Recapping CMA Fest 2016: My Favorite Week Of The Year
2016 marked my 6th time attending the CMA Music Festival. This was one of the hottest years and the first time that we did not have any rain. My fiancé, Blake, and I rented an Airbnb for the second year and we were very happy with our choice. My Mom (Melody) and sister (Peyton) joined us and together the four of us took on CMA Fest 2016.
Overview of the Festival
The Country Music Association Music Festival, known as CMA Fest, is a 4-day concert that takes place in Nashville, Tennessee every summer. It includes performances by almost every Country Music artist that you can think of. Tickets have to be purchased for the nighttime concerts at Nissan Stadium and Fan Fair X exhibit hall (inside of the Music City Center), but everything else at the festival is free. As you can imagine, CMA Fest brings thousands of Country Music fans from all over the world to Nashville.
I look forward to seeing what has been added to the festival each year because CMA Fest is only getting bigger.
CMA Fest 2016: Wednesday
Wednesday is the unofficial kickoff of CMA Fest. As soon as we arrived in town for CMA Fest 2016, we headed to Nashville’s new Ascend Amphitheater to catch the end of the “Highway Finds” concert (put on by SiriusXM’s The Highway station). We saw Clare Dunn and Frankie Ballard, both of which were great. Chris Young, Old Dominion, Aubrie Sellers, Kalie Shorr, High Valley, Steve Moakler, Michael Ray, and William Michael Morgan played earlier in the day.
Afterwards, we walked through the hoards of people gathered around the CMT Awards show stage, set up on Broadway, where Cheap Trick was performing with Billy Ray Cyrus. We ate at Chago’s Cantina for dinner and called it an early night.
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CMA Fest 2016: Thursday
Thursday morning, we hit the ground running. After eating breakfast at the Pancake Pantry, we headed to the Riverfront. We arrived just as Jake Owen was starting to play and missed part of his set standing in the security line. We sat in the scorching sun to see A Thousand Horses, Brothers Osborne, and The Cadillac Three (who put on a hell of a show!), but opted to have lunch in the air condition at Merchants and skip Maddie & Tae, Chris Janson, Maren Morris, Scotty McCreery, and Terry Clark. Merchants was wonderful as always and we were satisfied with our decision.
On our way to the car, we stopped by Fan Fair X and saw Johnny Lee perform. Jon Pardi, Lauren Alaina, Lorrie Morgan, Jennifer Nettles, and Jessie James Decker were all doing meet and greets at that time. Score!
That night’s Nissan Stadium lineup was Charlie Daniels Band, Kelsea Ballerini, Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, and Jason Aldean. Randy Travis, Maren Morris, Elle King, Cam, and Lady Antebellum all made special appearances. The concert ran super late but we didn’t care. Dierks Bentley was the crowd favorite and everyone went wild when he sang “Somewhere On A Beach”. I think this was my favorite night of CMA Fest 2016.
CMA Fest 2016: Friday
We slept in Friday morning and because it was so hot, Blake and I were the only ones interested in going Downtown. We chose to eat lunch ate at CMA Fest’s Eats’N’Beats. I had a grilled cheese from the Grilled Cheeserie while Blake ate at the BBQ Choo. Both of us loved our lunches.
Afterwards, we had a blast exploring the Country Music Hall of Fame. This was our first time going and we will definitely be back. It was awesome! The temperate had only gotten hotter so instead of seeing Charles Esten (who announced that Nashville had been picked up by CMT), Thompson Square, Chase Bryant, Aaron Lewis, Kane Brown, and going to the Music Row Happy Hour, Blake and I headed back to our room. We ate at the San Antonio Taco Company for dinner.
Clint Black, Chris Stapleton, Sam Hunt, Eric Church, Hank Williams Jr, and Carrie Underwood performed at Nissan Stadium Friday night. Chris Janson and Justin Moore showed up as surprise guests. Chris Stapleton was the favorite of the night and it was really cool to see him perform live after winning so many Country Music Awards. CMA Fest 2016 was my 10th time seeing Eric Church and he really let me down. He usually plays a set of mostly new music plus a throwback or two (I cried when he sang “These Boots” a couple of years ago), but this year he only sang songs off of the new “Mr. Misunderstood” album. We were all disappointed. Blake and I tried to go out on Broadway after the concert, but there were way too many people doing the same.
