Entertainment, On A High Note

An insider’s guide to attending CMA Fest

Kyle Schwartz, who is the Assistant Commissioner for Media Relations for the Ohio Valley Conference, is also a country music fan and experienced attendee of Nashville’s annual CMA Fest. Schwartz, and his wife Angella, will be providing Sports & Entertainment Nashville an insider’s guide to CMA Fest during this year’s festival. For more insider information during CMA Fest, you can follow Kyle on Twitter.

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When my wife, Angella, and I moved to Nashville in late 2006 we were not very familiar with the CMA Music Festival but after hearing a little more about it we decided to buy tickets and attend the 2007 event from practically the furthest seats from the stage. Since then we have learned a few tips and tricks that we want to share as we prepare to attend our ninth event this year (from seats nine rows from the stage).

Kyle and Angella Schwartz are attending their ninth CMA Fest this year. PHOTO BY KYLE SCHWARTZ

Kyle and Angella Schwartz are attending their ninth CMA Fest this year. PHOTO BY KYLE SCHWARTZ

For those who have never been, the event has been around since 1972 (when it was called Fan Fair) and it features the top country music stars of today, stars of the past and stars of the future in a four-day festival of live performances and meet-and-greets all while benefiting The CMA Foundation which supports music education initiatives across the country.

While there are numerous events from sunup to way past sundown, the highest profile part of each CMA Fest are the nightly concerts at LP Field. That is where fans can see the biggest stars of today perform including the likes of Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood and the Zac Brown Band to name a few who will be entertaining the crowd this year.

If you want to go to those shows you need a ticket and those tickets sell out months ahead of each CMA Fest. While the ticket procedure has changed a few times over the years, the CMA has rewarded loyal fans by making most seats renewable each year. So prior to the 2010 CMA Fest tickets going on sale I researched and figured out the tickets at that time went on sale the Saturday morning of CMA Fest only at the Bridgestone Arena and LP Field box offices, giving attendees the first chance at tickets. So I camped out 14 hours at LP Field and was the first in line to buy ninth row center seats which I have renewed every year since.

Now with all good things must come change and due to a production stage change we are actually moving back a few rows for the 2016 event, which went on sale to returning ticket holders in April. The remaining 2016 CMA Fest tickets go on sale to the general public on June 19, so if you want to go, make sure to mark that date on your calendars.

After starting with nose bleed seats, our insiders now enjoy CMA Fest shows at LP Field like Tim and Faith in 2014 from the ninth row. PHOTO BY KYLE SCHWARTZ

After starting with nose bleed seats, our insiders now enjoy CMA Fest shows at LP Field like Tim and Faith in 2014 from the ninth row. PHOTO BY KYLE SCHWARTZ

So while the ticketing process continues to evolve my advice to those of you who want the best tickets is gather as much information as possible (sign-up for CMA newsletters and follow all their social media accounts for details on future presales), listen to what other fans are saying (we first found out about tickets going on sale from a fellow fan at CMA Fest) and be patient (it took us several years to go from all the way in the back to way up front).

While the four-day ticket holders get into the shows at LP Field and receive a few other perks (air conditioned shuttles that run a loop around the city, free admission into Fan Fair X at the Music City Center), you do not need a ticket to take advantage of all that CMA Fest has to offer. There are plenty of free events for the whole family to enjoy without ever spending a dime.

I would highly suggest checking out the numerous free stages around town where you can see a variety of acts. Download the free CMA Fest app which has a great scheduling tool where you can search by stage, day/time or artist and personalize where you want to be. The music starts as early as 10 a.m. each day and goes until after midnight.

One thing to remember during the day is that it will be HOT and it is probably not a good idea to stand outside for seven-straight hours without a refreshing beverage and sun screen. While you move from stage-to-stage to see your favorite artists, there are numerous free giveaways around downtown. My group usually makes it a habit to check out some the free sample giveaways (such as ice cream or soft drinks) several times a day to cool off as needed.

Need some air conditioning? Fan Fair X is held in the Music City Center (there is a $10 per day charge for non four-day ticket holders) and features meet-and-greet opportunities with artists, contests and giveaways and a nice place to sit down, relax and charge your cell phone.

Fan club parties are a great way to meet your favorite acts, like Luke Bryan. PHOTO BY KYLE SCHWARTZ

Fan club parties are a great way to meet your favorite acts, like Luke Bryan. PHOTO BY KYLE SCHWARTZ

Another growing aspect of CMA Fest is the artist fan club parties which are held during the week. If there is an artist you are a big fan of, make sure you are in their fan club and they usually send out details a few weeks ahead of the event. I will give everyone more details on that in my next post as we plan to attend the Cole Swindell Fan Club party Thursday and the Luke Bryan event on Friday morning.

What else do you need to know before ascending on downtown for CMA Fest? There are a few items you should prepare to bring with you to make the long days a little more bearable. Over the past eight years my group has learned a few new tricks each year that has made our experience better, especially if you arrive downtown in the early morning and stay until the LP Field shows end around midnight.

My wife brings a small tote bag with her to carry around during the day with all the essentials including sunscreen, a phone charger, a poncho, snacks, sharpies and a book for autographs. Prior to the nightly concert we return the bag to our car (where we have a change of clothes if needed) and freshen up before the big show. We also like to freeze a bottle of water overnight and put it in a cooler so that after the nightly concert is over, we have a nice cold beverage to enjoy while we are waiting in traffic.

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Photos of Kyle and Angella at CMA Fest with many of their favorite CMA Fest performers over the years.