Special Events


“There are a lot of country music festivals that happen all year long, but this is the only one that you save up your money for. This is the one you have to be at!”

That’s what we heard from so many country music fans who we talked to throughout CMA Fest weekend when we asked them why they chose CMA Fest for their summer adventure.

And can you blame them?

CMA Fest is the mecca, and it’s been that way now for an impressive 50 years!

Though it’s experienced several changes over the past five decades, CMA Fest has always continuously pivoted and grown forward to become the music overload place to be that it is today; bringing to Nashville over 90,000 people every day from across all 50 states and over 50 countries for a weekend chalked full of memories that will last them a lifetime.

Car windows painted in white block letters spelled out “CMA Fest 2023” as speaker systems bumped the passengers’ favorite country songs, while everywhere you turned you could find groups of friends wearing custom made t-shirts that scrolled phrases such as “Girls Trip to CMA Fest!”

With every corner of Lower Broadway packed shoulder to shoulder with exuberant fans who are not only here to see their favorite artists, but to also experience the overall party that Nashville is, the free daytime stages became the hottest places to be; both figuratively and literally as the air temperature climbed to near 90 degrees every day.

A flyover so close that it vibrated the ground you stood on kicking off the entire fest on Thursday morning elicited an eruption of cheers from the capacity crowd, while one overhead look at The Chevy Riverfront Stage, located a drop down from 1st Avenue along the Cumberland River with Nissan Stadium (home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans) looming in its backdrop, gave you a great picture of where most concertgoers first flock to during the daytime hours. The vibrant green lawn is not even able to be seen due to the sea of people staking claim to their spot to sing and dance alongside their favorite’s; so many, that hit its capacity level several times throughout the weekend.

The riverfront is notorious for hosting the acts who are knocking on the door of calling the nightly concerts at Nissan Stadium their home stage next year, and this year, it included a lineup of chart impacting stars such as Corey Kent, Priscilla Block, Bailey Zimmerman, Dylan Scott, Parmalee, Jameson Rodgers, Niko Moon, Chase Matthew, Tyler Braden, Kameron Marlowe, Caylee Hammack, Alana Springsteen, and Megan Moroney! All of whom delivered electric 25-minute performances that gave fans something to sing about with the big hits that earned them heavy rotation at country radio over the past year, while skillfully introducing the audience to fresh material that they may not have heard yet, growing their fan base exponentially with each strike of a new chord.

One of the biggest highlights of this stage that had everyone talking all weekend long came during the third performance on Thursday morning when Lauren Alaina brought Lainey Wilson (who opened the stage a half hour prior) to the stage to debut their brand-new collaboration, “Thicc As Thieves.”

Much like The Chevy Riverfront Stage, the Dr. Pepper Amp Stage (located at Ascend Park behind the Ascend Amphitheater) is a second hotspot place to be, offering a daily lineup of modern era mainstream acts who have already experienced several hits at radio over the past decade, balancing against a lineup of those who’ve paved the way and the hottest newcomers who are just starting to impact, offering a full spectrum view of the country genre as a whole.

RaeLynn, Frankie Ballard, David Nail, Love and Theft, Craig Campbell, and Uncle Kracker bookended trailblazers such as Pam Tillis, Ty Herndon, and Jamie O’Neal, shining an attractive spotlight from two different eras of the genre onto generation next.

Frank Ray, Callista Clark, Avery Anna, Erin Kinsey, Dylan Marlowe, Mackenzie Carpenter, and Ashland Craft are highlights of the new talent who each held their own, gripping the crowd during their allotted time slots in a bold showcase that spelled out the fact that country music’s near future is in great hands as this group of this year’s direct support acts came together to stamp down their place as country music’s next big things.

Just as the Riverfront had done…the Dr. Pepper Amp Stage also incredibly hit its capacity during the weekend.

However, as the Chevy Riverfront Stage and Dr. Pepper Amp Stage both provided the potential preview of next year’s Nissan Stadium acts, the other free stages that are spread throughout the downtown area – the Chevy Vibes Stage, the Maui Jim Reverb Stage, and the Hard Rock Stage – all offer a solid glimpse of country music’s future through what is a stunning preview of the songwriters and the genre’s newest rising talent.

Fans flocked to the Chevy Vibes Stage, sitting on the lawn in front of the massive Hilton Hotel amongst the star-studded placards embedded into the cement walkways of Walk of Fame Park, soaking in the best of the best of country music’s next.

Meghan Patrick, Shane Profitt, Ryan Griffin, Adam Doleac, Drew Parker, Catie Offerman, and Tyler Rich are among the names who occupied their space on this stage throughout the weekend, solidifying their well-earned tags as ones who you need to keep an eye on.

