CMA Fest is a four-day country music festival in Nashville, Tennessee that offers day and night entertainment for all things relevant in the country music world. Taking place June 10th through 13th (2021), this is country music’s premier event, hosted by the Country Music Association.
After attending the festival for 7 years, I consider myself a CMA Fest expert. Things change from year to year and learning the ins and outs can be very daunting, especially for first timers. Here is everything you need to know about CMA Fest!
A Bit About CMA Fest
As I said, CMA Fest is a four-day country music festival in Nashville, Tennessee that takes place every June. Hundreds of artists perform live at venues throughout Downtown Nashville and some may even be around for meet and greets, autograph sessions, and photo opportunities. More than 100,000 country music fans from around the world roam the streets of Nashville during CMA Fest to lap up as much of the festival as possible.
CMA Fest Beginnings: The Ultimate Country Music Fan Experience began in 1972. Known as Fan Fair, it gave country music fans a chance to meet some of their favorite performers. The festival is now called CMA Fest and has only grown in size since beginning.
Important To Know: A portion of the proceeds from CMA Fest help support music education through the CMA Foundation. To date, more than $25 million has been donated as a result of CMA Fest.
Do I Need Tickets?
This is the most asked question surrounding CMA Fest. In short, no–you do not need a ticket to attend CMA Fest. All outdoor daytime concerts and activities at CMA Fest are free. However, you will need a ticket for the “good stuff”.
If you purchase a ticket for CMA Fest, it comes as a 4-day pass. With your 4-day pass purchase, you will be able to attend the nightly concerts at Nissan Stadium (where all of the A-list concerts take place), entry into Xfinity Fan Fair X (home to live music, artist meet-and-greets, artist interactions, lifestyle exhibits, interactive displays, and more free stuff than you can imagine), early entry into the Chevrolet Riverfront (where all of the best daytime concerts take place), and be able to use the free shuttle service between CMA Fest’s main venues (from 8 AM to 1 AM). I definitely recommend purchasing a 4-pass–the concerts at Nissan Stadium are the best part of the festival.
If you don’t wish to purchase a 4-day pass, you can buy individual tickets for the Firestone Country Roads Stage nighttime concert and to Xfinity Fan Fair X.
You can purchase your CMA Fest tickets here.
For information on the 4-day pass shuttle, click here.
Where Should I Stay?
Good question! Hotels in Nashville are outrageous during CMA Fest and fill up months in advance. If you really want to stay Downtown, be prepared to pay $500+ per night. For a cheaper hotel room, look into surrounding areas, but keep in mind that you will have to fight traffic when going Downtown and should allot more travel time.
I recommend using Airbnb. My husband and I stayed at an Airbnb during CMA Fest for three years (twice in West Nashville and once in the 12South area). It was MUCH cheaper than getting a hotel room and we had a lot more space.
If a hotel or Airbnb property that you like is not available, keep checking back–cancellations happen all of the time.
How Will I Get Around?
The easiest way to get around Nashville is via ride share. I prefer Lyft to Uber. You can get closer to your destination and you don’t have to walk back to your car at the end of the day.
Caution: It’s obvious, but I feel I should remind you to ask your ride share driver who they are picking up before telling them your name and getting in their car.
If you choose to drive, there are several parking options. You can purchase a Nissan Stadium parking pass for $80. During the day, you will need to walk across the pedestrian bridge to get to Downtown but you will be right outside of the concert at night. Nashville also has several parking lots scattered throughout Downtown, but they are pricy.
My favorite place to park in Downtown Nashville is at the Music City Center. Parking is $20 per day and you are right in the heart of the action.
To see the CMA Fest parking maps and ride share drop off/pick up locations, to purchase a Nissan Stadium parking pass, or to request a disability parking pass, click here.
Where Should I Eat In Nashville?
Nashville is full of good food! There are many restaurants in Downtown Nashville, but keep in mind that they will be busy for majority of CMA Fest and most do not accept reservations. Our favorites are Merchant’s, The Melting Pot, The Palm Restaurant, Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant, The Southern, and Jack’s Bar-B-Que.
CMA Fest has an area outside of Xfinity Fan Fair X called “Eats’N’Beats” that has lots of food trucks. The lines are long around lunchtime, but some of the trucks are worth the wait. The Grilled Cheeserie is my favorite!
We share 10 yummy Nashville restaurants to try in this post.
How Will I Spend My Day?
How you spend your time at CMA Fest is entirely up to you–which artists do you want to see and which aspects of CMA Fest do you want to experience?
Diehard country music fans will fill their four days at CMA Fest with as many concerts as possible, starting at 10 AM and going until midnight.
CMA Fest is a party that never sleeps and Downtown Nashville is full of bars that welcome you in all hours of the day. Stop in and have a cold beer, listen to live music, or just people watch.
Some people spend all day sightseeing around Nashville and only come to the concerts at Nissan Stadium. That’s okay, too! Centennial Park, The Mall at Green Hills, Nashville Zoo, Gaylord Opryland Resort, and Hermitage are all fun alternatives to seeing concerts during the day.
Interested in doing some activities outside of CMA Fest? Here are 6 things to do in Nashville, with and without kids.
