On any hour of the day, any day of the week, visitors to Nashville and Middle Tennessee have more than a handful of options by way of live music. But for one week alone each year, those offerings amplify dramatically when a pair of musical extravaganzas—CMA Fest and Bonnaroo—take over Middle Tennessee for the same four-day stretch: June 9-12.
*All photos courtesy of Camels & Chocolate unless otherwise noted.
CMA Music Festival | Nashville
The backstory: Kicking off with the CMT Awards on June 8, CMA Music Fest (formerly Fan Fair) has been going strong since 1972, now drawing in upward of 87,000 country music fans from all corners of the globe who descend upon Nashville to see 400 artists perform more than 100 hours of live music.
On top of the nighttime stadium headliners such as Little Big Town, Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts and Dierks Bentley, the biggest draw of CMA Fest has always been the daytime activities are complimentary. In addition to plenty of food, game vendors and other sponsored exhibits spread along Broadway and throughout the closed roads of downtown, seven of CMA Fest's 11 stages are free, which include performances by Brothers Osborne, Chip Esten, Eric Paslay, The Cadillac 3 and Old Dominion.
What's new: Two new stages, an enhanced fan experience at Chevrolet Cruze Park Stage in Walk of Fame Park that enables fans to be closer to performances and the Radio Disney Country stage inside Fan Fair X.
(Photo Credit: Visit Music City)
Don't miss: The newly opened Music City Marketplace next to CMA's Music City Stage (inside the Visitor Information Center in the Arena Tower at 5th and Broadway), which features a variety of gifts, home goods, and accessories from local makers and will be open its normal hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays) in addition to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the Saturday of CMA Fest.
Bonnaroo | Manchester
The backstory: In its 15th year, this festival experience an hour south of Nashville allows music lovers to camp on Great Stage Park, the 700-acre grounds lovingly referred to as "The Farm," and fully immerse themselves in the community, which drives the spirit of Bonnaroo.
Drawing in 100,000 fest-goers each June, Bonnaroo provides plenty of world-class acts that run the gamut of rock, R&B, country, bluegrass and pop; this year's lineup alone features Pearl Jam, the Dead & Company (John Mayer and surviving members of the Grateful Dead), Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Ellie Goulding, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and Sam Hunt. Additionally, there's yoga and other fitness options like a 5K, a silent disco, sustainability workshops, a Christmas Barn, a sprawling artisan marketplace, community dinners that benefit Oxfam America and Eat for Equity, and a post office from which you can send mail to loved ones back home.
What's new: Permanent toilets and showers were added, much to the delight of the tens of thousands of attendees who camp on the grounds.
Don't miss: The fire-breathing steel pig, Henri (aka "Hamageddon") in Centeroo and the more than 50 vendors—from poutine and Korean BBQ to Amish donuts and flights of Bacon—that comprise the Food Truck Oasis.