Fans pack downtown Nashville for CMA Music Fest; Knoxville native headlines

NASHVILLE (WATE) – Country music madness has taken over Nashville this weekend as the 44th annual CMA Festival continues. What started as a 5,000 person event more than 40 years ago has grown into one of the biggest country music festivals in the world.

Slip on the cowboy boots, throw on your favorite hat and get ready to enjoy a long weekend, jam-packed with country music.  There are seven free stages, hundreds of performances and tens of thousands of fans. Combine it all, and you get a country music mecca, that attendees say they wouldn’t miss.

Related: 44th annual CMA Music Festival

“It’s an annual trip. We’ve got a big group of guys who converge on Nashville every year,” said Barry Eleey from Charlotte, North Carolina.

During the four-day festival, fans see performances by country music’s biggest stars.

“You come here as a fan and you hope one day you’re going to be able to play on one of those stages so for us it’s really exciting and a rewarding feeling,” said Stephen Barker Liles of the country duo Love and Theft.

The musicians say this atmosphere is like none other. They’ve played here for ten years and continue to see the festival and their fan base grow.

“CMA Fest is a time where you really see how your fan base has grown over a year’s amount of time because the biggest country fans in the world are here, and it’s been cool for us because our shows have been packed and in the past it hasn’t always been that way,” said Eric Gunderson.

It’s a feeling shared by fellow musicians and newcomers to the scene. From singing along in the audience, to meeting their favorite country music stars fans get an experience like no other at CMA Fest.

“I love how open it is and there’s so many artists here who meet you and talk to you. They’re so sweet. I love it. I’m coming back next year for sure,” said Julianna Brostrom from West Virginia.

Knoxville native headlines CMA Music Fest

Performing at CMA Fest is a dream come true for many country artists. The same can be said for one of Knoxville’s own, Kelsea Ballerini. She’s being called one of the must-see acts this weekend by Billboard, Country Weekly and Rolling Stone.

It’s hard to believe just a few years ago, Ballerini attended CMA Fest as a fan.

“I was 14, I wasn’t even living here yet and I have this picture of me laying on the convention center ground waiting to get in to meet people,” she said.

Since then quite a bit has changed. The 21-year-old’s hits are now climbing the charts. Her first single, “Love Me Like You Mean It,” sits at number three on country radio. The song also earned Ballerini her first award nomination for Breakthrough Video of the year at Wednesday night’s CMT Awards.

She says performing at CMA Fest is surreal.

“It’s awesome. I’ve seen people perform on this stage before and I get to go up and sing on it now,” she said.

Ballerini released her debut album, “The First Time,” just last month. She’s not just singing the catchy songs. She has a hand in writing them all, too.

“I wanted the feeling of this album to be empowerment, especially for girls. I feel like having that voice on the radio is important,” Ballerini said.

She also says her hometown is important and she wants to play at the Tennessee Theatre. Ballerini says she hopes her music inspires others and motivates them to live life without fear.

Judging from this fan reaction, id say shes making quite a positive impression already.

CMA Festival performances continue Saturday and Sunday, and many are completely free. Tickets to LP Field are sold out.

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