We typically spend our days running between the Riverfront and Music City Walk of Fame Park. Sometimes we go back to our room and take a nap before going to the Nissan Stadium 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.
Heads Up: Nashville is HOT in the summer. We’ve changed our plans many times the day of because we didn’t want to sit out in the heat all day.
Where Are The Concerts?
CMA Fest concerts take place all over Downtown Nashville. Here are the stages for CMA Fest 2019:
Budweiser Forever Country Stage: Behind the Ascend Amphitheater in Forever Country Park. This is where you will hear all of your favorite throwback country music songs.
Chevy Breakout Stage: In the Music City Walk of Fame Park.
Chevy Riverfront Stage: On the Cumberland Riverbank, this stage’s lineups include new artists as well as country music legends–making up the best daytime acts. 4-day ticket holders can get in starting at 9 AM while everyone else has to wait until 9:45 AM. Performances start at 10 AM. You will need to be there when the gates open in order to get a spot if you plan to see any concert here during the day (making for long days in the summer sun) as it gets really crowded–like REALLY crowded! It usually reaches capacity Saturday afternoon.
CMA Close Up Stage *: Inside of Xfinity Fan Fair X, catch a show in the air condition.
CMA Spotlight Stage *: Also in Xfinity Fan Fair X. More than 50 emerging acts perform acoustic sets followed by meet-and-greet sessions.
Firestone Country Roads Stage *: At the Ascend Amphitheater, this is a cheaper alternative than seeing the concerts at Nissan Stadium. You can purchase a reserved seat or sit on the lawn.
HGTV Lodge: Inside of Fan Alley. *You must win an Ultimate Fan Experience Drawing to see a performance here.
Maui Jim Broadway Stage at Bridgestone Plaza: On the corner of 5th Avenue and Broadway, in front of Bridgestone Arena, this stage features emerging country music stars.
Nashville Acoustic Corner Stage: In the Nashville Visitor Center inside of the glass tower at the front of Bridgestone Arena. Performers range from newcomers to singer-songwriters.
Nissan Stadium *: 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. These concerts are filmed for an ABC special that premiers on TV sometime August–Country’s Night To Rock.
Radio Disney Country Stage *: Inside of Xfinity Fan Fair X. Performances by some of today’s youngest country stars.
Who Will I See?
CMA Fest 2019’s performers include: A Thousand Horses, Ashley McBryde, Billy Ray Cyrus, Brothers Osborne, Carly Pearce, Carrie Underwood, Cassadee Pope, Chase Rice, Chris Janson, Cody Johnson, Dan + Shay, Danielle Bradbery, Devin Dawson, Dierks Bentley, Eli Young Band, Florida Georgia Line, Hunter Hayes, Jessie James Decker, Jimmie Allen, Jo Dee Messina, Kane Brown, Keith Urban, Kelsea Ballerini, Lauren Alaina, Lee Brice, Lindsay Ell, Little Big Town, Luke Bryan, Luke Combs, Maddie & Tae, Maren Morris, Miranda Lambert, Mitchell Tenpenny, Old Dominion, Raelynn, Rascal Flatts, Russell Dickerson, Ryan Hurd, Scotty McCreery, Thomas Rhett, Tim McGraw, Tyler Farr, and Walker Hayes.
Unfortunately, lineups are announced closer to the festival every year. I wish they were published sooner because I like having time to get excited ahead of time.
What Should I Bring With Me?
Water! This year, the festival is allowing you to bring water bottles and/or refillable plastic water bottles into the concerts. Please, take advantage of this! View CMA Fest’s plastic containers/water bottles/water stations policy here.
ALL CMA Fest stages have a clear bag policy. Your clear bag may be no larger than 12 x 12 x 6 inches. You may also carry a clutch no larger than 5.5 by 8.5 inches. Only one clear bag and one clutch is allowed per person. Medical equipment is the only exception. All bags will be searched.
If you need to store your bag because it does not comply with the clear bag policy, there is a storage location near the Riverfront (free) and two at Nissan Stadium ($10). Click here for more information.
Need help packing for CMA Fest? We have a printable Packing List for you!
Shop Our CMA Fest Essentials On Amazon!
Is There Anything Else I Should Know?
Prior to your arrival in Nashville, download the CMA Music Festival app on your phone. You can create a custom schedule for each day and share it with friends.
The Buckle is a group of streets on Broadway (Honky Tonk Row) that are blocked off during CMA Fest to allow pedestrians to roam freely. Booths set up in this area and offer snacks, games, entertainment, free stuff, and more.
If you are looking for something fun to do on Broadway (in the air condition!), head to Margaritaville for SiriusXM’s The Highway’s Music Row Happy Hour. Enjoy surprise appearances and performances by some of your favorite country music stars. In the past, we have seen Brothers Osborne, Dierks Bentley, Drake White, Little Big Town, Ryan Hurd, Tyler Farr, Walker Hayes, Ashley McBryde, and Midland at the Music Row Happy Hour.
Make the most of your time at CMA Fest with our Festival Hacks!
Enjoy CMA Fest!
Sadly, we have ended our CMA Fest tradition so we will not see you there. You can read why we quit going here.
I hope this has helped you prepare for CMA Fest. Whether this will be your first year or your tenth, have a blast! If you have anything to add to our guide, please let us know.