CMA Fest | Nashville in June

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We asked Now/It's Nashville to give us the scoop on being in Nashville during the month of June.  

June in Nashville means a number of things - Summer Break, barbecues, perpetual humidity, and the like, but most notably, the beginning of June marks the inevitable countdown to CMA Fest.

Taking place annually on the first weekend of June, CMA Fest is a (mildly) divisive moment at the beginning of a Nashville summer.

For visitors, there are tough decisions to be made concerning which bars to frequent on Broadway before catching the late night stadium performances - this year’s stadium lineup includes Charles Esten, Darius Rucker, Charley Pride, Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini, Chris Stapleton, Ricky Skaggs, and Luke Bryan, amongst others - at Nissan Stadium.

As for locals, the real dilemma lies in whether or not it’s worth bothering with CMA Fest and its accompanying fanfare at all.

CMA Fest brings just a hair under 90,000 country music fans to Nashville, all looking to take full advantage of Lower Broadway, Midtown, and the rest of Downtown Nashville. That’s a number the City of Nashville’s tourism board undoubtedly loves, but locals might feel differently.

Everyday life doesn’t stop for those of us who call Nashville home during CMA Fest, and as anyone who’s spent any time on I-65 or 440 will tell you, traffic is already bad enough. So with shows, parties, and other surprise events happening anywhere and everywhere in Nashville during CMA Fest, locals could find themselves potentially stir crazy waiting for traffic to subside (here’s a hint, it probably won’t, CMA Fest or not).

So whether you’re a faithful country music fan looking for some place to brunch before breaking out your boots on Lower Broad, or you’re a local looking for something out of the ordinary (and out of the way) to occupy your time while tourists have a “Grand Ole” time, here are some (but certainly not the only) suggestions of places to see, eat, and unwind during one of Nashville’s busiest weeks.

Head to the East Side

While Nashville’s East Side is no longer the “hidden gem” of Music City that it once was, the other side of the river will be decidedly lacking in CMA Fest related events. Chalk that up to the fact that a lot of the artists performing at CMA Fest happen to live on the East Side, or to the fact that most tourists don’t care to venture too far outside the travel radius of a pedal tavern. Either way, there’s plenty to do in the continually flourishing neighborhoods, like coffee from Bongo East in Five Points, tacos and margaritas from Rosepepper Cantina in Eastland/Lockeland Springs, or late night drinks at Inglewood Lounge, an old fast food drive thru repurposed as an intimate cocktail bar.

Check out a Speakeasy

Part of the reason people elect to avoid CMA Fest is due to some of the unruly behavior brought on by those few, sufficiently “hydrated” festival goers who give the more civilized fans of country music a bad rap. So if you’re a local or a visitor looking for a drink or two minus the tailgate crowd, try exploring Nashville’s “underground” bar scene. It might sound silly, but it’s true, Nashville’s network of speakeasy bars has expanded considerably in the past year.

There’s Attaboy near Five Points, which will provide some distance between patrons and CMA Fest, but there also happens to be a speakeasy or two on the West Side of the river as well. The newly minted Noelle Nashville Hotel, located in the heart of Downtown Nashville, has a secret bar of its own, hiding in plain sight - Makeready Libations and Liberations. Touted as a “working man’s tavern,” Makeready is a simple press of the “LL” button at Noelle, and makes for a fun departure from the typical drinks experience. Be warned, Makeready has a strict no-phone, no camera policy, but that’s probably for the best.

Not a Drinker? How About Food?

So maybe you’re not into drinks, spirits, and the like at all. That’s perfectly fine! There’s still plenty of great food to be had in and around town. This past year saw six Beard nominations awarded to members of Nashville’s cuisine scene. Germantown seafood spot Henrietta Red was nominated as one of the “Best New Restaurants” in the nation, capping off a sensational first year for the oyster bar and restaurant. There are three individual chefs nominated for “Best Chef” in the Southeast as well, so if you want some truly inspired dining options, look no further than the menu’s created by Andy Little of Josephine, Josh Habinger of Bastion, and Margot McCormack of Margot. Finally, if you find yourself in the mood for something a little sweeter, head on over to the Thompson Hotel, where “Best Pastry Chef” nominee Lisa Marie White is concocting some world class confectionary goods for the coffee shop Killebrew.

See a Film

While Nashville might be best known for its booming music scene, that certainly doesn’t mean the city is devoid of other forms of entertainment. If there’s one form of entertainment the city is lacking in, it’s film. But that won’t stop movie-going from being one of Nashville’s top entertainment going activities. The Belcourt has long been one of the city’s cultural hubs, and features some of the best award winning, limited run, repertory, re-release, midnight, documentary, and festival films.

But what if you’re more of a tentpole fan? Sure, you can go check out the latest blockbusters at any cineplex here in town, but how about something a little more interactive? Every Thursday - in Nashville’s Centennial Park - is Movies in the Park, with this particular Thursday’s featured film being the smash hit, Wonder Woman.

Whatever you decide to do, local or tourist alike, have fun, stay kind and be safe!