Shannon Hynes – My CMA Fest Experience

So, it turns out I’ve been to Nashville twice within the space of a year. Both of my trips hugely differed, for a start I went at different times of the year. The first time being August 2017, and my most recent visit was June just gone… now, we all know what happens in June in Nashville, right? CMA FEST!!

Don’t get me wrong, I was completely ecstatic about going to CMA Fest, of course, but there was a part of me, that wanted to experience more of the ‘real’ Nashville, as living so far away and due to expense, it’s not that easy to go very often and Nashville is just as fantastic during its quieter times. Well, as soon as I got there and saw the Riverfront Stage being elevated and felt the buzz of this prestigious week, I was completely euphoric. Obviously, the whole experience was humongous with polka dots and sparkles highlight, but I can’t write a short novel down here, so instead I’ve (with difficulty) narrowed it down to just a few.

As you know, CMA Fest has the stadium shows in the evening and then about 10 pop up stages during the day, so this is serious music gigging, I tell ya! As well as the ‘official’ stages per say, you also have artist fan club parties, last minute pop up shows, artist talks, Fan Fair X and stalls throughout Downtown Nashville. So really, the stadium shows in the evening are the least of it.

Right, so, let’s kick it off before the festival even began, with a show Pandora put on at Marathon Music Works, which is not too far from the hip Gulch area. This was a FREE show, and the line-up was none other than Morgan Evans, Carly Pearce and Brad Paisley! WHAT?! FREE!! The UK has yet to be graced by the refinement of Carly Pearce and I have wanted to see her for soooo long, so imagine me when she was announced to play around 4-5 shows during the week. Pandora was the highlight, as it was a good 45-minute set in this awesome warehouse kind of building. One of the things about Carly that I assume draws us all in, is her voice, it’s so rustic and full bodied. Lots of people can get this on record and then they sound so different in a live setting. Carly’s voice translated impeccably to live performance, I swear I was completely blown away! My gosh, if anything, it was better than the record! You could feel what she felt by following the spontaneous runs of her vocal, or when her voice would waver at an emotional lyric. She was imperfectly flawless and obviously radiates such gratitude and affection for standing on that stage, no matter it in the stadium or a more intimate venue like Marathon Music Works.

Now, everyone has got to be a fangirl/boy at some point, if not, let yourself go, give it a try, it’s fun to act kinda stupid sometimes. I certainly did, I was a heart eyed, head over heels fangirl for William Michael Morgan, isn’t he just a dish?! His, was one of the two fan club parties I went to. Not only is it great to escape from the heat for a few hours, but it’s a really special experience. William Michael Morgan’s fan club party was an acoustic performance with about 100, if not less people. In this instance, Morgan played old songs, new songs, he took requests and we got the chance to really get an insight in to what kind of a person he is, as he joked with the intimate audience and he even recognised some fans and demonstrated that. It is very different to the kind of show we’re used to, as the artists are clearly in artist mode if people have spent their hard-earned cash on tickets, but I feel as if William was more relaxed, as the usual uncertainty of approval and enjoyment is a definite in this such setting. I mean, even if I do say so myself, we are his “biggest” fans.

Moving on, to a YLIAS favourite now, Miss Lindsay Ell. What a badass! Her performance on the opening Thursday of CMA Fest was literally mind blowing. She was SO evidently pumped. The energy she radiated on that Riverfront Stage was off the wall and it was insanely contagious to the audience. Being quite the admirer of Lindsay anyway, I have seen her a fair few times, as she seems to be adopting the UK as her second home, but I must say, this performance has got to be the best I have seen her play live. It is becoming a well-known fact that Ell is one of the most skilled guitar players in country music right now, but it’s as if she’s still trying to convince us of this. The obvious effort and drive she puts into every performance is blindingly apparent to see and even just due to this, she deserves all the success she is no doubt destined for.

The fourth and final night introduced my favourite stadium performance of the weekend, Brett Eldredge. It took me as quite the surprise, if I’m completely honest. I couldn’t help but get up and party along with Mr Eldredge as he poured out some of his renowned hits. Evidently, neither could my new old lady friends next to me, who seemed more interested in their solitaire game when America’s sweetheart Kelsea Ballerini graced the stage. I mean, seriously?!? Let’s move swiftly on. Now, this could be something to do with it being the last night of the festival and emotions running high anyway, but when Brett sang ‘Wanna be that Song’ I completely broke into pieces. Y’know that uncontrollable, lip quivering kinda thing, when you’re half smiling but totally balling your heart out at the same time? The whole stadium, 70,000 strong in like-minded country fans (in all seriousness, the solitaire ladies were so sweet) sang along in unison as phone lights lit up the night sky, it was phenomenal. This wasn’t even a song I had on my iTunes before, but it has now become one of my most favourite songs as it’s connected to this everlasting, untouchable and frankly, perfect memory.

If you haven’t yet been to CMA Fest, or are planning on going, go soon! When you’ve been once, you’ll realise you’ve been missing out all these years, I certainly did! For a country music fan, it is just a week of pure joy, beer-filled conversations about country music and the best of friends. I will never forget my first CMA Fest, and like so many people I met, I’ll be ticking off my 15th before I know it. CMA, see you in 2019!

Shannon Hynes
@s_hynesmusic