Day one is in the books.
After being canceled the past two years due to COVID, the first concerts of CMA Fest since 2019 finally kicked off yesterday.
And it seems like people are more excited for live country music than ever: By noon or so, the festival was sending out alerts that the popular Riverfront Stage had reached capacity and they weren’t allowing anybody else in. (I guess everybody took our advice yesterday not to miss Lainey Wilson’s set).
But that’s just the first day, and there are still three more to go.
So here are the free shows you don’t want to miss for today:
With one of the best albums of 2021 (and one of the best debut albums we’ve heard in a long time), and fresh off the road from opening up for Morgan Wallen, Larry Fleet’s performance at the Riverfront Stage at 11:30 AM is sure to be one of the best of the day.
One of the best songwriters on the entire day’s lineup, Caitlyn Smith performs at 4:15 on the Dr. Pepper Amp Stage, located at 1st Avenue and Demonbreun, outside Ascend Amphitheater.
One of the best parts of CMA Fest is catching all the throwback artists that you loved growing up. Mark Wills had so many great hits in the ’90s and early 2000s, from “19 Somethin'” and “Wish You Were Here” to “Don’t Laugh at Me” and one of my personal favorites (and a song that for some reason never gets mentioned in conversations about classic ’90s country songs), “Jacob’s Ladder.”
So yeah, if you’re a ’90s country fan (and who isn’t) you’re not going to want to miss his performance at 2:45 on the Chevy Vibes Stage at Walk of Fame Park, right across from the Country Music Hall of Fame on 5th and Demonbreun.
After the official free shows have ended, you can make your way to Spotify House at Blake Shelton’s Ole Red, right in the heart of downtown Nashville, to catch a free show from Hailey Whitters at 6:30. And after she just dropped one of the best albums of the year so far, you’re not going to want to miss it – so get there early to make sure you can get in. (And you can bail after her performance because honestly, the lineup is more or less downhill from there. Nelly at CMA Fest, really?)
End the night (or not – but remember you still have two more days left) with Walker Montgomery, a talented new up-and-comer and son of the legendary John Michael Montgomery, at the Skydeck at Assembly Food Hall at 10 PM.
So that’s day two. Make sure you’re pacing yourself and staying hydrated: Remember, CMA Fest is a marathon, not a sprint.