Tip #1: Pre-plan, be aware and know what you want to do. There's a lot to miss if you don't. This is 4 days of country music madness, a country fan's 5 star restaurant with lots of choices on the menu. Don't spend your time in Nashville figuring out what to do, figure that out before you get there. Don't plan on getting a last minute hotel either. Hotels usually start about $200 a night minimum for the week and can book up a year in advance. If you're reading this today, you should already have your hotel booked and your airline tickets confirmed otherwise you're gonna be paying a no so pretty penny. Penny heck, try an ungodly amount of dollars!
Tip #2: Bring lots of film, a HUGE memory card or extra memory cards and extra camera batteries. You WILL Need them. Keep your camera with you at ALL times, celebrities are everywhere, on the street, in restaurants, grocery stores and even public restrooms (but I don't recommend asking for a photo while in there. LOL). Don't forget your phone/camera chargers! I actually recommend purchasing a power station by Mophie or PNY for your smart phone which is basically like having a brand new battery. Don't buy a super cheap one though, it won't give you much of a recharge.
Tip #3: Bring comfortable shoes with thick socks if you're gonna wear sneakers. Heels may look cute but you'll be cursing and walking awkwardly after a couple of hours. Of course boots are always acceptable. There is a TON of walking. I mean MILES of walking on HOT pavement.
Tip #4: KEEP HYDRATED. By hydrated, I mean water, water and more water. Nashville is hotter than Satan's swamp crotch in the summer, sometimes reaching temps of 100 degrees and is known for it's drenching humidity. Keep as much water near you as possible. You are not only in the heat, you're walking A LOT and will be also smack in the middle of more people than you ever care to see again in one place in your life and that gets HOT. (also stinky, but we're not talking about that right now.) Beer is great, but think WATER WATER and MORE WATER or you will find yourself fainting and laying smack on the sidewalk while people point at you and walk around you snickering. Saw it happen last year and paramedics may have a hard time getting to you because of the crowds. Just prepare yourself. Some deodorant companies like Ban make cooling cloths now that will not only cool you off but help with the stink!
Tip #5: Bring your own sharpie and what you want signed, you never know who you'll see or where. Again, you may see a celebrity in a restroom, let's not pull out the sharpie there, OK?
Tip #6: Be respectful of those around you, even those overzealous obsessed fans who push and shove to get to their "best friend" celebrity. Let them be the ones to look like an ass, not you. Just take a deep breath, step back and let 'em go. Manners, people, manners. They don't fall by the wayside just because it's CMA Fest.
Tip #7: If you see a celebrity with their family or in a "private moment" outside of the CMA madness, please leave them alone. There are places and times to approach and fawn all over them, private moments are not those times. Be mindful of their privacy. Look for them later at an autograph signing event where it's appropriate. Remember that for a lot of these artists, this may be the only week they're home during a tour so their family time is limited and is special to them. Let them have it. Don't be her.
Tip #8: Keep your eyes and ears open. You NEVER know who or what you'll see during the week. Not everyone there is in the music industry, there are also a lot of actors and actresses in town who love country music and will be wandering around as well as maybe sports celebrities. You never know. Also listen to the music coming from the honky tonks and side stages as you walk around, you may stumble upon a last minute jam session or a unscheduled surprise performance by someone you hadn't planned on seeing. CMA Fest is chock full of surprise goodness.
Tip #9: Be aware of your surroundings. While Nashville is amazing, it's also dangerous if you're in the wrong place. Don't walk alone in unknown areas or at all if you can help it, use the buddy system, especially walking to and from your parking area and between venues. Don't take shortcuts you don't know and if someone is following you, make sure you move to a populated area. Don't be afraid to scream or be loud if you feel threatened. Keep your cell phone with you and ready to dial 911 if needed.
Tip #11: Have FUN. Don't get bogged down with things, let loose and enjoy all that CMA Fest has to offer. Don't plan everything, enjoy some spontaneity as you never know what or who you may see or what you'll miss. Keep your eyes and ears open to everything around you, listen to people talking and get to know people, you may find out about a private party you can schmooze your way in to or even get invited to if you're talking to the right people. You may also have a celebrity sighting on the street or in a bar, who knows!
Tip #12: If you happen to be invited to an artist's special private party, a "hush hush" event or something you were allowed to attend as a specifically invited guest, leave as small a footprint as possible when you leave. Be gracious, be appreciative and if there is a merch table, purchase something to support the artist or leave a tip in the tip jar. Don't monopolize the artist's time, don't ask for them to sign 40 items or call your grandma Ethel. Get your autograph or photo, thank them for their kindness and for their music and be on your way. The smaller your footprint, the bigger your chance of being invited back.
