The beginning of June was a very flattering moment to me. After I got more and more into country music the last years, I made my way the first time to Nashville for the legendary CMA Fest. From 6th to 9th June 2019, the worldwide community of the genre met in Music City. Here are my thoughts about the 2019 event. There is also a trip report about my way to Nashville on flyctory.com. I already posted my favorite CMA Fest 2019 songs and side event reviews.
What is the CMA and what is the CMA Fest?
First of all, the CMA (Country Music Association) is nothing but a marketing and promotion agency for the genre of country music. This feels to be quite unique already – there is no “Heavy Metal Agency” or “German Schlager Group”, which is doing that kind of support for other kinds of music. The CMA is very well respected among the artists. The CMA also funds a lot of activities, which support musical education. The current campaign, for example, is called It all starts with M.E. – while M.E. is meaning musical education.
One of the most reputed activities of the CMA is the CMA Music Festival, which is typically just called CMA Fest. It is held at the beginning of June in Nashville and undoubtedly the most comprehensive country music festival. You can see the importance of the fact that on the one hand, nearly all important country music act somehow attend at the CMA Fest – on the other hand, they are not paid for that at all. Thus, the ticket prices are comparably moderate and a lot of concerts are even for free.
How to get to CMA Fest?
There are three key challenges about being at the CMA Fest: the easiest to solve was the ticket. If you want to head to Nissan Stadium, you will make it at the beginning of the ticket sale. For 2020, the sale will begin on 2nd August 2019 – customers who bought tickets the year before will be able to renew their ticket earlier. The ticket prices range massively, so I will not go in too much detail. There are two additional tickets you may need: there are daily admissions for the Fan Fair X (see below), which are quite cheap. They are included in the four-day pass One stage, the Firestone Country Roads Stage at Ascend Amphitheater, requires additional tickets.
If you are not able to drive, getting reasonable flights may already be a major challenge compared to the tickets. Nashville is booming and becomes better and better connected – nevertheless, there are few international and intercontinental connections. Demand on them will be significant. I went for flights to Chattanooga Airport, which is about two hours away by car.
Finally, there is the question for a place to sleep. Nashville hotel prices are not really moderate. I went for the Hampton Inn & Suites at Nashville Airport, which had a reasonable price, but requested some commuting and did not allow to have a rest during the day. Furthermore, you need a rental car. The four day parking pass at Nissan Stadium was moderate, though (80 USD).
What does the CMA Fest and Nashville offer?
The CMA Fest program is massive. Eleven stages, four days full of country music. It is hard to give a good overview in one posting – so I try to at least give you a feeling about what is going on in Nashville at these days.
Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans, hosts some 50,000 spectators. It is used on evenings only. Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini, Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley… Many more… The posh acts are playing in the Nissan. However, also their sets are limited to 30 minutes (maybe apart from the last gig of the evening, which is likely not to exceed 45 minutes, though). The concerts start at about 19:00 with the US National anthem and run short over midnight. There are only four-day passes for Nissan Stadium, you cannot buy individual day tickets.
The Firestone Country Roads Stage at Ascend Amphitheater, how this stage is named exactly, is the only stage apart from Nissan Stadium which requires designated tickets. There are seated tickets as well as general admissions. The stage is only used in the evening, in parallel to the Stadium. Thus, I did not attend it during 2019.
Other Outdoor Stages
The most prominent stage is likely the Riverfront Stage, which is right next to Cumberland River. As to most other stages at the CMA Fest, the Riverfront is free for everyone. However, Four Day Pass holders have an early entry and seemed to be prefered in peak times. The Riverfront Stage hosted the biggest acts which did not make it to Nissan Stadium. In the pictures below, for example, you see Danielle Bradbery and Eric Paslay.
The Budweiser Forever Country Stage is another major stage at the Riverfront. In 2019, there were rather classic country music acts there. I did not manage to attend concerts at these stages this year. Another stage, which I did not see is the HGTV Lodge, which is
Two additional stages were close to Bridgestone Arena: the Maui Jim Broadway Stage at Bridgestone Plaza is located right at the entry to the home of the CMT Awards and the Nashville Predators. The Chevy Breakout Stage is across the arena, right next to the Hilton Hotel, is larger and has more food and drink possibilities around.
