This year will be my family’s 6th year to attend the epic country music festival, CMA Fest, in Nashville, Tennessee. I wanted to publish this article so that others will know what to expect and can take advantage of everything that CMA Fest has to offer.
What is CMA Music Fest?
The CMA Music Festival is a 4 day summer event in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, that offers day and night entertainment for all things relevant in the country music world. Hundreds of artists will perform live at multiple venues and some may even be around for meet and greets, autograph sessions, and photo opportunities. This year, CMA Fest is taking place June 9th-12th. More than a hundred thousand country music fans will be roaming the streets of Nashville in their quest to lap up as many activities as possible.
How do I get tickets?
Tickets are sold 13 months in advance and sell out within days. While Ticketmaster is the original distributor, they can be found on third party sites such as StubHub or RazorGator. You can buy a 4 day pass or single day tickets, depending on your schedule. A 4 day ticket includes access to the nightly Nissan Stadium concerts, entrance to the photo pass line in front of the stage at Nissan Stadium, and AT&T U-verse Fan Fair X Hall. Aside from these 2 events, everything else at CMA Fest is free. Tickets for AT&T U-verse Fan Fair X can also be purchased on-site, depending on availability ($10 per day or $25 for all 4 days).
Where will I stay?
Good luck! Hotels in the area book up nearly a year in advance, but you may luck out and find a room here or there. I would suggest looking into renting from a Nashville local on sites such as Airbnb or VRBO. Hotels within walking distance of the festival include the Omni, Hilton Downtown, Hyatt Place Downtown, Renaissance, and Union Station Hotel. We have stayed in neighboring cities before and although the drive can be a pain, if you allot time for traffic, the commute is not that bad.
Where will I park?
Nashville has multiple parking lots and garages scattered throughout downtown. Although parking can be pricy, it is worth it to be close to everything during the day and only a walk across the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, to Nissan Stadium, away.
Nissan Stadium parking passes can be purchased through Ticketmaster. Cars must be removed from the lot 2 hours after the final performance and although some rules apply, this is the closest parking for the nightly concerts. Keep in mind that traffic is horrendous before and after the shows, so allow adequate time for traveling.
Many hotels in the downtown area provide shuttles to and from the festival, which is a huge plus. Although you may have to wait to be picked up, it is free from the hassle of parking and driving on congested streets.
An alternative to driving downtown is to take a LYFT (cars with pink mustaches) or UBER ride. These are ride share programs in which locals will pick you up and drop you off at your requested location. Both are done entirely through apps on your mobile device. Look online as there are often codes which can be redeemed for free rides.
Where can I eat?
There are many restaurants, both counter and full service, on Broadway and the surrounding streets. Merchants is our restaurant of choice, but keep in mind that most sit down restaurants on Broadway will be on a wait and do not accept reservations. Jack’s Bar-B-Que, Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant, Wildhorse Saloon, Fleet Street Pub, Melting Pot, the Palm Restaurant, Joe’s Crab Shack, and Husk are some other choices. Food trucks are often set up outside of the Music City Walk of Fame Park and kiosks are located in some of the concert areas. Nissan Stadium has a wide selection of food including a very popular Logans Roadhouse booth.
What is the Buckle?
The Buckle is a group of blocked off streets on Broadway that allow pedestrians to roam freely throughout the festival’s grounds (often referred to as Honky Tonk Row). Booths will be set up in this area offering snacks, games, contests, entertainment, free samples, and more. One year they even had pets for adoption. It is always a good idea to stop by for free sunscreen and ice cream cups. Fun Nashville honky-tonks line these lower Broadway streets and welcome you in all hours of the day. This is one party that never sleeps; 4 days of fun and cram packed streets full of country music lovers.
Where will I see the music performances?
There are a plethora of venus around town.
The Chevrolet Riverfront Stage, on the Cumberland River bank, is home to the best acts during the day. Their lineups include new artists as well as country music legends. 4 day ticket holders can get in starting at 9 am while non-ticket holders have to wait until 9:45. Performances start at 10 am and you will need to be there when the gates open in order to get a spot if you plan on seeing any concert there during the day (this can make for incredibly long days in the summer sun). It gets really crowded! Last year, Sirius XM Radio hosted a “Highway Find” concert series all day Wednesday here to kick off CMA Fest; I am hoping that they do it again! It is a nice bonus day of performances from artists that many people have never heard of, and may be headliners in the near future.
The Close Up Stage is inside of AT&T U-verse Fan Fair X Hall and gives festival goers a chance to catch a performance in the air condition, a huge plus!
Located right outside of Bridgestone Arena, on the corner of 5th and Broadway, is the Bud Light Plaza. They will have music from morning unit late in the afternoon.
The Belk Park Stage is between the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Hilton Suites, at The Park. It is a smaller venue and provides hammocks and cornhole games.
Right outside of Nissan Stadium is the BMI Tailgate Party. It kicks off at 4:45 to get people pumped up for the nightly concerts.
The HGTV Lodge, located in Fan Alley, is a barn made for the music festival and often includes visits from HGTV stars, such as Drew and Jonathan Scott. They also have a Jack Daniels trailer you can walk through to learn about the distillery process and purchase JD beverages.
