Just five more minutes. That’s all we would have liked on what was a perfect afternoon in downtown Nashville as the annual CMA Festival kicked off its weekend festivities on Saturday, June 10, 2017. The weather couldn’t have been better topping off around 85 degrees with little humidity making for a much more enjoyable experience for everyone compared to the oppressive conditions last year. With literally dozens of free and secret stages and all the honkey tonks hosting live music it helps to plan your time wisely at CMA. Here’s how our day unfolded.
Let’s start with our favorite performer of the day and one that many critics are calling the next big act to emerge from Nashville – Maggie Rose. We fell hard for her after first catching her in a live setting a few weeks backs at her EP release party on the BMI rooftop on Music Row. Her mid-day showcase at the Chevrolet Park Stage only reinforced what we love about this powerhouse singer as she dazzled us with her latest single “Body On Fire” and more in a very well received 25-minute segment.
We began our CMA adventure bright and early by finding a spot to sit at the always crowded Chevrolet Riverfront Stage. Scotty McCreery is a fan favorite and he had the honor of kicking off the busy weekend with a 10 a.m. slot. The reality show winner is now a seasoned performer and a fine showman. His new single “Five More Minutes” won our award for heart-string song of the day as it touched upon those fleeting moments in life you wish could last a little longer. Next up was a country rockin’ act on the Big Machine label called A Thousand Horses who strutted their stuff with a large band and a cart full of whiskey themed songs.
Any veteran of CMA will tell you a Master’s Degree in Time Management from Vanderbilt University might help when figuring out what activities to attend over the course of the four day event. You see, organizers issued a fold-out map and event schedules were posted up and down the streets of Nashville in a color-coordinated schematic. The first thing you realize is that you’re going to miss most of the festival and often acts you want to see overlap. Armed with this information this is how we spent the rest of our eight hour day in Music City.
A central component of the CMA Festival is the country music convention known as “Fan Fair X” that is held at the spacious and curvy Music City Center. We headed over there around noon and sought out the booth of our friends Brian and Sally Oxley who were on hand to promote their Storytellers Farm and upcoming Bon Aqua Bluegrass Festival. These two are recent converts to Johnny Cash fandom but they are far from your typical fans of the Man in Black. You see, they purchased the Mama Cash House, Johnny’s Tennessee Farm and his “One Piece at a Time” car that was a popular attraction at this year’s event.
We also ran across Justin Johnston hot off of his appearance this past season on ABC’s Shark Tank. He had a booth to sell his unique “Wallet Buckle” that was drawing a lot of attention. Another popular destination was the bittersweet vinyl camper that was loaded with the brand-new farewell album Adios by the incomparable Glen Campbell. His new LP record was spinning on one of the dozens of turntables and it sounded so good to our ears that you’d never know the man was currently in the fight of his life battling a well-publicized case of Alzheimer’s disease.
In June of 2017 CMA and Nashville had to share much of their spotlight with the upstart Nashville Predators of the National Hockey League who were playing in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in their history. This caused some organizational challenges as many additional people converged on the city for watch parties occurring at the same time as CMA activities. Everywhere you went there were “Let’s Go Preds” banners and vendors. The team’s booth at Fan Fair was extra active as fans lined to pose with Fatheads of the organization’s star players.
The CMA Festival isn’t all about the musicians who drive the industry. There are a lot of interactive activities for fans to take part in as well. Take for instance that MCN writer Laura Turner Lynch had a bucket list moment when she finally got to test-drive a Harley Davidson and safely gun it up to 60 miles per hour all with the help of a qualified instructor. The motorcycle manufacturer was on hand promoting their classes for new and first time riders and Laura said the experience was “fun”. MCN founder Rich Lynch had a chance to perform on Broadway when he test drove a Martin junior guitar with his song about living in a dome home. We also had the privilege of tasting “Hootie Hooch” in the form of Darius Rucker’s new Backstage brand whiskey that provided quite a kick.
Speaking of domes the most unique stage of the day was found on 8th Avenue at the “Bud Dome” a 3D theater and performance space inside of a striking geodesic dome. Here, many major acts were featured and we caught portions of the sets by Maddie & Tae and Lauren Alaina that took place before standing room only audiences. Bud also had another venue called the Budwesier Forever Country Park Stage and it was here that we watched a longtime friend of the site Rick Monoe play some convincing country rock music for the crowd gathered and seated in a sea of rocking chairs provided by Cracker Barrel.
Four days of activities could make any country music fan hungry and there’s plenty of options to grab a meal at CMA. In addition to all the quality restaurants that line Lower Broad and 2nd Avenue there were food trucks set up all along the streets and alleyways at the festival. We noticed two competing hot chicken stands battling it out near the Ascend Amphitheater along the Cumberland River that both offered a slight variation on Nashville’s hottest taste sensation. The heat of CMA could make you thirsty and there were constant reminders to hydrate and the organizers should be commended for keeping the official bottles of water priced right at only one dollar each.
By all accounts the 2017 CMA Festival was an unparalleled success with four days of warm weather and hot music. Fans wanting to get in on the act next year should start making plans as CMA Fest will take place from June 7 through 10 in 2018. This will be the 47th annual gathering of the Stars of Country Music and their fans in Nashville. As the little big town and American’s favorite “It” city continues to grow you’ll want to be here before it gets too packed. Join over 90,000 other fans per day for concerts, meet and greets, autograph sessions at Country Music’s greatest convention and party – see y’all then.