Jun 3, 2022 - Things to Do

CMA Fest returns to Nashville after two-year hiatus

Lauren Alaina performs.
Lauren Alaina at CMA Music Fest in 2018. Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images

The return of CMA Fest next week coincides with another proud Nashville tradition — taking the one-of-a-kind festival for granted.

  • The four-day celebration of Nashville's status as Music City is often derided by residents for the invasion of tourists and the negative impacts on our already strained traffic and parking systems.

Yes, but: To complain about those aspects of CMA Fest is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Why it matters: From a music fan's perspective, CMA Fest offers something truly unique in the proliferating world of multiday music festivals: hundreds of free concerts.

  • The festival was canceled for the last two years because of the pandemic.

Flashback: CMA Fest — originally called Fan Fair — launched as a tool to bring country music artists closer to their biggest fans. The first Fan Fair in 1972 drew 5,000 fans to Municipal Auditorium.

Be smart: CMA Fest features four free stages, plus pop-up concerts held at bars, parking lots and other random spots around the city. That's in addition to ticketed concerts at Nissan Stadium and Ascend Amphitheater.

What she's saying: "By offering fans exposure to hundreds of artists over the four-day festival, they not only 'discover' new artists but are also able to further tap into their connection with artists they are already following," CMA CEO Sarah Trahern tells Axios.

  • "The best thing about Fest is that there is something for everyone."

👋 Hey, Adam and Nate here.

Next week's CMA Fest lineup is so stacked, it can be daunting to pick which shows to attend. Yet don't fret: We're here to help.

  • It would be hard to go wrong, but here are some of the acts we think are worth checking out:

Thursday: Jimmie Allen, who won the CMA's new artist of the year award last year, kicks off the Chevy Riverfront stage performances at 10am. Allen seems destined for a headlining slot at the evening Nissan Stadium shows in the near future.

  • Caylee Hammack's under-the-radar album "If It Wasn't For You" was a critical darling in 2020. She performs at the Dr Pepper Amp stage at 2pm.

Friday: Ingrid Andress topped the charts with "More Hearts Than Mine," just one accomplishment in her ascending career. She plays the riverfront stage at 4pm.

  • Caitlyn Smith has written songs for Miley Cyrus, Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton, among many others. But her new album "High" is the latest example of the fireworks that erupt when she steps up to the microphone. She plays the Dr Pepper Amp stage at 4:15pm.

Saturday: Breland is still in the infancy of what seems likely to be a long career, but he's already garnered 3.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify and collaborated with stars such as Keith Urban and Mickey Guyton. He plays the riverfront stage at 11:30am.

  • Lauren Alaina has proven staying power — 11 years after competing in "American Idol," she was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. She'll be performing after Breland on the riverfront stage.

Sunday: Tenille Townes and Scotty McCreery perform back-to-back at the riverfront stage to close out a stacked Sunday afternoon lineup. It'll be a busy few days for Townes, who's also playing at Bonnaroo the following week.

  • Axios Nashville favorite Brittney Spencer has emerged as a force over the last year, drawing rave reviews during her first headlining tour. She's performing at the Dr Pepper Amp Stage at 1:15pm.

Full CMA concert lineup

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