• Mary Ann

A Celebration of CMA Music Festival: Artists Reflect on Past Fest Experiences



The 49th annual gathering in Nashville, TN of the stars of country music and their fans from around the globe for CMA Music Festival was set to kick-off today. Tens of thousands of people flock to music city each year to watch over 300 artists performing on 11 stages throughout the city’s downtown.


Unfortunately due to the COV-ID 19 pandemic the 48th Annual CMA Fest was cancelled and will now take place June 10-13, 2021.


We caught up with a handful of artists to reflect on their past experiences of the festival.


TRAVIS RICE


I have been fortunate enough to perform at each CMA Fest that I have attended. Three years in a row! I love the Riverfront stage! It’s outside, it’s on the water, and it's free country music! What more could you ask for?!


Stand out memory from a CMA Fest? A nice lady who is no stranger to CMA Fest, 20+ years in a row, found me at my first ever signing and took a picture with me. Each year since, she has come to find me and get me to autograph the year before’s picture that she has printed and placed in a huge binder full of all my heroes! She has stories for each picture and I am proud to be part of her amazing collection of talent! 


What will you miss most about the 2020 CMA Fest? The fans, the fans, and the fans! 



BAILEY JAMES


I have attended/performed at CMA Fest since I was 12 years old, so about five years. CMA Fest is different every year, and I like to see the new musicians, booths, and all the events. My personal favorite stages are the Breakout Stage and the Spotlight Stage, because they bring light to new artists. They need the love too. :) 

Stand out memory from a CMA Fest? My mom meeting up with Jessie James Decker in the bathroom. 🤣 We are big fans! 

What will you miss most about the 2020 CMA Fest? I’m going to miss seeing all my family (fans) who come every year to watch me perform. I really look at them as family, and some fly out from different countries so it’s definitely sad. To look on the bright side of things, it will make next CMA Fest even better in 2021! 


photo credit: Kristin Barlowe - Eddie Montgomery

EDDIE MONTGOMERY, MONTGOMERY GENTRY

We first started playing CMA Fest when it was at the fairgrounds in the 90's.

Favorite CMA Stage/Venue? All of the stages were great. We played BB Kings, the River Stage, Ascend, Nissan Stadium – all of them were great. I’d say the highlight would have Nissan Stadium – we closed down Music Fest one year on this stage.

Stand out memory from a CMA Fest? Meeting some of the industry’s icons...All the guys we had been listening to in the 70s, 80s, 90s ..Also, playing with Ted Nugent – He jumped on stage with us and we played “Cat Scratch Fever.” And mostly, fan club parties – we ‘d cook up some stuff and, of course, we’d have Jim Beam. We were told we had the best fan club parties.

What will you miss most about the 2020 CMA Fest? I’ll miss our fan club party, and running into everybody. When you’re on the road you move so fast and don’t get to spend time with friends. CMA Fest is a time when we just run around and have fun, have a drink and B.S. – we just hang together. You see everybody where you travel all over the world and then everyone comes together at Music Fest.


MEGAN BARKER


I got to be on the official CMA Fest stage for the first time last year in 2019 and let me tell you, it was EVERYTHING AND MORE. I’ve been going to CMA Fest for so many years. I have so many great memories of seeing my favorite artists up close. It’s truly the highlight of the year for a country music lover like me!


Favorite CMA Stage/Venue? That’s a tough one. The intimate venues are always super special. Something special happens when there’s just a small crowd. It’s more personal. But you could argue the opposite. I’ve seen magical things happen in a 60,000+ crowd. They’re both magical experiences. Apples and oranges.


Stand out memory from a CMA Fest? I have two.  Performing at CMA Fest last year was such a treat. Everyone I know showed up and supported me. I had a long line of new fans who waited to buy a CD and take a picture with me. I made so many new friends. I will never forget seeing Eric Church’s record breaking show last year at Nissan. It was unreal. I also saw my hero, Keith Urban play there at CMA Fest and it was overwhelming and so moving to see so many people love the same songs I do. 

What will you miss most about the 2020 CMA Fest? Like I said, CMA Fest is the highlight of my year. And I’m sure a ton of people feel that way. There’s an energy that comes over the city. Artists are so excited to meet all the country music fans and vice versa! There’s really nothing else like it. I’m looking forward to 2021. It’ll be here before we know it. ;) 



DAKOTA DANIELLE


I have performed at CMA Fest two years! I love all the outdoor stages. CMAFest is overall a great atmosphere and vibe. My favorite would be where I performed the last two years….Nashville Underground!

