Country artist Mark Wills celebrated a milestone at this year’s CMA Music Festival: his 20th annual friends club party. Through the years, he has hosted his Friday morning friends club party at such venues as the Hard Rock Café, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry House. For the 20th event, he held it at the George Jones Entertainment Complex on 2nd Avenue in downtown Nashville.
It’s easy to see why Wills prefers the name friends club over fan club. Throughout the morning, Wills talked and joked with the attendees as a person might interact with their friends. “These guys are not fans, they are friends for them to support me as long as they have,” Wills said.
When Wills looked at the crowd on June 10, he saw many familiar faces. He told the Nashville Music Guide that many of the people have attended the friends club party ten or more times. “For them to continue to support us through that much time is impressive,” he said.
In 1996, Wills had a hit with “Jacob’s Ladder,” a song that Wills played during the June 10 event. Did Wills expect that he would be celebrating his 20th friends club party in 2016 when that first single was released? “I always wanted to be,” Wills said. “There’s a lot of folks that come to the music business to transition into something else. I always wanted to be a singer… I love to sing country music. That’s what I wanted to do from the time I was a little kid and hopefully God will allow me to do that until the day I die.”
Wills said he always felt that the voice of artists like Merle Haggard and George Jones improved as time progressed. While he said he’s not comparing himself to Haggard or Jones, he feels like his own voice gets deeper over time and has a little more resonance.
It’s obvious that Wills has a high level of respect for traditional country artists. He spoke during the party about where he was when he heard that Haggard had passed away. Wills and the band did a tribute to Haggard by performing a medley of some of his biggest hits.
Wills said he doesn’t think there are a lot of people who enjoy the same type of country music he listened to as he was growing up. “The music that they are making now is more pop-themed music and that’s ok,” he said. “That’s fine, but I think there has to be room for all of it. I think there has to be room for artists on the radio that don’t subscribe to the pop music.”
Wills said that he has released pop songs as well during his career, but his true love is for classic traditional country music. “That’s what I love to sing and that’s what we are working on in the studio now.”
He expects to release new music later this year or in early 2017.
People may have seen Wills doing something else he enjoys: hunting. Hunting isn’t something Wills has always done. “I started hunting when my youngest daughter developed a food allergy,” he said.
Recently, Wills has helped Remmington celebrate their 200th anniversary. He said he has hosted some of their hunts. “My transition to Remington was simply because I was hosting a show for them.” Now that that is done, he’s not sure what late 2016 and 2017 holds for his hunting stuff.
What would Wills like to tell his fans? “Just tell them we love them. We appreciate them. We are grateful to have been here for 20 years and we hope to be here for 20 more.”