CMA Fest is just around the corner and it sure is an exciting time! It’s pretty much my favorite time of the year. There is no other festival that brings together every degree of Country Artist, whether they have 23 #1 songs or haven’t even been signed to a record deal, they are there.
The wonderful part about CMA Fest is that there is so much to do and so many artists to see. There are artists you would never be able to see otherwise, be it that they aren’t on a major tour, or can’t really perform in many places yet. I look forward to seeing certain artists ever year or two when they are on tour and some artists I get to see multiple times a year. But then there are those that I would never get to see, except for one weekend a year at CMA Fest.
Without CMA Fest, I would be missing out on connecting with artists I love and having the chance to be able to support their music, something I am very passionate about. CMA Fest, for me has evolved over the years. When I first started attending I had a jam packed schedule, always rushing around to different stages. It can get a little overwhelming. One thing you must do is make a schedule of everyone you want to see. Being able to check out new artists is wonderful and you’ll find yourself becoming a lifetime fan, especially with so many opportunities to meet a lot of the smaller artists. Or maybe for you, it’s a chance to see some of your favorite artists, multiples times in the same weekend, at every event they do!
Now this schedule won’t be followed to a T. You’ll find you can’t make it to everyone, a lot of your favorite or artists you hope to see will play at the same time or over lap. Thankfully a lot of artists have more than one time they perform or have an autograph signing, so that’s why it’s best to make a tentative schedule so you have a plan!
I always start my schedule by day. Then I write the time, the artist, the stage or venue they will be performing at and where it is located! You can always download the CMA Fest app to see who is playing, what stage and create your own schedule! Be sure to check out cmafest.com as well for additional information! There will be more announcements in the coming weeks so stay tuned!
Fellow CMA Fest goer, Kyle Nelson, has offered some additional tips to prepare you!
If it is your first time going to CMA Fest, there are a few things that you should know:
DO NOT buy a bottle of water anywhere near broadway or anywhere near where all the events are taking place (usually more expensive). Instead, walk to one of the many convenience stores around town (plenty within a few blocks of broadway) and you can buy a large water bottle for a normal price. Once you start to run low on water, just simple go to the Music City Center. You do not need a ticket or anything to get inside, just go to the main entrance and go to the left down the small steps and go to the bathrooms. There, you can find a water fountain and you can refill your bottle as many times as you would like.
- DO NOT let yourself get dehydrated or worn out from the heat. Just take a break and head towards the music city center and inside you can sit down in the A/C. There is also a spot behind the Bridgestone Arena where the A/C’s are blowing and it is cool (you will see a group of people by it).
- DO NOT get upset if you miss out on one of the artists you wanted to see because there are still plenty more to see.
- DO NOT get overwhelmed! There is so much going on that this can happen at times, but just have a plan and you will be just fine.
- DO bring an extra phone charger with you! You will run low on battery fairly quickly. You could buy a portable charger to charge wherever. Another option (which I did) is to just bring your regular charge you use for your phone with you. When you need a quick charge, head towards the music city center again and there you will find a lounge area. There are many plugs along the walls and around there that you can use and there are hardly ever in use from my experience last year.
- Do bring a camera and make sure it is charged! Make sure to not have one with a detachable lens as they aren’t permitted. If all else fails, camera phones work too.
- DO put on sunblock! This is extremely important since it was 90+ degrees every day last year and nothing is worse than being burnt.
- DO bring a poncho just in case you get caught out in the rain and comfortable shoes, you will be walking a lot.
- DO Download the app, Uber or Lyft to get around town easily if something is not within walking distance. There are usually a bunch of coupons to get discounts and they are a great way to get around. I used Uber a lot last year and I had zero problems and everyone was very friendly.
- DO Get into town by 9:00 AM the latest! Nothing is worse than getting in late and having to sit in traffic. Also, if you are driving into town, I found success every day by parking in the parking garage closest to the Ryman and it was only $20 for the entire day.
- DO Have a schedule made prior to arriving with all of the artists you wish to see. I recommend downloading the official CMA Fest app. There they have all of the set times and where they are with a map. You can also create a schedule directly on the app, but I would also print out a schedule too. Put your must see artists on this schedule and some that you would like to see, but would not mind missing. So much is going on that you will most likely not stick to your schedule, but it is a great way to have a general idea or else you will be running around. Also, even a ten minute gap in between two different stages may not be enough time with all of the people around (although every stage is fairly close to one another). Do not get upset if you are not able to stick to it exactly because no matter what you do, you will have a great time.
- DO keep an eye out on social media for where you favorite artists are playing and they sometimes even do pop up shows or appearances that you will not know about. For example, last year UMG had an after party at one of the bars downtown where one of their artists performed each night.
Things to see and do:
- There are SO many places to go like places to eat. However, most of the local spots are usually very crowded so you will have to plan accordingly.
- Buy the four day ticket to Fan Fair at the Music City Center! (single day tickets are also available). (If you have a 4 day ticket holder pass for LP field, you do not need to purchase additional tickets to get inside Fan Fair X). This is a nice place to relax and meet many artists, even ones you may have never heard of.
- Also inside Fan Fair there are a few smaller free stages (included with your ticket) that are all day long. I found myself spending a lot of time here last year. For the smaller booths you do not need a special ticket. However, for the bigger artists and labels there is a lottery system. You enter online about two-three weeks before the start of CMA Fest (this year it is May 26). Even if you do not win for the artist you wished to meet, there are “hopeful” lines. I stood in three and only just missed the cut (fan fair was closing). If you get in line 45 minutes prior to the start of the signing, you should be just fine. It just depends on how popular the artist is, so you will have to judge accordingly.
- Go to The Listening Room Cafe! They have events going on all day during CMA Fest and are usually always free. I went last year for Diva Jam and many other events and it is definitely a great venue to hear some great music.
- Another great venue is The Row. Here there are many independent artists that are playing all day long and it is also free.
- Go to places like The Ryman, The Opry, The Bluebird Cafe, etc. There are plenty of venues to see, so I would go to as many places as possible since this may be the only time you will be in Nashville.
- Go to Fan Club Parties! Do some research to see if one of your favorite artists are doing on. Many artists have them and they are always not too expensive. They almost always include a meet and greet so it is a great way to meet the artist and hang out with other fans.
- If you find yourself having any down time, you can just pop into virtually any bar/restaurant to hear live music from some of the locals.
- You DO NOT need a ticket to the stadium show to have a great time! There are plenty of events going on at night during this time too. For example, Belcourt Taps and The Listening Room Cafe, always have shows during this time, as well as many other venues around town. Also during this time the restaurants are usually not as crowded, so this is a good time to get something to eat.
- Many of the artists that play will also do a signing or a meet and greet after their sets too. You will be able to meet many artists and this is also one of the best things about CMA Fest.
With all the free stages that CMA Fest provides and all the other venues around time, you are practically listening to music all day long. I would have a small list of some of your must see artists, but I would allot most of my time to discovering new artists. Most of the bigger artists are always on tours anyways so you can see them whenever. However, all the locals and small artists do not have these tours, so it is the perfect time to see them. You will be able to discover plenty of brand new artists, which is the best part about CMA Fest.
You will also have the chance to meet a bunch of the artists, as well as other fans. Last year, I had the most fun getting to meet everyone more than some of the shows themselves. Be prepared to get little sleep and be exhausted, but this is a good thing! You will be so busy that this will have little affect on you and this means you are having a great time. My best advice is, if it is your first time, is to just have fun. You are 100% guaranteed an amazing experience, no matter what you do.
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