Stand out memory from a CMA Fest? Kicking my heels off to run barefoot down Broadway through the crowd so I could make it to hear my friend perform on stage :)

What will you miss most about the 2020 CMA Fest? I will miss performing and the energy I got on stage during CMAFest.  The vibe  is always so amazing. You are surrounded by music everywhere you turn. It’s such a cool experience. 


PRESLEY & TAYLOR

PRESLEY & TAYLOR


Our first CMAfest was in 2016! We can’t believe it has already been four years since our first one! It was extra special because not only was it our first time attending CMA Fest, but it was also our first time performing! We were invited to sing on the Durango Music Spot Stage in the Music City Center by WSM 650 AM. WSM had been playing our single at the time, "While You Were Gone," in medium rotation and we made our debut on "Coffee, Country and Cody" one morning at the Opryland Hotel. After the live interview and acoustic performance, Bill Cody asked us to join the line up on their sanctioned CMAfest stage. It was truly one of our most unforgettable performances to date.


The two CMA Fest Sanctioned Stages that we performed on were both amazing! The CMA Spotlight Stage definitely stands out because some of Nashville’s best independent artists perform there. It is a great way to see up and coming artists perform their original music. Our favorite CMA Fest Stage to attend as a listener would have to be Nissan Stadium!! We were invited to be a part of the audience right in front of the stage last year and it was memorable to say the least. We got to witness some of our favorite entertainers like Thomas Rhett, Brett Eldredge, and Kelsea Ballerini, just to name a few.


Stand out memory from CMA Fest? To be honest, every CMA Fest is memorable. To be able to interact with so many country music fans in the span of three days is indescribably special. It feels like we are all connected by our love of country music and it just turns into a big celebration! Meeting and making new fans is the most memorable part that keeps us coming back every year.


What will you miss most about the cancellation of the 2020 CMA Fest? We are heartbroken that CMA Fest won’t be happening this year. I think what we’ll miss the most is getting the opportunity to support a great cause while sharing new original music with our fans and potential fans. There’s something so magical about CMA Fest as a whole that it will definitely be missed in our 2020 memories. At the same time, it makes us that much more excited for next year!


PRESLEY & TAYLOR


Lockwood Barr

LOCKWOOD BARR


I have performed for five years at CMA fest and attended for eight (Including working in my cousin's cowboy boot store on second avenue). I used to love sneaking out on my boot store breaks to catch a few minutes of a show.


Favorite CMA Stage/Venue? How can I pick 1?! Maybe all the stages inside Fan Fair X thanks to the A.C. I'm also always a sucker for the Riverfront stage too. I got to see Collin Raye on that stage in 2012, when little did I know, that 3 years later I would be on stage with him, singing back-up vocals!


Stand out memory from CMA Fest? In 2017, a fan came up to my "Emerging Artist" booth and told me that my song "Forgotten How to Cry" had moved her so deeply, that she drove 13 hours from New Jersey just to meet me. After talking to her, I had to step into the green room and just cry for a few minutes.

What will you miss most about the cancellation of the 2020 CMA Fest? Seeing all my friends (both fans and fellow musicians). It almost feels like a big high school reunion or summer camp! With all the performances, meet and greets, green room hangs and press junkets, there truly is nothing else like it.

LOCKWOOD BARR



BRIAN CALLIHAN


I’ve played CMA Fest the last 3 years now, but I have been doing the meet and greets and small side performances for a while now! My favorite stage to watch is the 90’s country stage! That’s where it happens!  Stand out memory from a CMA Fest? Meeting the legendary John Anderson!

What will you miss most about the 2020 CMA Fest? Interacting with the fans and getting to see and spend time with other artists that I don’t get to see too often while on the road. 


LORI WEST PHOTOGRAPHY

CHRISTOPHER GRIFFITHS


I moved to Nashville in 2003 so I would say I’ve been to at least 15 out of 17 CMA Fests. A couple of years I toured somewhere else. But no one wants to miss a great music city party.


Favorite CMA Stage/Venue? The riverfront by far. So many up and coming acts just excited to be there. But also the Broadway venues with the bands who haven’t quite gotten big enough for the main stages. New talent just hungry and excited. It’s very cool to see.


Stand out memory from a CMA Fest? My first riverfront performance. I shared a beer with the act before us. That act is now Luke Bryan.


What will you miss most about the 2020 CMA Fest? CMA Fest is for casual country fans, but it also brings the hardcore country enthusiasts. The autograph collectors and picture takers. The people who know every word to the song. As a performer those people can be really inspiring and it’s a shame they will be so far away this year because this is their time.


