This week, country music fans from across the globe will assemble on downtown Nashville for four days filled with incredible performances and events. Whether it’s your first time in town or your tenth time in a row attending the festival, we’ve assembled 10 tips that will help you have the best CMA Fest experience possible.
1. Make a Plan
Let’s face it – CMA Fest can be a little overwhelming. This year, the festival has the most stages in its history. Aside from the daytime showcases and concerts at Nissan Stadium, there are dozens more events and shows that you can attend. Try and make a flexible plan with a few essential shows and lots of options. If one stage is too crowded, have a backup or a list of places to go in case your first choice doesn’t work out.
2. Stay Hydrated
Nashville can become blistering hot in the summer, and this year the temperatures are expected to be in the mid 90s. Throw some water bottles in your backpack and try and limit your alcohol intake. With high humidity, huge crowds and lots of concrete around you, it can be easy for high temperatures to effect your health without much warning.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Walk
You may have the urge to break out your cowboy boots for the occasion, but trust me, it’s a bad idea. Just one day at CMA Fest can mean miles of walking in circles around the downtown area, so do your feet a favor and wear comfortable shoes. Bonus tip: parking prices skyrocket during CMA Fest, so opt for lots closest to the interstate. They can be up to $20 dollars cheaper a day for just a few more minutes of walking.
4. Visit Fan Fair X
Back before it was renamed CMA Fest, Fan Fair was all about meeting your favorite artists at signing booths. That still lives on, in a much smaller fashion, inside the Music City Center. You can check out the list of artists who will be available for meet and greets here, but make sure you get there early. Lines form quickly and Fan Fair X promptly closes before the rest of the festivities at 5:00 pm.
5. Get the Good Souvenirs
Aside from the always-cool official merchandise from CMA Fest, there are lots of opportunities to grab some exclusive swag from your favorite artists. Check out the pop-up stores from Eric Church and Dierks Bentley, and be sure to stop by Gary Allan’s specialty clothing store The Label.
6. Don’t Just Focus on the Showcases
Although the official showcases are the best places to see artists all in one spot, there are a lot of other shows going on at the same time. Brandy Clark is holding her album release party on Broadway, Alan Jackson is playing an intimate show at his restaurant Acme Feed and Seed, and free shows will be going on just across the interstate at Winners’ and Losers’ Bar and Grill.
7. Visit the Grand Ole Opry
Many tourists are surprised to find that the current Grand Ole Opry house is a 20-minute drive away from the downtown area. Still, it’s worth visiting the grounds, even if you can’t snatch a ticket to one of their nighttime performances. During the day, they’ll have a variety of free shows and events going on at the Opry grounds, so make sure to take some extra time and check it out.
8. Explore Nashville’s Incredible Restaurants
It’s easy to spend a lot of money on grub from food trucks strategically placed around downtown, but you may want to consider using that cash to grab a meal from one of the city’s finer restaurants. If you have access to a car, taxi, or just want to hop on the bus line, consider trying out the tasty pork sandwich at Edley’s BBQ, get some hot chicken at Hattie B’s, or go all out with a southern meal made for a king at Monell’s.
9. Hit the Museums
If you need to get out of the heat but still want to soak up some country music history, take a break by exploring one of the city’s superb museums. Just off Broadway, you can visit the Johnny Cash Museum or George Jones Museum. Plus, there’s always the Country Music Hall of Fame, which is now one of the top 10 most popular museums in America.
10. Be Courteous
Remember, some country fans save up for months to attend CMA Fest, so try and stay aware of your surroundings at all times. DON’T try and shove people over in the crowd to get a good spot. DON’T try and take other people’s seats in Nissan Stadium if they’re empty – they are probably just getting food or are in the photo pit. On the same note, DON’T try and dance or stand in the aisles during the show, because you’re going to be blocking the view and way for a lot of people. All in all, treat your fellow country fans with respect and enjoy the best music festival of the year!