Tips to Get the Most from CMA Fest

Getting the Most from CMA Fest

Awaiting details on the June 6-9, 2024 festival.

You pay a pretty penny for that festival lanyard. Make sure you get the most out of it by heeding these tips from CMA Fest veterans. Also included are answers to “Where’s the closest…”

How to navigate CMA Fest Transportation

Beware the heat.

Dress in lightweight, light-colored clothes that breathe. If you’re wearing a hat, keep in mind that baseball caps and straw hats also breathe; felt cowboy hats don’t. Wear sunscreen; otherwise you be rightly mocked for looking like a lobster.

Maintain happy feet.

You’ll do a ton of walking at the CMA Fest so think about your feet. Every year I see dozens of people limping down Broadway in just-bought cowboy boots.They may be stylin’ but they’ll also be hurtin’. Wear comfortable shoes. But if your heart’s set on western wear, here’s everything you need to know about buying cowboy boots.

Carry only the essentials.

Only clear bags (12″x12″x6″ or smaller) are allowed at Nissan Stadium–one per person. They can be backpacks, fanny packs, shopping bags, etc. Travel light but be prepared. Essentials: Photo ID, money/credit card, CMA Fest pass, empty plastic water bottle* (water stations available), sunblock lotion or spray mist (no aerosol cans), sunglasses, lodging key. Recommended: hat, band-aids, safety pins, phone, poncho or rain jacket (no umbrellas allowed), insurance card (in case of emergency), lip balm, contact info if you’re traveling alone.  For late-night purchases, see the Corner Market below. *For details on what items are allowed, visit this CMA Fest page.

Do not bring…

In addition to the typical banned items (knives, outside food or beverages, glass, and such), the Nissan Stadium list extends to a few items you might not expect: cameras with detachable lens, GoPros, umbrellas, signs on sticks or poles, helium balloons, e-cigarette refill cartridges, any form of adhesive-backed decals or stickers, aerosol cans, battery-powered lights or laser pointers.

Drink a lot of water.

More than you think you need. Not to offend but, if your urine is darker than pale yellow, it is likely you’re dehydrated. Look for water stations on the festival grounds plus vendors who are selling bottled water. There’s some disagreement about the hydration value of sodas and beer but neither is a substitute for plain ol’ water. And speaking of alcohol…

Know your alcohol limits.

I won’t stop you from wise and legal consumption but don’t be like the 50 people arrested in a previous year. Most were charged with public intoxication. By the way, the legal minimum age is 21 and you can count on being carded so carry a photo ID. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot (or anywhere else) and miss out on all the live music and attractions.

Plan how to get to and from CMA Fest events.

Visitors with disabilities–please visit the CMA Fest ADA Accessibility section. Individuals with mobility issues might also want to check out my blogpost Navigating Nashville with a Wheelchair.

If you’re staying downtown, no sweat–because pretty much everything is within walking distance. If you’re lodging in a nearby hotel, check on the availability of a hotel shuttle; most provide rides to destinations within three miles–but may not run late into the evening. If you catch a WeGo bus, the fare is $2.00 for most rides to and from downtown.

Of course, you can also hail a cab or ride-share but Uber/Lyft will probably be operating at their higher surge rates; still it may prove less costly than paying for downtown parking. But if you are driving…

Know where you’re parked.

Sure, you’re excited to dive into the festivities but STOP. Make a note of where you’re parking or take a picture of signs or landmarks within view. If you’re into apps, use one like Find My Car Smarter, Anchor Pointer or Honk that allow you to record the exact GPS of your vehicle. You’ll find more specific guidance at my post Parking Made Easier.

Alert your credit card company that you’re traveling.

If you’re from Dallas or Dublin and suddenly there are charges from Nashville, it may be flagged as suspicious by your credit card company. Worst case scenario: your card is frozen until you track down a bank representative who verifies you’re you. Alert your credit card provider of your travel plans in advance so Nashville charges won’t seem amiss.

Prioritize your daily activities.