However, it wasn’t just the newest talent that called this stage home. Established acts kept everyone singing along throughout the weekend with the smash hits that shaped their careers; Jerrod Niemann sang “Drink To That All Night,” Thompson Square ignited the crowd with “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not?” and Mark Wills had the whole place dancing with “19 Somethin’.”

The plaza directly outside the main entrance to the Bridgestone Arena, the home of the NHL’S Nashville Predators, transforms itself into a place to be to catch performances from some of the strongest emergers of the country music circuit today as they take the spotlight on the Maui Jim Reverb Stage.

Situated perfectly in the thick of it all, the go between of Fan Fair X and Lower Broadway sees fans basking in the songs they already know and love from the likes of Drew Green, Griffen Palmer, Austin Snell, and Tigirlily Gold, while also getting the very cool opportunity to experience the incredible songwriters who are knocking on the door of impacting radio with cuts they’ve written such as Meg McRee and Ben Chapman, while also experiencing songs such as Jason Aldean’s “If I Didn’t Love You” and “Trouble With A Heartbreak” from the guy who co-wrote them, John Morgan.

The other free daytime stage that’s well-worth staking claim at for music aficionados sits in the front parking lot of the Hard Rock Café. The appropriately labeled Hard Rock Stage positions itself on the corner of First Avenue and Broadway, outlined by the restaurants massive spinning guitar signage and highlighted by a snapshot of who’s next as those who are just starting their rise at country radio give you a picture-perfect look at what’s to come over the next few years.

A healthy smattering of the artists’ families, closest friends, and grassroot supporters lined the cement parking lot among several curious country music fans who are looking to jump on the bandwagon of their next favorite artists before everyone else finds out about them so that they can say they knew them first.

While BoomTown Saints, Roman Alexander, and Sean Stemaly led the charge with modern anthems that kept everyone grooving along, acts such as CJ Solar and Reid Haughton brought a Southern rock flare to the stage, while Harper Grace injected a pop laden, modern country feel and Emily Ann Roberts brought a fiery East Tennessee branding to her snappy, spitfire songs such as “He Set Her Off.”

But it’s inside the Music City Center, aptly dubbed as Fan Fair X over these 4 days, where fans get to really experience the perfect combination of what CMA Fest is all about.

There’s music inside…plenty of it!

The CMA Spotlight Stage is absolutely the place where you’ll discover the freshest acts on the scene that in just a few years everyone is going to be talking about.

In the rawest form, their acoustic sets provide no safety net which makes for stellar performances that see each songwriter/artist elevating their craft and artistry in such a skillful way that they keep the music loving fans invested as they masterfully build a grassroot following one chord at a time.

Though male artists on our personal list to watch were Landon Parker, Pryor Baird, and Nate Barnes, it was the female acts who really provided amazingly notable performances on this stage throughout the weekend; Harper O’Neill, Sophia Scott, Grace Leer, Charly Reynolds, MaRynn Taylor, Brennley Brown, Karissa Ella, Jenna Paulette, and HunterGirl.

On the flipside, whereas you got a healthy offering of country music’s freshest new acts over on the spotlight stage, you soaked in the aura of some of country music’s biggest names when you traveled over to the CMA Close-Up Stage.

The CMA selected “Artist of the Day” kicked things off in front of massive crowds every morning: Dierks Bentley, Reba McEntire, Brothers Osborne, and Wynonna Judd; each of them doing different styles of chats in talk show like format, while Brothers Osborne provided fans the opportunity to be part of a live taping for an episode of Amazon Music’s Country Heat podcast.

Other notable acts who recorded a taping of this podcast throughout the weekend included Jelly Roll and Tanya Tucker, while Brian Kelley sat down for an exclusive chat with American Songwriter.

These unique opportunities broke down some of those walls to allow fans an interesting inside look at the media side of the industry, and how it crafts their Q&A sessions so that they never come across as cold and boring but rather as a lively conversation that keeps you listening.

But these inside looks at your favorite artists don’t end with you only standing in front of a stage within earshot of them while clicking photos as they’re in their element doing their thing. 

Absolutely not!

Fan Fair X is so much more than just another opportunity to soak in more music and get an inside look at the industry while checking out merchant booths throughout exhibit hall and grabbing a quick bite to eat.

It’s here that the longest standing tradition of CMA Fest happens for the fans.

The core basis for the creation of the entire festival.

The place where the most exciting fan/artist experience happens when fans get up close and personal with their favorite artists, connecting with them through meet-n-greets.

Who can forget when a then on the rise Taylor Swift met with 2000 fans for 15 hours in 2010, signing autographs and taking photos with them.

Every time someone new walked into a booth for their meet-n-greet timeslot, the lines of fans erupted with a cheer that reverberated through the entire exhibit hall, echoing their excitement.

Nearly 100 acts in total made meet-n-greet appearances this year. 

