NASHVILLE - For years, music lovers who either couldn't afford — or couldn't get — tickets to the night time CMA Music Festival concerts in Nissan Stadium, have had the affordable luxury of free live music on multiple downtown stages during the festival's day time hours.
And this year, the free part of the annual music festival is better than ever, featuring more artists than in years past, including Keith Urban, Sara Evans, and Darius Rucker. And now for the first time, there are a slew of great free nighttime performances too.
The new no-cost night time show option is designed to give the "tens of thousands of Country Music fans pouring in from all over the U.S. and over a dozen countries, the chance to see even more of their favorite artists," said CMA CEO Sarah Trahern.
Free music at night
It means three nights of free live music starting at 7 p.m. June 8-10 on the Cracker Barrel Country Roads Stage at Ascend Amphitheater:
Thursday: Big & Rich with special guests DJ Sinister & the Country Fried Mix and Cowboy Troy. Plus Deana Carter, Billy Ray Cyrus and the Oak Ridge Boys.
Friday: Sara Evans presents Ladies of Country Friday, which also includes 3 Girls Rock into a Bar featuring Kelleigh Bannen, Ruthie Collins and Natalie Stovall. Also, Danielle Bradbery, Kellie Pickler and Aubrie Sellers.
Saturday: Dan + Shay, Hunter Hayes, High Valley, RaeLynn, Cale Dodds, Ryan Kinder and Bailey Bryan.
This four day CMA festival is a music lover's dream and anybody — locals or visitors— can enjoy performances from more than 300 artists on seven free stages.
And many of the artists on tap are ones who usually command a pricey ticket — like Keith Urban, Josh Turner, Lauren Alaina, Charlie Worsham, Eli Young Band, Scotty McCreery, Brandy Clark, Sara Evans, CAM, RaeLynn, Kelli Pickler, Eric Paslay, Maddie & Tae, Chris Janson.
Free daytime stages
The Chevrolet Riverfront Stage has a packed lineup of the festival's biggest daytime names from 10 a.m. - 5:15 p.m. each day. CMA Awards nominees Old Dominion will kick things off at 10 a.m. Thursday. Additional artists include: Lauren Alaina, Brothers Osborne, Cam, Brandy Clark, Eli Young Band, Tyler Farr, Chris Janson, Jana Kramer, LOCASH, Maddie & Tae, Neal McCoy, Scotty McCreery, Joe Nichols, Eric Paslay, Kellie Pickler, RaeLynn, Michael Ray, and Josh Turner.
The HGTV Lodge, at the corner of Fourth and Broadway has a powerful lineup that includes Keith Urban, Maren Morris, Lauren Alaina, RaeLynn, Darius Rucker, Old Dominion and Kane Brown. This stage is free but you must register for CMA Fan Fest Access prior to the festival at cmafest.com or through the festival app.
Budweiser "Forever Country" Park Stage in the park space next to Ascend Amphitheater, offers music from classic artists from the 80s, 90s and 00s, from 11 a.m. - 4:45 p.m. all four days, with Tracy Lawrence and Friends, Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers, Lonestar, Bellamy Brothers, and Rhonda Vincent.
The Chevrolet Park Stage, in the Walk of Fame Park, will entertain crowds daily from 10:30 a.m. - 4:55 p.m. with performances by dozens of artists including Kristian Bush, Trent Harmon, Maggie Rose, and Jamie Lynn Spears.
Gildan Broadway Stage at Hard Rock Cafe, has music from 10:45 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
The Music City Stage in Nashville Visitor Center inside Bridgestone Area, which will be open daily from 11 a.m. - 4:40 p.m. is the only one of the free stages that is indoors and air conditioned. This stage will feature up and coming talent, including a Sunday ASCAP showcase of fresh talent.
Other free CMA Fest highlights
There is plenty of free swag for daytime festival attendees: Food samples, like free pizza, Skippy PB Bites, Spam and Hostess products, plus sunglasses, koozies, hand fans and chances to win prizes.
Firestone is offering free tattoos, Harley Davidson will have an interactive motorcycle ride simulator, and attendees can stop by the Lyft tent to learn how to get a free ride to Cracker Barrel during CMA Fest.
Not free but a great deal
The $50 CMA Fest Nash Pass is a good bargain for visitors and locals. It includes four-day Fan Fair X tickets, admission to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, self-guided tour of the Ryman Auditorium, plus VIP seating at Ascend Amphitheater nightly concerts. Bought separately, these tickets would add up to $70 or more, without even including the VIP Ascend seating. The Pass will be sold through the Ryman Auditorium box office and at opryentertainmentgroup.com.
Fan Fair X
The Xfinity Fan Fair X ticket is well worth its $10 one day price, or $25 for all four days. Not only will it get you lots more music, and presumably a chance to meet some of the stars, it is inside the air conditioned Music City Center.
This is the fifth year for Fan Fair X, which organizers have dubbed the "ultimate fan/artist experience" with up-close interactions, almost nonstop music in fairly small fan settings, Artist of the Day sessions, and meet and greets.There are also prize giveaways and autograph sessions.
Think about it —- having a cool place to take a break and chill for a bit (and a nice clean restroom) would be more than welcome between concerts.
What you need to know about the CMA Festival
When: June 8-11
Where: Downtown Nashville
What: A four-day celebration of Country Music, with meet-and-greets, live music on 11 stages, hundreds of artists and celebrities, and more than 88,000 singing-and-dancing-till-dawn fans in attendance each day of the festival.
Cost: Nighttime shows are $200 - $410 for a four night package, but daytime concerts are free.
Reach Ms. Cheap at 615-259-8282 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/mscheap, and at Tennessean.com/mscheap, and on Twitter @Ms_Cheap, and catch her every Thursday at 11 a.m. on WTVF-Channel 5’s “Talk of the Town.”