L-Tinka R- Nata by-Danielle-Del-Valle

SOUTHERN HALO


Tinka Morris


Southern Halo has attended / performed at CMA Fest for the years of 2015 - 2018. My favorite outdoor CMA stage is definitely the Chevy Breakout Stage in Walk of Fame Park because it features all brand new artists, and it's completely free of charge to the public!


Every year at CMA Fest has made so many unforgettable memories for us. I really can't put a finger on a single memory. It's always just the most fun getting to meet and do shows with all these incredibly talented artists, and to play your music at multiple venues for people that come from all over the world for CMA Fest. It's every musician's/country-music-lover's dream!


I'm really going to miss reuniting with some of our artist-friends and fans that we made throughout the years of performing at CMA Fest. Natalia and I are just praying that everyone will take this time to stay safe, healthy, and happy, until we see everyone again next year, CMA Fest 2021!!


Nata Morris


We have been at CMA Fest for four years, 2015-2018! My personal favorite stage we performed at was the CMA Spotlight Stage. It was so cool jumping on stage and performing our songs acoustically for a crowd full of country music fans from all over eager to hear music from new artists!


2018 was the most memorable CMA Fest for me! It was so much fun bouncing between CMA Stages, catching up with our radio/editor friends, playing with puppies while taking over the MuttNation Instagram page, and playing every night on a different stage on Broadway!


I will miss seeing our fans from all over and meeting new people that come every year for the festival. It’s such a great time to connect with other artists, meet new fans and play your music.



PEARL CLARKIN


When I was 16, I got the chance to sing on the big outdoor Hard Rock Stage at CMA Fest with the likes of Jake Owen, Michael Ray and so many other huge stars. It was so hot, over 100 degrees, as I remember and some singers wilted. I was asked to sing again and again, filling spots for 15 minute slots in the heat of the day for 3 days. That was so, so big for me back then. I sang again on that same stage through the years and my favorite photos from those performances have the drum set behind me with the CMA emblem on them. Last year was the only year I did not participate in CMA Fest. I was on radio tour in New York. But, I will be back strong 2021, as we all will!!!

Favorite CMA Stage/Venue? Hard Rock Outdoor stage is definitely one of the very best. I will always be grateful to them for having me so many times. This is what little girl’s big dreams are made of. It’s not the stars you meet in the Green Room between sets and it’s not the interviews or the autograph requests. It’s not the flowers and gifts fans, friends, and family bring you (although, all those things are wonderful and appreciated). It’s singing full band full blast in front of thousands, in the moment, realizing your dream. Its CMA, baby, and you are on that stage and the crowd is so lit dancing to your songs. You are on a stage you know so well, that it’s home. Nothing feels better. I am heartbroken we are not having CMA this year.

Stand out memory from a CMA Fest? I got invited to sing at BB King’s one year for a special show they were having. I had never been there before. As I checked the lineup for the day, I looked to see who was before me. I had been worrying if I could draw a crowd at a place I had never sang before. The guy scheduled behind me had over 100,000 followers on Instagram. Oh geez… this worried me. What if the room was noticeably emptier when I sang? I had the event on my schedule with my other appearances for the week and crossed my fingers. But, my wimpy spirits lifted as my sweet, sweet friends, along with music industry power players, other musicians, fans who follow me from around the country on social media and some strangers, who were just curious, filled the room. And I mean stuffed the room! I sang my heart out for 30 minutes and my heart was fuller than my lungs were. It was so hard not to cry on stage as hundreds of people all sang my songs with me. It was a moment I will never forget. I was thinking I should go ahead and clear out afterward so the guy with six times the following I have on social media could get his fans in. When me and mine vacated the room and I sat down to pay the band, I noticed the he did not have that many people come in. Maybe 20 that I could see and I learned a very valuable lesson. Keep it real. Real feels so good at times. My friends and I decided to go back in and show him some support and love.

What will you miss most about the 2020 CMA Fest? Seeing so many people that support my music from around the country. I truly, truly love them and love seeing them and hugging them in person. It’s something you can’t do over Facebook.




CARTER WINTER

I have attended/performed at CMA Fest for five years. My favorite CMA Stage is the Hard Rock stage. 

Stand out memory from a CMA Fest? Each one has been a unique experience. Different stages, playing at different times of the day. It’s always cool to see listeners from all over the country meet in Nashville for this event.

What will you miss most about the 2020 CMA Fest? Hearing the crowd sing along.

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