My family has attended CMA Fest in Nashville, Tennessee for 7 years. 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.
It can be a very daunting festival to learn the ins and outs of, but we’ve got you covered.
What Is CMA Fest?
The CMA Music Festival is a 4-day summer event in Nashville, Tennessee that offers day and night entertainment for all things relevant in the country music world. Hundreds of artists perform live at venues across downtown and some may even be around for meet and greets, autograph sessions, and photo opportunities. More than a hundred thousand country music fans roam the streets of Nashville during CMA Fest to lap up as many activities as possible.
Getting CMA Fest Tickets
Tickets go on sale 13-months in advance and generally sell out. While Ticketmaster is the original distributor, you can find tickets on third party sites such as StubHub or RazorGator. You can buy a 4-day pass or single day CMA Fest tickets, depending on your schedule. A 4-day ticket includes access to the nightly Nissan Stadium concerts (including the photo pass line in front of the stage) and Fan Fair X Hall. Aside from these two events, everything else at CMA Fest is free. If you buy single day tickets, you can purchase Fan Fair X tickets on-site, depending on availability ($10 per day or $25 for all four days).
Where Should I Stay for CMA Fest?
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.
When you are ready to book your room in Nashville, find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor.
Where Should 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.
You can buy a parking pass for Nissan Stadium through Ticketmaster. Although some rules apply, this is the closest parking for the nightly concerts.
If you are saying in Downtown Nashville, check to see if your hotel has a shuttle.
Instead of driving, opt to take a LYFT or UBER. These are ride share programs in which locals will pick you up and drop you off at your requested location. You request a ride, and pay, on your mobile device. Be on the lookout for LYFT and UBER employees Downtown who will give you a discount code!
What’s to Eat Near CMA Fest?
There are many restaurants 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 Downtown.
Food trucks set up in the “Eat To The Beat” area outside of Fan Fair X and by of the Music City Walk of Fame Park. The lines will be long around lunchtime, but some of these trucks are worth the wait!
What Is The Buckle?
The Buckle is a group of streets on Broadway (Honky Tonk Row) that are blocked off from traffic to allow pedestrians to roam freely. Booths set up in this area offer snacks, games, contests, entertainment, free samples, and more.
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; four days of fun and cram packed streets full of country music lovers.
Where Will I See The Musical Guests?
There are a plethora of venus around town.
- Chevrolet Riverfront Stage (on the Cumberland Riverbank): Home to the best daytime acts. This stage’s lineups include new artists as well as country music legends. 4-day ticket holders can get in starting at 9 AM while everyone else has to wait until 9:45 AM. Performances start at 10AM. 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). It gets really crowded!
- CMA Close Up Stage: Catch a performance inside of Fan Fair X in the air condition.
- Chevy Cruise Park: At The Park between the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Hilton Suites. This smaller venue is home to up and coming artists.
- HGTV Lodge: This barn is made for the festival inside of Fan Alley. It often includes visits from HGTV stars, such as Drew and Jonathan Scott. There is also a Jack Daniels trailer you can walk through to learn about the distillery prices and purchase JD beverages.
- Gildan Broadway Stage: At the Hard Rock Cafe, between The Buckle and Riverfront.
- Nissan Stadium: Home to the best concerts of CMA Fest. Each night is packed with a start-studded lineup that tis sure to get you on your feet. This football stadium enforces the clear bag policy so be sure to comply. Be prepared for the crowds as Nissan Stadium holds 65,000+ people.
How Will I Spend My Day?
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.
We typically spend our days running between the Riverfront and Chevy Cruise Park. 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!
Fan Fair X is inside of 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 three concert stages and live performances all day. It is a great place to cool off and see a different aspect of the festival.
What Performers Will I See?
The lineups completely change every year. In the past performers have been (just to name a few): Garth Brooks, Dierks Bentley, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Sam Hunt, Hank Williams Jr., Eric Church, Kelsey Ballerini, Rascal Flatts, Brothers Osborne, Cole Swindell, Florida Georgia Line, Chris Young, Blake Shelton, Chris Stapleton, Brett Eldridge, A Thousand Horses, Kenny Rogers, Maren Morris, Old Dominion, Trace Adkins, Tracy Lawrence, Reba, Kelly Clarkson, Lenny Kravitz, Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, Taylor Swift, 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 ahead of time and wish they were published sooner.
Things To Know
- Check in at Fan Fair X, inside of the Music City Center, to get lanyards for your 4-day passes, lineup schedules, tote bags containing coupons, 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 and bags will be checked thoroughly.
- 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.
- CMA Fest was originally referred to as Fan Fair but 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”.
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CMA Fest 2011 Highlights
Big and Rich, Reba, Brad Paisley, Jason Aldean with 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 with 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 with 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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