CMA FEST BREAKS RECORDS IN ITS 50TH YEAR
FESTIVAL WELCOMES MORE THAN 90,000 DAILY ATTENDEES, REACHES ITS LARGEST STADIUM AUDIENCE IN HISTORY, GREETS FANS FROM MORE THAN 50 INTERNATIONAL COUNTRIES, AND RAISES $2.5 MILLION FOR MUSIC EDUCATION
Three-Hour Primetime Special “CMA Fest,” Hosted by Dierks Bentley, Elle King and Lainey Wilson Airs July 19 on ABC
CMA Fest, the largest and longest-running Country Music festival in the world, marked its milestone 50th anniversary in Nashville this past weekend, Thursday, June 8 through Sunday, June 11. With four straight days celebrating record-breaking milestones, the golden anniversary of the legendary festival delivered everything Country Music fans could want and more!
“What a weekend! As we’ve spent the past year reflecting on this milestone celebration, one theme has persisted—the incredible connection between Country Music fans and the artists,” says Sarah Trahern, CMA Chief Executive Officer. “It’s magical because it still matters after all these years. From first timers to legends, so many artists started as fans—some as far back as Fan Fair. Almost every artist who performs during the festival has had their own experience as a fan, so for many of them, taking the stage at CMA Fest is a full circle moment. We only get the chance to celebrate our 50th anniversary once, and to do so in such an impactful way has meant the world to us. Thank you, Country Music!”
From sunup to sundown, there was no denying the energy of more than 90,000 estimated daily attendees, a 12% growth over 2022. The stadium alone saw a 10% increase in attendance year over year. Fans from all 50 states and a record-breaking 51 countries filled Music City in anticipation of seeing more than 300 acts taking part in CMA Fest. Officially kicking off on Thursday morning with the Grammy award-winning Tennessee State University Aristocrat of Bands, followed by reigning CMA New Artist of the Year Lainey Wilson taking the Chevy Riverfront Stage, CMA Fest brought an eclectic mix of music to downtown Nashville throughout the entire weekend. In addition to the Chevy Riverfront Stage, free outdoor daytime activity included performances at the Dr Pepper Amp Stage, Chevy Vibes Stage, Maui Jim Reverb Stage and, making its return this year, the Hard Rock Stage. Fans also experienced one-of-a-kind programming at Fan Fair X inside Music City Center, along with several brand activations and partners that took over Lower Broadway.
Fans packed the house at Nissan Stadium each night and, in true CMA Fest tradition, there was no shortage of surprise collaborations. Luke Combs welcomed Vince Gill for a powerful performance of “One More Last Chance,” while Carly Pearce brought Jo Dee Messina to the stage for an exciting rendition of “I’m Alright.” Elle King and Tanya Tucker joined Lainey Wilson for an electric performance of “Texas (When I Die).” The roar of the crowd was deafening as Cody Johnson surprised fans, welcoming Reba McEntire to the stage during “Whoever’s In New England.” The collaborations continued during Miranda Lambert’s set as she performed “If You Were Mine,” alongside Leon Bridges, lit up the stage with Elle King for “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home),” and brought out Avril Lavigne for an energizing medley of Lambert’s “Kerosene” and Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi.” HARDY welcomed Wilson for a stirring performance of “wait in the truck,” while Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson joined the singer for an energizing performance of “One Beer.”
Additional Nissan Stadium highlights throughout the weekend included Jordan Davis who brought fans to their feet during “What My World Spins Around” and “Buy Dirt.” Darius Rucker surprised the audience with two acoustic performances of “Fires Don’t Start Themselves” and “Wagon Wheel.” Fans danced to Tyler Hubbard’s “5 Foot 9” and “Dancing in the Country” as well as Dan + Shay’s “Tequila.” The audience erupted as Jelly Roll surprised fans with performances of “Need A Favor” and “Son of a Sinner.” Keith Urban brought the house down with “Long Hot Summer” and “Somebody Like You.” Jason Aldean performed fan-favorites “Dirt Road Anthem” and “She’s Country,” capping his set with “Hicktown.” Little Big Town had fans swaying in their seats to “Boondocks” and “Pontoon,” while Old Dominion brought the house down with electrifying performances of “Memory Lane” and “Snapback.” Jon Pardi also hit the stage, performing “Last Night Lonely” and “Your Heart or Mine.” Closing the night on Saturday, Eric Church performed “Bad Mother Trucker” and “Drink In My Hand.” On Sunday, Alabama surprised audiences with “Mountain Music” and a medley of “Dixieland Delight” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” in addition to being presented the CMA Pinnacle Award by “CMA Fest” co-hosts Dierks Bentley and Elle King. Ashley McBryde hit the stage to perform “Brenda Put Your Bra On” as well as “One Night Standards,” while Bentley’s performance got fans on their feet for “Drunk On A Plane” and “5-1-5-0.” Tim McGraw performed fan-favorites “Something Like That” and “Real Good Man” while Luke Bryan closed out the 50th celebration of CMA Fest with entertaining performances of “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” and “Rain Is A Good Thing.”
Additional performers at Nissan Stadium included opening acts Messina, Tucker, Tracy Lawrence and Josh Turner, as well as performances from the Platform Stage in the center of the stadium, featuring Ashley Cooke, Dalton Dover, Megan Moroney, Ian Munsick, RVSHVD, Nate Smith, Alana Springsteen, and Hailey Whitters. King Calaway also welcomed the Nissan Stadium crowd Thursday night performing the National Anthem.
