Every day, Nashville is swarmed with thousands of wandering country music fans. Every year, the Country Music Association hosts the CMA Fest downtown — cultivating essentially a Disney World for country music fans. From checking out up and coming artists, tractor shopping, pedal taverns, CMA Fest is the real country deal. Beginning as The Ultimate Country Music Fan Experience™ in 1972 as Fan Fair®, which drew 5,000 fans to Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium. Now in its 48th year, the legendary CMA Fest has become Nashville’s signature Country Music event that hosts tens of thousands of fans from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and 36 international countries. In 2018, CMA Fest featured more than 350 performances on 11 official stages – all to benefit music education. CMA Fest is filmed for an ABC Television Network special. This is the 16th consecutive year the event has been filmed for a network television special, a feat no other music festival has achieved.
One of the most unique features of CMA Fest that provides the “real country deal” experience would be that the festival completely takes over a significant amount of the local hot spots in Nashville. While many of the headliners perform at the arenas, there are many concerts set up throughout the downtown and surrounding areas, which are all easily accessible, such as the Bridgestone Arena, Honky Tonk Central, most of the street corners, and beloved local bars.
With Nashville being Music City and the home of country music, it’s not uncommon for the stars to bring out some of their friends to surprise their audiences. Taking the party up a notch, Keith Urban brought out Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X to perform alongside him, “Old Town Road [Remix]”.
One of my three favorite acts I got to catch whilst browsing around the festival was Elvie Shane. Arriving on stage with an eager audience, whom showed up in complete disregards to the bad weather, his unique sound was hard to ignore. With a roaring and entrancing voice, even passer-bys quickly ditched the idea of finding coverage and joining the audience for his set. Performing originals such as “My Boy”, “County Roads”, and “On Your Way To Me”, I had to update my Spotify country playlist once I got home leading me to recommend checking out the harmonious “Sometimes” by Elvie Shane. In addition to the great location of the stage, a true Nashville icon, Elvie had fantastic support by his band Kyle Austin Davis (keys), Sean Quinn (guitar), Will Johnston (percussion), and Jakob Miller (bass).
The second favorite act was local country mogul, Austin Burke. It’s a guaranteed party when Austin Burke is on stage, having brought out some friends, performing his own renditions of classic country bops and modern hip hop bangers (such as “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, that one was an epic surprise), a guest in the audience joining him to perform Lil Nas’ verse of “Old Town Road”, and he even tried blindfolding his lead guitarist right before he went into an absolutely electric solo — continuing on to kill the solo without seeing what he was doing.
Phoenix native Austin Burke’s musical career began at three, when he sang the national anthem for the Diamondbacks and the Suns. At 19, Burke left behind dreams of playing baseball to pursue a career in country music in Nashville. He spent four years waiting tables, writing songs and saving enough money to record his debut single, “Sleepin’ Around.” The song led to a contract with WME and the opportunity to open for numerous high-profile artists, including Vince Gill and Cole Swindell.
The song “Whole Lot in Love” catapulted Austin to Spotify stardom. The track currently boasts nearly 49 million streams. His music has also been featured on Sirius XM’s The Highway. Austin is currently touring the U.S., and in the past few months alone, he has played Country Thunder Arizona, Country LakeShake, Watershed Music Festival, The Willamette Country Music Festival and Faster Horses Festival. Recognizing his immense talent and potential, Pandora and NYCountry Swag both named Austin an “artist to watch” in 2019. He was supported by his talented band made up by Brandon Wiggers (lead guitarist), Dean Purificano (Bass), and Cody Hawkins (percussion).
Last, but definitely not the least, would be The Bachelorette’s very own Jed Wyatt. Jed is an adventurous singer/songwriter from Tennessee. Jed finds it easiest to express his feelings and be vulnerable through his music. Having arrived to the venue, the show was sold out with a line throughout the door attempting to get in in-addition to the ticketed audience. He charmed the audience with his friendly, spunky attitude and love songs. Between his busy schedule with the show, the fans of CMA definitely provided a heart-warming homecoming for the beloved singer-songwriter. Alongside Jed on stage was Dalton Stanley (guitar), Tony Sanders (percussion), and Dean Purificano (bass).
Who else to close out the Country Music Festival of the year other than Luke Bryan? For the second year in a row, Bryan topped off the festival with a set complete with country summer throw-downs. Before his performance, he said,
“It’s tricky. You’re either going to watch people leave during your set, or you’re going to have to create some fun moments to keep them in the building. It’s Sunday. Everyone has had a long week. But I think as long as I embrace it, it’s going to be a fun spot to be in. The main thing with me is if there’s 10 people in the room or 100,000, I’m going to have fun with whatever is going on. It’s going to be a fun night.”
As if every country dreamer’s wishes hadn’t already come true, Bryan closes his set with an epic cover of Bon Jovi’s “Livin on a Prayer”. You would’ve been able to hear the audience cheer for miles as the fans recognized the tune.
Coverage by Alexandra Cole