In the tourist office located in the Bridgestone Arena is the Nashville Acoustic Corner Stage, which is likely the most intimate venues of all.
Fan Fair X
The Fan Fair X was the hidden heart and gem of the CMA Fest. Located in the Nashville congress center, Music City Center, it was the only official venue which was fully covered. Access was included in any four-day ticket – there were also designated Fan Fair X tickets for a very reasonable price.
First of all, the large hall is a place for the sponsors to present themselves. There was a lot of stuff you can do, from flight and baseball simulators to ordinary games, vendors for clothing and jewelry and many more things.
A significant proportion of the booths are the record companies, of course. However, they were not the only ones who extensively provided Meet & Greet opportunities. Especially some of the boots companies had stars for singning and taking pictures more or less the whole Fun Fair Day from 10:00 to 17:00.
Last, but not least, the Music City Center also hosted three stages. The smallest stage was the Spotlight Stage, which was used the whole day. Typically, upcoming acts had 15 minute acoustic sessions there and you could meet them thereafter on the back of the stage. Radio Disney Country presented some of their artists on their stage. They especially supported young girls in country music by it. Finally, the CMA Close Up Stage provided quite popular bands like Old Dominion, which often not just presented songs, but also discussed certain topics like being on tour etc.
Broadway – Sponsors
During the CMA Fest, the Broadway is closed for car traffic between Bridgestone Arena and the Riverfront. Only the Avenues can be used. Next to the world famous bars, there are numerous stands by sponsors. You can do karaoke or play Rock Band, which may be quite music-related activities. But there are many other. If you do not want to pay for food, you can survive the CMA Fest with free pizza slices and salads. Pepsi is giving you free drink samples – and you may even get a free painkiller, if you partied too hard. A very nice service is that the emergency services give free sunblocker (sunblocker sprays are not allowed in the venues).
Non-CMA Fest Events
The world of country is gathering at the CMA Fest. Thus, it is not too surprising that there are a lot of events, which are not entered to the official calendar of the festival. These events in fact make the CMA Fest start earlier than the ordinary festival – and also last longer than the end of Sunday. Here are some of them.
Bars and Honky Tonk
Especially around Nashville’s Broadway, there are countless bars and Honky Tonk Saloons. The very special thing about Nashville is that nearly all of them play live music, the stages are close to the entrance, so that you can also chose your bar just from listening from outside.
Concerts and Songwriters Rounds
As there are so many great artists in the city and the slots at the official CMA Fest concerts are limited, a lot of bands will be around and give concerts in one of the numerous venues. For example, I saw Carolyn Miller in the BB King’s at 2nd Avenue, which was an amazing concert. Before the CMA Fest, I went to a CMT Songwriters Round at the CMA Theater in the Country Music Hall of Fame. I love the classic Nashville country music concert format, in which artists and songwriters present a couple of songs and give a lot of background about them. It may also be worth to go the Grand Old Opry or the Ryman these days.
There are also additional stages, which are not driven by the CMA Fest itself. For example, the Ole Red, the bar owned by Dierks Bentley, hosted the Spotify House. The stage was very popular, as it was free and hosted quite famous acts. The Hard Rock Cafe also owned one of these additional stages.
Many country stars give a fan party. There are a lot of different ways these parties are arranged: for the major acts, you need to be member in their fanclub. Typically, the entrance to the fan party will lead to an additional charge. Some of the events also cover food and / or drinks. It is very tough to have a good overview about the fan parties, which typically all contain a (limited set / acoustic) concert and a Meet & Greet. I have visited two fan parties, one of Casssadee Pope, one of Jana Kramer. They were quite different – nevertheless, I merged them in one posting.
CMA Fest 2019 – My View
It felt like a dream to visit CMA Fest for the first time – and finally, it turned out to be a dream which simply came true and was even much better than I expected. There are so many acts in parallel, you meet so many people – it is just massive. I will adjust my travel plans for the next year slightly, though, so that my time there will suit my needs even better. To me, the minor venues, fan parties and parties are much more attractive than seeing the big guns on Nissan, where there are thirty minute performance with a thirty minute intermission.
CMA Fest Postings
I tagged all CMA Fest-related postings appropriately:
Flyctory.com about Country Music
Here are all Country Music-related postings on Flyctory.com: