A Beginner’s Guide To Attending CMA Fest

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It’s that time of year again. It’s time for four straight days of day drinking, baking in the Nashville heat, and taking in an overload of country music. It’s CMA Fest.

After you’ve got the Pedialyte packed and your Walmart cowboy hat ready to go, here are a few tips to make sure you get the most out of your CMA Fest experience.

Don’t Stay at One Stage

CMA Fest is unique for the sheer number of concerts going on at any one time – and most of them are free. The main show at Nissan Stadium in the evenings obviously requires a ticket, as does the evening show at Ascend Amphitheater. But during the day, there are four different stages and countless other free events going on all around downtown Nashville.

The free stages for this year’s CMA Fest are:

-Chevy Riverfront Stage – Located at 1st Avenue and Broadway, and featuring some of the biggest free shows throughout the weekend.

-Budweiser Forever Country Stage – Located at 1st Avenue and Demonbreun, featuring some of the biggest country artists of the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s (and Keifer Sutherland).

-Chevy Breakout Stage – Located in Walk of Fame Park at 5th Avenue and Demonbreun, this is one of my favorite stages and features some of the best new up-and-coming artists.

Maui Jim Broadway Stage – Located outside Bridgestone Arena on 5th Avenue and Broadway.

-HGTV Lodge – Located on 4th Avenue between Broadway and Demonbreun, the HGTV Lodge is free but requires a wristband for access. This one offers fans the opportunity to see their favorite artists in a more intimate setting.

That’s a lot of free music going on at any one time – so don’t just plan on posting up at one stage all day. That’s how you end up seeing Mason Ramsey and missing Luke Combs.

Bring a Clear Bag

All of CMA Fest’s events have a clear bag policy – so don’t get turned away from your favorite show because you didn’t know the rules.

Leave the Cowboy Boots at Home

Because the stages are spread out all over downtown Nashville (and because parking is non-existent and traffic is a nightmare), you’ll be doing a lot of walking. In fact, it’s pretty much your only option for getting between the different stages due to all of the road closures.

I know everybody wants to show off their country cred and break out their cowboy boots for CMA Fest, but, don’t. It’s not worth it to be miserable when your feet start hurting during the first day. CMA Fest is a marathon, not a sprint, so dress for comfort and not for style. Everybody’s too busy watching the concerts to notice your boots anyway.

Prepare for All Weather

Just like you don’t want your feet hurting after the first day, there’s nothing more miserable than getting sunburnt the first day and having to bake in the sun the rest of the weekend when you’re already fried. Bring plenty of sunscreen (non-aerosol, because aerosol cans are prohibited) and throw that shit on every chance you get.

But don’t just prepare for the sun. It looks like there’s a pretty good chance of rain during this year’s festival, so plan for that too. Umbrellas are prohibited at all stages, because if you’re the guy who opens and umbrella in front of somebody at a concert you’re obnoxious and everybody hates you. Ponchos, though, are your friend: No matter how ridiculous you think they look, at least you’ll be dry.

Download the CMA Fest App

The CMA Fest app has all the information you need for the weekend, from lineups to maps to what you can and can’t bring in to the concerts. You can even use the app to create your own schedule and get reminders throughout the weekend. Announcements about special events and surprise pop-up shows are also made through the app, so it’s a good one to have on your phone if you want to stay up-to-date on what’s going on and make the most of your experience.

And on that note…

Watch for Pop-Up Shows

It’s Nashville, so artists are constantly showing up to the different bars on Broadway or other stages to play surprise shows. Some of these are announced in advance and some aren’t, but if you’re hanging out at a bar, you never know who you might see. Check social media and a lot of times you can track down a surprise performance from your favorite artists.

Getting Around Town

Uber and Lyft both have designated pickup and drop off zones, so don’t expect them to meet you wherever you are when you decide you’re ready to leave. The good news is that there should be plenty of drivers available this weekend, so it shouldn’t take long to get a ride either to or from the festival.

Nashville also has a plague an abundance of electric scooters, so those are another quick way to get around if you’re just going a few blocks. Bird, Lime, Lyft, Jump and Bolt all have scooters that are easy to find and relatively cheap, so go ahead and get the app set up if you think you’ll want to take a scooter while you’re in town.


This one’s common sense and should go without saying, but every year I see lines of people waiting for fluids in the medical tents so I’m going to say it anyway. Resist the urge to hydrate with Bud Light all weekend and mix in some water with your drinking. And of course, replenish with Pedialyte in the morning so you can keep it going for 4 days. You don’t want to have to cut your CMA Fest experience short because you didn’t hydrate.

CMA Fest is one of my favorite times of year in Nashville – so if you’re going to be in town, welcome, enjoy yourself, and make the most of your time here at the greatest country music festival in the world!

Oh, and don’t be this lady…

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Mom had every daiquiri in Nashville.

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A beer bottle on a dock