By Stuart Craig
As a regular visitor to CMA Fest http://www.cmaworld.com/cma-music-festival/ I thought I would share my personal tops tips with you for making the event go without a hitch.
CMA Fest is a wonderful festival with ten of thousands of Country
music fans descending on Nashville in early June for almost a whole week of festivities. There are multiple stages centred on the majestic Nissan Stadium and spread over a wide area, so be prepared to walk your feet off, often in weather ranging from 100degree heat to a tornado strike, if recent experiences are anything to go by.
The event is friendly, fun and very safe despite the obvious volumes of alcohol being consumed, but the endless sea of cowboy hats, boots and Daisy Duke shorts can be quite overwhelming for the British visitor, so here’s how to survive CMA Fest.
1. Alcohol – start as we mean to go on! If you’re under 21 don’t even think about drinking in Tennessee. Carry your ID at all times because even if you are obviously 75, you’ll still need to produce to be served. In the Stadium they operate a wristband policy and you only get a band once you produce your id. But you then still need to show it again every time you want to be served. A time consuming system!
2. Tickets – if you’ve ordered official tickets on Ticketmaster, as a UK visitor you will probably need to pick these up at the Will Call at the Bridgestone Arena https://www.bridgestonearena.com/. This is an easy process but you must have the card used to purchase them. 4-day passes are the essential tickets, Gold Circle seats are like hen’s teeth, so if you have some – yippee! Avoid scalpers if you can, there are a lot of fake tickets about, but often tickets can be picked up from people who can’t attend all four days and so much of the music is free that don’t be put off if you can’t get them.
3. Bags – this year the security protocol from the stadium for only permitting clear bags has been extended to ALL the venues. The good news is that four-day pass holders can get your free CMA Fest bag from Music City Center on Level 2
4. Eating – during the day, if you’re in a group, eat in shifts. Lose your spot at popular venues like the Riverfront Stage and you’ll never get it back. Some of the acts at the Riverfront are so good that people come and stay all day. Eat at unusual times if you can as the restaurants are always busy especially between 5pm and 8pm.
5. Driving – don’t do it. Partly because someone has to be designated driver, but also because the roads are rammed – particularly around the Stadium. Nobody walks in Nashville so often you can make good progress by doing exactly that. Use the Uber and Lyft apps to grab a ride and forget about the FREE shuttle between venues – it’s honestly quicker to walk.
6. Where to stay – if you haven’t got your accommodation booked already then good luck with that! Hotels sell out over a year ahead, even at prices up to 5x the normal rates. You can stay at good cheap hotels out by the airport – after all you’re only sleeping in the room for a few hours before you’re up and out again. Use one of the excellent shuttle transport services – they are cheap and reliable and run until well after the Stadium acts finish.
7. Flights – there is a new direct BA service from London to Nashville that starts in May 18. This makes life much easier for the Country-loving Brits and avoids transit hassles
8. Pop-up attractions – keep an eye out for artists doing the unexpected and popping up for impromptu gigs all over town. I’ve chatted with Thomas Rhett, met Hunter Hayes, been blown away by listening to Cam sing just 2ft away from me and have begun to feel like Lindsey Ell’s stalker I’ve met her so often!
9. App – get the CMA Fest App and get planning. Without it you are bound to miss somebody and regret it. Quite often you will need to be in two places at once so this is the only way to plan your schedule.
10. Sunscreen – the essential CMA Fest accessory. We Brits are not made to stand in the sun for 12 hours, so sunscreen, hat and ready access to plenty of water are essential to survive the day. You can always spot the Brit who has overdone it on day one and spends the rest of the week like a boiled lobster!
11. Toilets – go to the bathroom at every available opportunity in bars and attractions. The festival toilets start off ok but are pretty ripe by day 3 given the heat.
12. Don’t leave early – it’s tempting to do that very British thing and try to beat the crowds away from the Stadium. Mixing with all the people is a big part of the experience and I always regret doing a runner and missing Luke Bryan welcome Keith Urban as a surprise guest!
13. Latch on to the locals – even today a British accent has value. Most Americans will be intrigued to talk to you and can offer plenty of advice and help – once they figure out how to understand you!. Remember there’s no ‘t’ in ‘water’ so don’t pronounce it!
14. Take time away – don’t go to Nashville just for CMA Fest. Tennessee is a beautiful state, so make the most of your time by going further afield to Franklin or even up to Pigeon Forge. Once out of downtown, having car is a must.
Of course, I’m not going to give you the best tips such as where we stay, when and where we eat and the quiet spots to lunch away from the madding crowd – or else I won’t get in! Above all enjoy the experience, keep coming back and be sure to chat if we bump into each other!