Tip #12: Don't focus all your time on the major artists, this is the best time to experience what you don't hear on the radio, to meet and say hello to those new artists who are just as good if not better. Give the smaller shows your attention, you may find you actually enjoy them even more than the large shows. They're more personal, you can get closer and even meet the artist. Show them your support!
Tip #13: Explore the city and the surrounding suburb areas. Check out the Parthenon, the Hermitage, Music Row, do the Nashville TV show location tour, go see a show at the Bluebird, eat lunch at the Loveless Cafe, shop at Opry Mills Mall, the list goes on and on of amazing places to see outside of the boundaries of CMA Fest. Go pay your respects to artists who have passed such as Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, George Jones and Little Jimmy Dickens. The cemetery offices have maps to where these artists are buried and are more than happy to give you one. They're free, all you have to do is ask. It may seem morbid but you'd be surprised how interesting it is and how emotional it can be if you're a huge fan of the history of country music. Just a note, don't get stuck in an elevator in a mauseoleum and wind up walking down a dark stairwell into the crematory by mistake ... don't ask, just trust me. Always take the stairs in these places. LOL!
Here are a few of the cemeteries and who you can find resting there
WOODLAWN MEMORIAL PARK - 660 Thompson Ln, Nashville, TN 37204
George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Paycheck, Jerry Reed, Van Stephenson, JD Sumner, Marty Robbins, Red Foley, Porter Wagoner, Eddie Arnold, Hattie Louise Bess ("Tootsie" of Tootsie's Orchid Lounge), Webb Pierce, Little Jimmy Dickens, Dan Seals
HENDERSONVILLE MEMORY GARDENS - HENDERSONVILLE
Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, "Mother" Maybelle Carter, Ferlin Husky, Johnny Russell,
SPRING HILL CEMETERY - NASHVILLE
Hank Snow, Roy Acuff, Floyd Cramer, Earl Scruggs, Keith Whitley, Kitty Wells
Tip #15: Bring your appetite. Nashville is abundant with some of the best food on the planet. You WILL eat and if you don't, there's something seriously wrong with you. BBQ, hot chicken, a grilled cheese gourmet food truck and MANY places to stuff your gullet abound!
Tip #16: Don't get so drunk you can't enjoy what you came here for, the music. Don't be "that person" that pisses off everyone around you by being obnoxious, overly loud, puking, spilling your beer, passing out into a urinal or God forbid, taking your clothes off. Leave that to the assholes. Don't ruin your own good time or the good time of those around you. Be responsible and be courteous. You can and will get your ass kicked in Nashville. They take the term "put a boot in your ass" literally. You also may not have enough bail money.
Tip #17: If you're going to Fan Fair X, get there early, the lines are insane and the building is enormous! Get ready to get in and out once you find your celebrity booth, have your camera ready and anything you want signed, they're on a time schedule. Don't hold up the line by telling a million stories of yesteryear or by having an artist sign 5 items or retaking photos because your muffin top was showing. Again, be courteous of not only those in line behind you, but of the celebrity's time. The nicer you are, the nicer they are and the better experience you'll have. Likewise, if you're going to Riverfront, get there VERY early or you will find yourself standing on the hill up in the busiest and most congested area of the park and not in a good mood.
Tip #18: If you're gonna be drinking, catch a ride with a friend, take a cab or Uber. Don't drive. CMA Fest isn't the place you want to to drive under the influence.
Tip #19: If you see an artist's tour manager, publicist, label rep, or crew, stop and tell them thank you. If it weren't for them, CMA Fest would suck. They are responsible for getting the artist scheduled, getting them to the venue, getting your name on any guest lists you're supposed to be on, the lighting at the nighttime shows, the meet and greets, and so many other things that make CMA Fest fun and enjoyable. If you're interviewing an artist for a publication or website, thank both the artist and their management for their time when the interview is over. Also, give the band members attention too!
Tip #20: The Nashville airport is a magnet for celebrities following CMA Fest. Some are getting out of town to visit family, some are just taking a break. CMA Fest is over at this point and you had 4 days to find them and get your pic taken and get your autograph. Give them some space when it's all over with and let them breathe. Imagine if you were hunted continuously for 4 days by thousands of hungry fans. Let them enjoy the time to themselves. Your time is over.
Go have a great time!