid Lounge,” Rink continued. “But as soon as the band saw Kellie Pickler walk in, the first thing they did was hand her the microphone, Well, that was totally unscripted, but it happened, so Kellie got up onstage and sang. I think that’s where the ‘Duck Dynasty’ guys really felt like, ‘Gosh, she’s got a great personality – and she can freakin’ sing!’”

Despite or because of the unpredictability, Rink prefers the Wild West of working downtown to the LP Field beat. “I love it because everybody’s heart is in the right place. The artists want to go there to give the fans a great experience. The fans are there to engage with the artists and to have a great experience. My job is to set the framework and allow all that to happen.”