The Nighttime Concert at Ascend Amphitheater also returned for a fifth year, with a packed crowd on Friday night. The party kicked off with headliner The Cadillac Three bringing the energy with special guest Little Big Town. Additional acts taking the stage included Boy Named Banjo, Randy Rogers Band, Elvie Shane and Tenille Townes.
Throughout the four-day event, fans enjoyed more than 200,000 square feet of air-conditioned fun at Fan Fair X inside Music City Center where artists participated in meet-and-greets and programming on two indoor stages, including the CMA Close Up Stage, which hosted the popular Artist of the Day sessions featuring Bentley on Thursday, McEntire on Friday, Brothers Osborne on Saturday and Wynonna Judd on Sunday. Other standout programming included two separate segments of a live taping of the Country Heat Weekly podcast on Amazon Music with Jelly Roll and Tucker. ERNEST hosted a writer’s round, “Erns Cadillac Music” with songwriters Cody Lohden, Chandler Walters and Rhys Rutherford while the “Color Me Country” writer’s round featured Rissi Palmer with special guests Willie Jones, Charly Lowry, Dzaki Sukarno and Julie Williams. “The Red Carpet and Beyond,” hosted by Daniel Musto and Lani Lupton featured Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman where they discussed their fashion influences. “OPRY NEXTSTAGE: Country’s Rising Sound” featured Chapel Hart, Cooke and Conner Smith.
Fan Fair X hosted daily performances on the Spotlight Stage from nearly 50 artists performing to full audiences. Country Music trio Chapel Hart, along with Blanco Brown, Adam Doleac, Tiera Kennedy, Kimberly Perry, Mason Ramsey, Randy Travis, Sam Williams, Bailey Zimmerman and dozens of other artists participated in the much-anticipated meet-and-greets with excited fans. CMA hosted “Country Proud” Friday morning on the Hard Rock Stage with performances by Angie K, Brooke Eden, Chris Housman, Adam Mac and Shelly Fairchild. And on Sunday, CMA welcomed the Black Excellence Brunch, held at the National Museum of African American Music and featuring notable Black artists and industry leaders while honoring BMI Executive Director, Creative, Shannon Sanders.
CMA’s international presence remained strong as ever at CMA Fest this year, with 23 performances by artists from multiple countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. The festival featured international hosts Justin Thomson, (Kix Country Radio/iHeart Australia) on the Maui Jim Reverb Stage and Shannon Ella (Pure Country Canada/iHeart Canada) on the CMA Close Up Stage. CMA also welcomed industry to Nashville during its annual international reception, which included attendees from the organization’s international task forces as well as international promoters, media outlets and artists representing nine different territories (US, CAN, UK, AU, RE, NZ, SWE, GER, FR).
Unlike other festivals, CMA Fest acts donate their time to perform so ticket proceeds can directly benefit high-quality music education initiatives across the country through the CMA Foundation. This year, CMA will donate $2.5 million to the CMA Foundation.
Throughout the weekend, the CMA Foundation was incorporated into CMA Fest programming. To kick off the festivities on Thursday morning, ninth grade student Ariah McEwen joined the Tennessee State University’s Aristocrat of Bands marching band to perform the National Anthem on the Chevy Riverfront Stage. On Friday, the CMA Foundation presented the Voices of Tomorrow on the CMA Close Up Stage at Fan Fair X inside Music City Center with Nashville-area Notes for Notes students—Andrew Garrett, Mikquala Skelton and Landon Wall—performing alongside Neon Union. Sunday was full of heartfelt moments as theater students from Page High School in Williamson County took on the CMA Close Up Stage to perform songs from the hit Dolly Parton musical “9 to 5.” The segment was hosted by CMA Music Teacher of Excellence, Dajuana Hammonds and featured a celebrity Q&A with Chrissy Metz between songs. And for a heartwarming finale performance, students from Metro Nashville Public Schools joined McGraw on the Main Stage at Nissan Stadium to sing “Humble and Kind” to close out Sunday night. Four of CMA’s Music Teachers of Excellence recipients—Alicia Engram, Jacqueline Hanna, Ann Marie Morris and Danielle Taylor—joined in to conduct the student ensemble.
Other special events and activations across the CMA Fest footprint included CELSIUS-sponsored “Fitness at Fest,” a sold-out high-intensity workout with celebrity fitness trainer Erin Oprea and TRUMAV trainer Wirth Campbell with special guests Kaitlyn Bristowe, Cooke and Madeline Edwards. The event took place on both Friday and Saturday mornings at the Maui Jim Reverb Stage with all proceeds benefiting the CMA Foundation. Young professional music industry leadership group, SOLID hosted a “Music Market Auction” inside Fan Fair X with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the CMA Foundation, while Friendly Arctic and Strung also donated a portion of their proceeds back to the CMA Foundation. CMA Fest also featured a celebrity dunk tank helmed by Country artists Restless Road on Broadway, with proceeds going back to the CMA Foundation. Select merch items benefiting the CMA Foundation are still available for purchase at CMAfest.com/shop-for-good.
Musically Fed, an organization that fights to end hunger by working with the music industry to distribute excess food from touring shows and events, donated food from various catering locations during CMA Fest, ultimately delivering the excess to Nashville Rescue Mission, Room In The Inn, Safe Haven Family Shelter, Operation Stand Down Tennessee, and Matthew 25.
Next year’s CMA Fest will take place in Nashville Thursday, June 6 through Sunday, June 9, 2024. Sign up for CMA Country Connection emails at CMAfest.com to be the first to know about ticket on-sale dates.
“CMA Fest,” the three-hour primetime television special hosted by Bentley, King and Wilson, airs Wednesday, July 19 at 8/7c on ABC.