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CMA Fest 2016: Saturday
For lunch Saturday, we ate at Eats’N’Beats again. This time we had lunch at the Hoss Loaded Burger truck and it, too, was awesome. We spent our afternoon walking around the air conditioned Fan Fair X and checking out all of their booths: ABC Red Carpet Party, AT&T, Budweiser, CMA Hall of Fame, Delta, Firestone, Geico, iHeart Radio, Durango Boots, Lyft, Logan’s Roadhouse, Mutt Nation (Miranda Lambert’s pet adoption), and Roper. We skipped performances by Michael Ray, Canaan Smith, Russell Dickerson, Jana Kramer, Corey Smith, and Chris Lane at the Riverfront due to the heat. For dinner, we had Maggiano’s and it was great.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band kicked things off at Nissan Stadium, followed by Chris Young, Cole Swindell, Florida Georgia Line, Steven Tyler, and Blake Shelton. Martina McBride, Cassadee Pope, and the Oak Ridge Boys joined on stage, too. Blake Shelton opened his set with “Ol’ Red” and the crowd went nuts. An awesome moment of CMA Fest 2016 was seeing the legend that is Steven Tyler perform.
CMA Fest 2016: Sunday
Since it was the last day of CMA Fest, we decided to brave the heat and head Downtown, after having lunch at McDougal’s. ABC’s The Bachelorette fans were surprised when Luke Pell made an impromptu appearance at Fan Fair X. Will he be the next Bachelor? Fingers crossed!
Blake and I saw JT Hodges at the Cruz Park Stage and then met up with Melody and Peyton at the Riverfront. We had missed Cam, Julie Roberts, Granger Smith, Steve Moakler, Jon Pardi, Ashton Shepherd, and Kellie Pickler, but managed to see performances from Tyler Farr, Old Dominion, and LOCASH. Old Dominion packed the Riverfront; another one of my favorites at the festival.
The closing acts at Nissan Stadium were Exile, Little Big Town (with special guest Pharrell), Thomas Rhett, Brett Eldredge, Keith Urban, and Luke Bryan. Again, the night ran late but nobody seemed to mind. Luke Bryan and Keith Urban had a guitar battle and it was incredibly entertaining. We all left the stadium sad that CMA Fest 2016 was over.
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Improvements From CMA Fest 2015
- There was a good mix of old and new Country Music artists at CMA Fest 2016.
- The app contained a lot more information which made navigating the festival easier.
- Schedules and maps were posted throughout Downtown.
- Fan Fair X had a more organized entrance and more opportunities to interact with artists than I had ever seen.
- Parking at Nissan Stadium was very organized; cars were able to get in and out of the lot very quickly.
- Crew members were picking up trash at the Riverfront during the daytime concerts.
What Needs Improvement
- There needs to be more perks for those who purchase a 4-day pass. We are considering ending our tradition after CMA Fest 2016 because it seems that the festival is more concerned with entertaining those who do not purchase tickets than those who spend money year after year to attend the festival.
- Publish the full schedule MUCH earlier. Some stage lineups were not released until the week of the festival.
- After 6 years, we still have no clue how you score a meet and greet at Fan Fair X.
- There is an inconsistent enforcement of rules at Nissan Stadium. The parking lot was full of tailgaters each night, even though tailgating is not allowed. Also, tickets are supposed to be worn inside of Nissan Stadium but most people did not comply and seat hopping was an issue (as it always is).
- $5 bottled water at Nissan Stadium when the temperature is over 100 degrees is ridiculous. Also, the free water stations throughout the festival were out of water on the last day.
- Lyft is a CMA Fest sponsor but they are not welcome at drop off locations. There are unclear rules for Lyft users and drivers.
- I do not see why cameras cannot be brought into the music venues. Maybe guests could sign a liability waver upon entering stating that they accept any damage that may happen to their camera.
- The Riverfront desperately needs some attention. There needs to be more food and beverage stands and they need to have separate lines. When people walk into the Riverfront, they congregate around these booths and it is impossible to get to them. Also, the ATM sign on the bottom left of the stage is in the way of most people trying to watch that screen.
See You At CMA Fest 2017
We have already purchased our tickets to the 2017 CMA Music Festival and I am looking forward to it. I hope that improvements will continue to be made. If you will be attending the festival next summer, let us know. We would love to meet up with you!
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Check out some of our other CMA Fest articles:
Best CMA Fest Hacks
Complete CMA Fest Packing List
Ultimate CMA Fest Playlist
CMA Fest: What You Need To Know
Why We Are Ending Our CMA Fest Tradition
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Taylor Pittman Hardy wrote this article.