The newest sensations were showered with admiration from their growing fan base; snapping photos, signing autographs, and hearing personal accounts about what their songs mean to them.

Among the crop of new stars who stopped by Fan Fair X: Alana Springsteen, Mackenzie Carpenter, Ashley Cook, Avery Anna, Kylie Morgan, Niko Moon, Frank Ray, Jameson Rodgers, and more! 

But it wasn’t just the incredible new talent that drew people into the long lines.

Artists with amazing followings such as Danielle Bradbery drew a massive line of fans, while recent ACM Award winner Hailey Whitters got to experience just how far the reach of her music stretched, and country music mainstays such as Mark Wills, Shenandoah, and Wynonna Judd were a shining example of generations of fans resonating with the music as several in their lines wore tour t-shirts from the past like a badge of honor.

As the excitement of the entire day begins to set with the sun as nighttime ascends upon CMA Fest, the normal hustle and bustle of the Lower Broadway district becomes something of a ghost town as most of the excitement shifts to the east side of the Cumberland River.

While the Ascend Amphitheater played host to a solid Friday night concert, which this year included The Cadillac Three, Elvie Shane, Tenille Townes, and more! Fireworks popped over a sold-out Nissan Stadium as the biggest names of the current Top 40 took the stage for exciting nightly concerts, highlighting the music aspect of your 4-day ticketed experience.

It’s quite literally a who’s who performing every song that you’ve been singing along with on your radio and seeing win big at the award shows in recent years.

Top echelon stars such as Luke Combs, Keith Urban, Old Dominion, Dierks Bentley Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw, and Luke Bryan satisfy their massive amounts of fans, while the newest stars who have recently climbed into top tier status put on bold showcases that lets everyone know that the current state of country music is in really great hands; acts such as Lainey Wilson, Cody Johnson, Jordan Davis, and Hardy.

As is always par for the course with this stage, though, surprise appearances and once in a lifetime collaborations created a substantial amount of buzz that flowed through the massive crowds, hyping rumors of who may show up the next night.

Vince Gill joined Luke Combs, Cody Johnson brought out Reba, Miranda Lambert stood alongside Elle King and Leon Bridges for recent singles and slid through genres with Avril Lavigne, while Jelly Roll and the newest CMA Pinnacle Award recipients Alabama both made unannounced appearances to capture the vibe of the entire crowd with jaw-dropping sets.

Regardless of which stage you stake your claim in front of, or if you simply explore all the different stages to soak in a bit of each while getting a well-rounded sampling, every single fan that we talked to throughout the weekend about their overall goals with tackling CMA Fest’s mega-overload rang out a similar response; “to take in as much music as possible…everyday!”

But as much as we talked with the fans and the artists alike, one question that constantly got asked of our publication was, “what do we think makes CMA Fest so special?”

Ultimately, CMA Fest is a coming together of country music fans from every corner of the world, entering Nashville mostly as groups of strangers who then leave connected on socials with their newest friends once those final notes ring out on Sunday night.  

But it runs so much deeper than just singing along with your favorite song, the butterfly excitement of getting to meet your favorite artist, and the incredible opportunity to get an inside look at who’s next.

Sure, the common thread that brings everyone together is certainly the music…and there’s plenty of it! But at the heart of this celebration of everyone’s favorite genre, this is the country music industry’s 4-day thank you letter to you! To the one that supports the music and your favorite artist day in and day out as you move through your everyday lives.

No matter which artist we spoke with during CMA Fest, the well-known mainstream acts or those who are currently on the rise, they all recognized the incredible support that the fans have given them in front of the stage during tour stops as they sang along with every word, as well as through their street team like promotion tactics on social platforms that have helped push their songs up the charts. 

Did you know how much you’re absolutely noticed by your favorite artist and are gratefully appreciated by them for all you do? 

While CMA Fest is dubbed as “The Ultimate Country Music Fan Experience,” what most don’t read through that tag line is that the “fans” are actually the artists themselves. They’re your biggest fans.

As excited as you are to be meeting your favorite artist and getting up close and personal with the music that you love, everyone that’s here in Nashville (including us) during CMA Fest weekend who is part of the country music industry is just as excited to be meeting you so that they can say thank you for all you’re doing for us, all the time, to make us feel like we are making a difference in your life through our passions!

Do you want to be a part of next year’s incredible celebration of you? 4-Day tickets for the 2024 edition of CMA Fest are on sale soon! Keep an eye on their website at www.CMAFEST.COM

Tune into ABC on Wednesday July 19, 2023 (8PM/7PM CST) for “CMA Fest: The Music Event of Summer,”  hosted by Dierks Bentley, Elle King, and Lainey Wilson and bringing 3-hours of CMA Fest highlights straight to the comfort of your living room. 


Copyright © 2024 Today's Country Magazine. All Rights Reserved.
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU General Public License.