It’s that time of year again. CMA Fest is back for the first time since 2019 after being canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic.
But now 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 here in Nashville.
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 Fan Fair X in Music City Center and the evening show at Ascend Amphitheater. But during the day, there are tons of different stages, both indoors and outdoors, 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.
-Dr. Pepper Amp Stage – Located at 1st Avenue and Demonbreun
-Chevy Vibes Stage – Located in Walk of Fame Park at 5th Avenue and Demonbreun
–Maui Jim Reverb Stage – Located outside Bridgestone Arena on 5th Avenue and Broadway
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.
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 chance of rain during at least part of 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.
But on that note…
Cell Service Might Be a Problem
Even on weekends in downtown Nashville, the crowds can get so big that cell service is hard to come by. Figure out a plan to meet up with your friends, or plan on having to walk a couple blocks away from the action to call an Uber or Lyft.
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
Don’t plan on driving around downtown Nashville. Roads have been shut down for days already, and it’s going to be a nightmare getting around. Plus parking is going to be at a premium, and if you’re able to find it you’re going to pay a hefty price. If you’re not staying within walking distance of downtown, just plan on catching an Uber or a Lyft.
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 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.
Saving the most important for last. 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 or Liquid IV 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’re dehydrated.
There will be vendors set up around downtown (and plenty of food trucks on 5th Avenue between Broadway and Demonbreun, right beside Bridgestone Arena). And obviously there are plenty of bars and restaurants nearby, but lines are going to be long and it may take awhile to find somewhere to sit down and grab a drink. Plan ahead and don’t wait until you’re ready to pass out before you take a break for food or drink.
CMA Fest is a hell of a time in Nashville – so if you’re going to be in town: Welcome, enjoy yourself, and make the most of your time here in Music City.