CMA Fest 2015 – Observations by the Very Average Me
by Patti McClintic
The temporary stages are gone, the food vendors are on to the next event and the musicians and the gear, well, they’re either enjoying a much needed day off or on their way to the next venue. In any case, we can close the book on CMA Fest 2015, and Nashville is once again in the hands of its residents, as the masses that made the annual pilgramage to Music City are mostly gone by now. So, as a fairly new resident myself, I can now enjoy that moment that I longed for after previous CMA Fests, the “I don’t have to leave” moment. Is it as great as I dreamed? Actually, yes. It really is.
The one difference is this, instead of finding myself in a car for endless hours, driving back to New York, I found myself parked on my couch all day, decompressing from the experience. CMA Fest is not for the weak! It can be likened to a trip to Walt Disney World – try to do it all and you’re going to crash. Hard. When asked for advice by first timers, my answer is, and always will be, “Don’t overplan.” There is simply no way to see and do everything you want. Things are happening all over the place, and when you factor in the weather, crowds, traffic and the general logistics of getting from A to B, it isn’t as easy as it seems. The reality is, Nashville is hot and humid and the throngs of people, many of them more than a little intoxicated, make it even more so. All of that wears on a person, I don’t care how much you love country music.
This was my first year of driving to and from CMA Fest from my home, sometimes more than once a day – I have pets that need to be cared for, and I didn’t have the luxury of just leaving for the day and staying out until whenever I felt like. Truth be told, it was a blessing. I was able to escape the heat and give my feet a break, and that isn’t a bad thing. Forced intelligence, is how I like to look at it. While others were pushing themselves to the very limit, I was making wise decisions, because I had to. That was the upside. The downside was not being able to do as many things as I have in the past. I say downside, because most people would consider that a negative. I found it to be very much the opposite.
I had a a very short list of things I wanted to experience. Aside from the big shows at LP Field, I wanted to attend the Travis Meadows Fan Party and see Phil Vassar, The Cadillac Three and Jason Michael Carroll at Riverfront. The ONLY thing I ended up doing was going to the Travis Meadows party. The reasons for missing the other three ranged from a doctor appointment running too long to Riverfront being closed off due to a capacity crowd. In any event, I managed to have a good time, which is why I live by the mantra, “Do not overplan.” In fact, I would say it’s almost better to do CMA Fest withou planning ANYTHING. There is so much happening at every turn, you really don’t have to plan, and you can actually get away with spending a lot less money and not fraying every last nerve that way.
So what did I do if my plans went south? Well, I did get to the Travis Meadows Fan Party, and I’m very glad I made it. Travis Meadows is an outstanding singer/songwriter and he’s as real as it gets. He sang a few songs, one which was new and being peformed exclusively for the fans in attendance. It’s not out of the bag yet, so I can’t even reveal the title. I can say, however, it was a great song, and I sure hope it gets the attention it so richly deserves. Fan parties are a good way to meet the artists and often hear some music in a very intimate setting. Sometimes they cost a bundle to attend, this one was free, which was a big bonus. Dare I say, it was probably even better than many that were “pay to play”.
I had the chance to see Craig Campbell playing at The Stage with a different band, peforming songs that were much different than the usual set list he plays on tour. His wife, Mindy Ellis Campbell also did a few songs that night, and that was a great surprise. All of this for the cost of two bottles of beer. Only in Nashville – even more likely during CMA Fest.
Had a lot of fun catching Chris Janson at the Bud Light Stage in front of Bridgestone Arena. What a ball of fire this guy is! I would never have known, had I not stumbled upon his performance. Surprise, surprise! I will be downloading his music shortly.
I should back up a bit. I did have two other things on my schedule. Payton Taylor at the Bridge Bar and William Michael Morgan at the Bud Light Stage. Of course, these two amazing young artists also happen to be friends of mine, but as luck would have it, they were scheduled so that their shows overlapped. Morgan started at 2:45, Taylor at 3:00. We did our best and caught the first 15 minutes of Morgan, and then hustled over to see Taylor right after that. Both shows were worth seeing, and it was the one and only time I found myself really killing myself to do anything. Thankfully, both events were fairly close together, and walking from one to the other wasn’t difficult. Had they been further apart, it wouldn’t have worked out.
I was fortunate to see another friend, who happens to be a Buffalo native, Mike Ball, playing bass at Rock Bottom Cafe, with Morgan Alexander. I was really into this band! It was kind of bluesy, kind of gritty, something you could really sink your teeth into quickly. I love when I discover something like that, simply because I walked in.
As for LP Field, there was a ton of talent gracing that stage, as always, but the highs for me were as follows: Little Big Town, Eric Church, Darius Rucker, Alan Jackson and Keith Urban. Little Big Town’s harmonies are famous and they sound just as good live as they do on a recording. Eric Church and Darius Rucker both make it a point to give their band members a chance to shine, which only makes me love them more. Alan Jackson. I don’t think I need to explain anything about him. Keith Urban? All I can say is, he is a guitar genius. I can’t get enough of watching this man play. Fingers navigating the guitar like they’re chasing an itch that keeps moving. I can’t even imagine how an actual MELODY comes from all of those finger gymnastics, but somehow, it does. It’s truly fascinating, I could watch it all day.
As for the lows of CMA Fest? Working off a photo of Fan Fair X at Music City Center, it sure seems they’ve pared down the experience. It looked as though there were far less exhibitors, and from what I’ve heard from others, most of what was offered were vendors trying to sell “things”, rather than artists trying to showcase their music. Hopefully, things bounce back for Fan Fair X next year, as it’s a good way to escape the heat and hear some great music, while learning about new artists and meeting some old favorites as well. I was unable to get to Fan Fair X this year, but from all I’ve heard, I didn’t miss much.
Food at CMA Fest is plentiful, but one thing that would really help would be additional areas for people to sit down and eat. Trying to hold a hot dog, a drink and whatever gear you’re dragging around, all while walking in the blazing heat, requires agility and patience. Eating and staying hydrated is vital and being able to actually sit down and enjoy those two things could only help make sure people do them. I found myself skipping a meal for that very reason. The restaurants were on very long waits and I’m not the best at juggling food and drinks while walking. I hope the organizers of CMA Fest are listening, because I can’t be the only one.
All in all, it was a great festival. When I see my out-of-town friends becoming sad at the end of the event, I can only assume they’ve had the time of their lives and wish it didn’t have to be over. That’s usually a good barometer of the success of anything. Do you wish it wasn’t ending? If the answer is yes, chances are, it was pretty good. The best news? There’s another CMA Fest next year and Nashville isn’t closed completely – come visit anytime. The music never stops around here.