The Gildan Broadway Stage at the Hard Rock Cafe is between The Buckle and Riverfront.
Nissan Stadium is home to the best concerts of CMA Fest. Each night is packed with a star-studded lineup that is sure to get you on your feet. Since this is a football stadium, they have a strict bag/purse policy so make sure to check on that prior to your arrival. Nissan Stadium holds 65,000+ people so be prepared for the crowds.
How will I spend my day?
Prior to your arrival in Nashville, download the CMA Music Festival app on your phone. It will allow you to create a custom schedule for each day, as well as share it with friends. How you spend your day is entirely up to which artists you want to see and what aspects of the festival you want to experience. Generally, we spend our days running between the Riverfront, Fan Fair X, Bud Light Plaza, and Belk Stage. Sometimes we have time to get across town to change clothes and then fight the traffic back to Nissan Stadium in time for the concerts; but other times, we are downtown from 9 am until 12 am. There is so much to see and do that there is not a lot of time to sleep. If you go to the bars after Nissan Stadium, you can guarantee a rough start to your morning as you will get even less sleep. Oh to be young again!
AT&T U-Verse Fan Fair X is located in the Music City Center building and is full of fun things to do: playing games, browsing through country music memorabilia, and seeing musicians being interviewed, performing, or signing autographs. We have met many performers here in the past. Fan Fair X has 3 concert stages and live performances all day. Booths are sponsored by local businesses, TV stations, and country music apparel giving patrons a chance to meet up and coming artists or buy concert paraphernalia. It is a great place to cool off and see a different aspect of the festival.
The lineups completely change every year. So far, only Nissan Stadium performers have been announced and they are Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Sam Hunt, Hank Williams Jr., Eric Church, Kelsey Ballerina, Rascal Flatts, Cole Swindle, Florida Georgia Line, Chris Young, Blake Shelton, Chris Stapleton, Brett Eldridge, Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, Little Big Town, and Carrie Underwood. Unfortunately, the time that lineups are announced gets closer to the festival each year. I like having time to get excited in advance and wish they were published sooner.
Things to know
- Check in at Fan Fair X Hall, located in the Music City Center, to get lanyards for your 4 day passes, lineup schedules, as well as tote bags containing coupons, maps, and other goodies.
- Stay hydrated! Vendors can be found all over town selling bottled water for $1.
- Wear loads of sunscreen.
- Familiarize yourself with the free shuttle services available here.
- Selfie sticks, Go-Pros, and umbrellas are not permitted in any of the venues. Purses or bags will be checked thoroughly.
Trivia: The CMA Fest was originally referred to as Fan Fair and changed its name in 2004. In 1996, Garth Brooks signed autographs for 23 hours straight, with no breaks! In 2001, Fan Fair moved to downtown Nashville from the Municipal Auditorium. Artists performing at the festival do so free of charge and proceeds from the concert benefit the school music program, “Keep the Music Playing”.
If you have ever been to the CMA Music Fest, I would love to hear your comments. Also, if you have any questions, fire away and I will try my best to answer them!
CMA Fest 2011 Highlights
Big and Rich, Reba, Brad Paisley, Jason Aldean featuring special guest Kelly Clarkson, Sugarland, Keith Urban, Trace Adkins, Clint Black, Thompson Square, Easton Corbin, Zac Brown featuring guest Randy Travis, Shania Twain, and Luke Bryan.
CMA Fest 2012 Highlights
Eric Church, Hunter Hayes, Luke Bryan, Kenny Rogers, The Band Perry, Carrie Underwood, Ronnie Milsap, Brad Paisley, Faith Hill, Colt Ford, Blake Shelton, Rodney Adkins, Lady Antebellum, Glen Campbell, Jake Owen, and Miranda Lambert.
CMA Fest 2013 Highlights
Taylor Swift featuring special guest Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan, Zac Brown feating special guest Kid Rock, Randy Travis, Kip Moore, Hunter Hayes featuring special guest Jason Mraz, Lady Antebellum, Blake Shelton, Little Big Town featuring special guest Sheryl Crow, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean featuring Lenny Kravitz, Kelly Clarkson, Lee Greenwood, Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley featuring special guest Charlie Daniels, The Band Perry, and Jake Owen.
CMA Fest 2014 Highlights
Miranda Lambert with special guest Carrie Underwood, Brantley Gilbert, Alabama, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Travis Tritt, The Band Perry, Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw with special guest Faith Hill, and Eric Church. The Luke Bryan pictures are from my favorite CMA memory thus far; his dedication of the song “Drink a Beer” to his brother with the whole crowd singing along and giving a moment of silence. It was awesome to be part of his special moment.
CMA Fest 2015 Highlights
Charles Esten who plays Deacon on ABC’s “Nashville”, Sam Hunt, Alan Jackson, Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Cole Swindell, Little Big Town, Brett Eldredge, Randy Houser, Maddie & Tae, Lee Brice, Keith Urban, Thomas Rhett, Chris Young, Dierks Bentley, Darius Rucker, The Cadillac Three, Chase Rice, Kellie Pickler, Gary Alan, and Zac Brown Band.
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