Those who are close to me were shocked to learn of my new found love of country music. You would think that growing up in Indiana I might have been a fan from early on, but you would be mistaken. I was an “everything but country” girl up until a few years ago, but now…it’s about the only thing I listen too. Please don’t judge!
Country music lover or not, one city that is ALWAYS a good time is Nashville, Tennessee. The amount of musical talent in this town is overwhelming. It is the only place where you’ll find up and coming talent, established artists, record labels and recording studios all situated within a few city blocks. Appropriately nicknamed ‘Music City’, there truly is no other place like it.
Nashville’s bars, street corners and arenas are constantly filled with live performances. But for one week every summer the city goes into overdrive. CMA Festival is an annual event that fans and artists alike look forward to. I had heard about it, but it wasn’t until this year that I actually got to experience the festivities first hand. I channeled my inner cowgirl for the weekend (which wasn’t that big of a stretch) and embraced all that Music City and the CMA Fest had to offer. Below are some of the highlights from my weekend that will help you plan and enjoy your next visit to Nashville!
WHERE TO STAY
My Nashville getaway was a bit of a last minute decision, so by the time I went to book a room the prices were through the roof. Hotels that would normally cost $100 per night were triple that or more. Airbnb, which is usually a fabulous option for last minute bookings had very limited listings. Most were on the outskirts of town and in the $200-$300 range…no thank ya! Because of my procrastination, I had to forgo glamour and locational convenience and book a room at a hotel (I use that term loosely!) just outside of the city. It was about 5 miles north of downtown, but at $89 a night, it was by far the best deal.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Uber is your friend! Since I didn’t have a car for the weekend and I wasn’t within walking distance from any of the events, I relied on Uber to get around. The hotel was only about a 5 minute drive from Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans, and where all the major CMA Fest concerts were held. It was the perfect drop off point and only about a $7 ride…AMAZE! However, because of all the road closures and traffic from the festival, at night certain pickup areas are considered surge pricing zones, which meant the fare doubled.
For those with four-day concert tickets, there is a free shuttle service available throughout the festival. This is a great option if you’re staying in the downtown area or if you’re just tired of walking and want to explore other parts of the city. The Nashville MTA is another economical option, especially if you’re staying outside of downtown.
If you’re driving, you’ll need to plan ahead. Several roads are closed during the festival and parking is limited. This isn’t as much of a problem on other weekends. But if you plan on sippin’ on somethin’ while honky tonkin’ into the wee hours of the night, it’s probably best to leave the car at the hotel!
Broadway is the main street that runs east/west through downtown Nashville and is considered the heart of the city. This is where you’ll find some of Music City’s most popular restaurants, stores and of course Honky Tonks (better known as dive bars)! Many of them are open day and night, which means you can stop by in the afternoon and enjoy lunch and some live music then return at night for cocktails, more live music and dance the night away!
Some of my favorites are The Stage, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, and Honky Tonk Central. It’s not uncommon for a band to get their start performing live on Broadway then hit the road as the opening act on tour later on. That’s the great thing about this city, the artists are so accessible!
Although Nashville is best known for its unique music scene, it is also quickly becoming a foodie town. From steak houses to fall off the bone rib joints and everything in between, there are several excellent dining options in Music City. A few of my favorites are Whiskey Kitchen, Jack’s BBQ, and The Garden Brunch Café. Whatever you’re in the mood for, you’ll find it. You really can’t go wrong!
During CMA fest, the streets are filled with vendors selling just about everything from ice cream and burgers to popcorn and barbecue. It’s like the state fair meets Country Coachella!
Nashville is a fun destination any time of year, but during CMA Fest every part of the city is buzzing. During the week of CMA Fest, the streets are transformed into stages where you can enjoy live performances day and night. The lineups change daily and include undiscovered talent as well as artists currently on the radio. CMA Fan Fair X puts fans up close and personal with current artists and offers countless activities for everyone to enjoy. The best part is, all of it is FREE! CMAworld.com provides the daily schedule so you can stage hop and see your favorite artists or just wander through the streets and let the music guide you!.
One of the highlights of my weekend was watching an epic karaoke show at the Country Deep stage where singers got to perform alongside a live band. It was truly inspiring to watch people of all ages, races, shapes and sizes sharing their gift of music.
The CMA Festival’s main attraction is the concert, which is held Thursday-Sunday night at Nissan Stadium. The superstars of country music perform nightly during this 4 hour event. Even if you don’t have a ticket you can still enjoy the show by standing on the footbridge that crosses the Cumberland River. I didn’t have tickets my first night there, but I could hear the music and see the screens by standing on the bridge and I wasn’t alone. People brought coolers and lawn chairs and set up shop on the bridge to enjoy the music. If you can’t snag tickets, this is a fun option.
If you’re interested in actually attending the concert, my advice is shop around. Tickets sold directly through the CMA Fest website sell out months in advance and other websites sell them for crazy prices. Your best bet is purchasing from a scalper. I was very skeptical at first, but while walking around I noticed several scalpers offering to buy and sell tickets. The first offer was a $125 “deposit” and I’d get $50 back when we returned the ticket at the end of the night. Sounded fishy. Later, I bumped into a ticket vendor offering upper level seats for $75. They said if I waited until 8:30 they would let me know for sure. When we got back to Broadway I ran into yet another set of vendors offering Lower level seats for 1 night only for $80 and I wouldn’t have to return them! I jumped on that deal just in time and made my way over to the stadium. I got an overpriced vodka lemonade and headed to my seat, which was amazing!!! 5th row back, lower level with a great view of the stage! I couldn’t believe it. First that the ticket was actually legit and second that I scored such a great seat!!! Winona, Chris Young, Brett Eldridge, Little Big Town and Carrie Underwood all performed. I danced and sang along for 4 hours!!! The time flew by and when it was over I sold my ticket BACK to another vendor for $30 then followed the crowd to the bridge and back over to Broadway.
As the thousands of concert goers made their way up the stairs a few enthusiastic gentleman started a group rendition of Wagon Wheel. Hundreds of voices chimed in as we made our way up the stairs and onto the bridge. It was a brief moment, but for that small span of time we were all connected through song. That’s one of the many reasons this city is so special. Everyone, regardless of background or anything else, can be connected and united through the power of music. My takeaway from the weekend was that music truly can bring people together. Festival goers were all ages and races, some were city dwellers while others came from small farm towns, but we all were there and connected through a shared love of music. That’s powerful.
Have you ever visited Music City? What are some of your favorite Nashville hotspots? Share your comments below!