There's no other form of music that does this for its fans," says Conway Twitty—a fact for which most stars would kiss their unlisted phones. But at the Sixth Annual International Country Music Fan Fair in Nashville recently, 14,000 kindred country spirits converged on the Municipal Auditorium for a chance to mix it up offstage with their rhinestone idols—and were gratefully obliged. Twanged Loretta Lynn in a swirl of beehive coifs and flashing Instamatics: "These are my people."

Lured by the prospect of a cousinly week of nonstop music, Country & Western fans came from as far away as Europe and Australia to mingle (at $30 a head) with the likes of Charley Pride, Buck Owens, Barbara Mandrell and David Allan Coe, not to mention such improbable acts as Tokyo's Jimmie Tokita and one C & W group from down-home Czechoslovakia. Rural authenticity lost a little something when news of no-shows Tammy Wynette (having wisdom teeth pulled) and Country Music Entertainer of the Year Mel Tillis (hospitalized for a checkup) met with Bronx cheers. Those struck blind by the celebrity megawattage onstage faced overcharging hucksters of everything from cameras to cowboy boots, and posters to plastic letter openers.

Still, the affection of attending stars for their public was clear and overriding. (The entertainers appeared without pay.) "These are the most loyal people in America," said Pride. Why? As a 38-year-old grandmother from Tennessee put it: "People can relate to this kind of music. It makes them think of all the things they could have done—or shouldn't have."