This is a tough one because many of the CMA Fest events overlap. In addition to the official activities, there are pop-up events and non-publicized live music showcases. Never pass up the chance for air conditioning. By the way, musicians in most bars play for tips and, in some cases have to pay to perform; help them make that money back by tipping generously.

Stay well-fed.

In the rush from one concert to another, you might be tempted to skip a meal. If you don’t have snacks with you, there are a few places for reasonably priced food to go. For example, Robert’s Western World on Broadway offers its Recession Special: $6 for fried bologna sandwich with chips and a PBR. Mike’s Ice Cream & Coffee on 2nd Ave. N. was selling muffins and bagels for $2.50.

Among the most popular restaurants in Nashville are those that specialize in barbecue. including several that within easy walking distance. I also offer a solution if you want hot chicken but others in your party don’t.

Free music is everywhere.

There’s no cover at any of the honky tonks unless something special is going on. You’ll find live music in hotel lobbies, boot stores, street corners, the airport, restaurants including Puckett’s on Church Street. On Friday and Saturday evenings, Centennial Park hosts Musicians Corner in the area next door to McDonald’s. All the honky tonks on Broadway offer live music and free admission but remember to tip the band.

Download the CMA Fest app.

Probably the answers you’re looking for will be at your fingertips in you download the CMA Fest app. Available from Google Play and the Apple Store. Things can change rapidly so, to stay up to date, consult the app.

Enjoy CMA Fest for free.

You’ll need to pay up to get into the big nightly concerts at Nissan Stadium and other major events but there’s a lot to enjoy on the street including live music and vendor freebies. No registration required for those.

Good to Know

Closest drugstore
  • Walgreen’s Our only downtown pharmacy at 226 5th Ave., N. Store hours: M-Fri 7am-7pm, Sat. 8am-7pm, Sun 9am-6pm. Pharmacy hours: M-F 7:30am-5:30pm, Closed on Sat-Sun.
Closest grocery/convenience stores
  • Corner Market at 300 Church St. crams a ton of merchandise in a slender space. If you need a cup of non-designer coffee, a toothbrush, Red Bull or Pepto-Bismol, these folks can hook you up. Note: they’re open later than the others. Hours: Sun-Thurs, 7am-9pm; Fr-Sat, 7am-midnight.
  • Southernaire is in SoBro, south of Broadway at 150 3rd Ave, S.. You won’t find Cheerios or Gatorade here; it’s an upscale market with artisanal products, locally grown produce, a selection of bottled craft beers, a butcher’s counter and a prepared food spot for paninis and daily specials. Call 615-490-8007 for special CMA Fest hours.
  • Dollar General Store (DGX), 206 3rd Avenue, S. This location caters to the tourist population with items you won’t find in the typical Dollar General. Basically an urban convenience store.
  • Turnip Truck, located in The Gulch at 321 12th Ave. S., advertises itself as “your natural grocery.” Translation: fresh, locally sourced, whole foods along with a juice bar, salad bar and hot food bar. Hours: M-Sat 7:00am-9pm, Sun 8am-8pm.
  • Whole Foods at 1202 Broadway includes a hot bar, in-house bakery and a dining area. Open 7am-10pm daily.
  • Publix-Capitol View is a smaller-than-average store but still has a butcher shop, bakery and deli. Open 7am-10pm daily.
Closest clinic

In addition to the first aid centers at CMA Fest staffed by teams from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, here are your options:

Complete Health Partners 301 Church Street. Last patient check-in is 30 minutes before closing. Hours: M-F 8am-4pm.

The next closest walk-in clinic is Concerta Urgent Care, 315 14th Ave. N., (615-321-5698) Hours: M-Fri, 7am-5pm. All other walk-in clinics are located beyond the downtown area and none stay open beyond 8pm.

For after-hours care, the closest ER facilities are St. Thomas Midtown and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

> Read what downtown police officers recommend to stay safe and be smart downtown.

> Discover the “CMA Fest: 50 Years of Fan Fair” and other country music/songwriting/Nashville-centric documentaries.