250 miles from Atlanta
What it is More than 400 artists, 200-plus hours of concerts, and 80,000 festivalgoers at a dozen or so stages in downtown Nashville. Launched in 1972 as Fan Fair, the Country Music Association’s four-day event is dedicated to helping fans get close to their idols. Major venues are limited to four-day pass holders (from $135), but many outdoor stages are free. cmaworld.com
What’s to love Of course there are autograph sessions (advance online drawings for the most popular performers mean fans no longer camp out on the sidewalk), blockbuster concerts, and legendary honky-tonks to visit on Broadway, but unscheduled performances and star sightings make the best memories. Last year Zac Brown first invited Kenny Rogers onstage, then Kid Rock.
Insider tip Fan Photo Lines allow festival pass holders to queue up and walk right by the stage.
Where to stay Union Station, a restored 1900 railway station in the heart of Music City, is ideal—but book early.
Where to eat Nashville’s newest national celebrities
are chefs such as Roderick Bailey (the Silly Goose), Trevor Moran (the Catbird Seat), and Tandy Wilson (City House).
Why I go “We often have our annual Zamily Family gathering at CMA Fest. Even if you’re just curious to see what the big hubbub is about country music these days, it’s a great way to introduce yourself to the madness that is this huge genre and to hang out in Nashville when it’s really buzzing.” —John Driskell
Hopkins, member of the Zac Brown Band and artist-in-residence at Kennesaw State University’s Joel A. Katz Music and Entertainment Business Program
This article originally appeared in our March 2014 issue.