One thing became clear at our first CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee that was held in Downtown Music City from June 9 through June 12, 2016. It was the fact that this beloved celebration of the best of country music is over the top and the amount of activities offered can be somewhat overwhelming. The reality on the ground is that as a participant some hard choices need to be made in order to make the most of it.
For example, feel like fiddling around with Charlie Daniels by observing his in-depth interview conducted by Bill Cody on the CMA Close-Up Stage? But, you’re an Avery Barkley fan and want to check out the set by Jonathan Jackson and Enation. On Thursday that would have been difficult or impossible to do because the times overlap. Do you frolic with Jimmy Fortune at the Durango Music Spot or do you rock out with Aaron Lewis while taking in his act at the Chevrolet Riverfront Stage? On Friday, these both happened at 1 p.m. on the dot. What to do, what to do? Hard choices indeed.
Honestly, you can’t expect to do and see everything at the CMAs. The annual festival is comprised of essentially four main components taking place over the course of four consecutive days. You have the free events of the CMA Festival and the ticketed Fan Fair held at the Music City Center convention hall happening simultaneously and together these two units offer nine stages of entertainment opportunities. In addition, there are dozens of “unofficial” CMA activities taking place throughout the honkey-tonks that line Broadway and 2nd Avenue.
Scotty McCreery, Celebrity Softball, Dailey & Vincent, Ultimate Air Dogs.
At sundown, the CMA nightlife kicks into gear when Nissan Stadium takes over to present the giants of the genre at the football stadium home of the Tennessee Titans. You need stamina, pacing and just like a battle on the gridiron – a good game plan to conquer this demanding down home happening.
We kicked off our coverage by visiting the Fan Fair at the Music City Center early on Thursday morning. There we observed some major stars who made the choice to let their fans get up close and personal with them. First up we viewed Marie Osmond as she provided some revealing insight into her very real battle of the bulge explaining how Nutrisystem was practically a life saver for her during her time on the Close Up Stage. The up and coming full of charisma Loren Alaina was also meeting her followers in the building and she seemed to take real delight in picking up and hugging one small child with smiles all around. Next we headed over to Broadway where Nashville television star Chris Carmack was clearly happy to be signing copies of his new CD.
We also watched two industry icons who impressed us during their segments on the Chevrolet Riverfront Stage. Scotty McCreery humbly emphasized his roots and recognized the fervent support of his fans since making the journey from American Idol to country music superstar. Former rocker Aaron Lewis of Staind may have surpassed his success in rock music by making a smooth transition to the more traditional genre of country. He proudly began his time on a Friday afternoon slot by asking attendees to rise and remove their hats as he recited the “Pledge of Allegiance”. Both of these acts exhibited heart-warming humility and reverence for their supporters and nation that really stood out as convincing versus contrived.
Even mega-star Blake Shelton got in on the act. This man’s fame and celebrity has grown exponentially over the years in part due to his presence on television’s The Voice. He surprised some lucky CMA attendees when he chose to make an unannounced appearance on an alley stage just off of Broadway. For over an hour on Friday afternoon he played hit after hit on acoustic guitar and he dedicated his time to the genre that helped gather tens of thousands of fans together in Tennessee.
“I don’t get down here in enough time every year to plan a fan club party,” Shelton told the crowd. “I’m going to start right now. To country music.”
Shelton’s presence certainly helped heat things up just as it was getting hot on Broadway hitting 90 degrees on Friday with the forecast calling for even higher temps on the weekend. Repeatedly from the stages CMA reps reminded the country music aficionados to stay hydrated, to find some shade and try to stay cool. There were several misting stations and large fans set-up all around town to help with the cause. Perhaps the coolest attendees at the festival were the dozen or so canines who were part of the Ultimate Air Dogs. At least they got to jump into a large pool erected in front of the Bridgestone Arena three times each day to show off their exceptional leaping skills.
The Fan Fair was an industry convention as well as a concert space. There was plenty of vendors offering fashion, musical equipment and face painting. Representatives from large media outlets and record labels such as iHeartRadio, WSM, Big Machine Label Group, Universal Music Group Nashville and Warner Music Nashville were all present realizing it was critical to be seen at this important yearly gathering. Outside of the Music City Center people were handing out samples of food and drink. The free can of Mist Twist soda couldn’t have come at a better time and helped wash down the tasty cream cake we received from Otis Spunkmeyer.
Scotty McCreery, Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Label Group and 8 Ball Aitken.
At Fan Fair you can be sure to meet artists either at their meet and greets or exhibition booths. We ran into three extremely talented acts during our time there. Grayson Rogers is a country artist who performs high-energy engaging music explained concisely in his song “Too Loud”. The Tennessee Werewolves are a fan-favorite family band fronted by the lovely Angel Mary. But, don’t let that fool you – they show their teeth through an infectious catalogue that draws from classic outlaw country and southern rock. 8 Ball Aitken is a striking and talented frontman and guitar player from Australia now residing in Austin. We spun his self titled American debut and it has quickly become a favorite on the strength of tracks like “Girl In A Million” and “Skydive”. This accomplished slide guitar player is also an environmentalist making many of the instruments he plays from recycled material. Give him a spin and you’ll see why it’s easy to get behind the 8 Ball!
Perhaps the most famous musician at Fan Fair was rock star Steven Tyler made legendary by his successful career in Aerosmith. Tyler has been conducting a well-publicized and long-in-the-making transition into country music finally announcing his forthcoming full-length record, We’re All Somebody From Somewhere. One of the most enduring and endearing aspects of the Fan Fairs has been the ability for attendees to get up close and personal with their musical heroes and Tyler’s appearance was certainly a big draw so much so that the crowd was overflowing in anticipation of seeing him. Unfortunately, Tyler’s actions spoke volumes as he told several hundred fans gathered on the side of the booth to “Dream On”.
You see, minutes before he emerged the country music wannabee acted much more like an entitled rock star when he instructed workers to raise a large cloth panel that blocked the view of him for most of crowd who had spent a lot of time queuing in advance hoping to get a look. This very questionable choice by the renegade rocker flew in the face of the ethos of the event and the fan-friendly ethic exhibited by most every other artist and performer at the CMA Festival. This action led to boos, catcalls and chants of “Take It Down, Take It Down” to no avail. Steven Tyler’s controversial decision to put up a literal wall between himself and the CMA attendees left some observers in the audience wondering if he should maybe go back to where he came from.
Charles Esten and Chuck Wicks, The Heat Is On and Steven Tyler.
Related Links: For more information on the CMA MUSIC FESTIVAL and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links — CMA Music Festival | Nashville Lives at the CMAs | 8 Ball Aitken | Grayson Rogers | Tennessee Werewolves