The CMA 50: Don’t Miss NLN’s Must-See Acts at #CMAFest

By: Lauren Tingle

With more than 70 hours of music happening in Nashville this week, local ears are getting a serious workout. Kudos go out to the maniacs with the endurance to see all of it. Take care of yourselves and have a great time rocking out NLN’s 50 picks of the 2015 CMA Music Festival (and if you can make it today, drop everything to see Old Dominion at 6:30pm at the Chevy Riverfront)!

1. BMI Tailgate Stage: If I had to pick one stage to camp out for the entirety of CMA Fest, this would be it. Every act on the bill is an all-star. Located at the gates of LP Field, the tailgate offers a scenic backdrop of the Nashville skyline for fantastic pictures and it’s next door to Cumberland Park, which has plenty of kid-friendly activities for little ones. I’ll be tailgating for Maren Morris, Sundy Best, Josh Dorr, Will Hoge, Emi Sunshine, Sonia Leigh, Muddy Magnolias, Hannah Blaylock, Haley Georgia, Caitlyn Smith and Charlie Worsham.


2. Brandi Carlile at the Country Music Hall of Fame: Do not pass, “Go.” Do not collect $200. Go straight to the Country Music Hall of Fame website and buy yourself a museum ticket for Wednesday’s Q&A/performance with Brandi and twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth. The Firewatcher’s Daughter hasn’t left my car stereo since Record Store Day, and it’s a masterpiece. NPR’s Ann Powers will be moderating the session. Program Passes are free with Museum admission or membership, and are given out two hours prior to the program on a first-come, first-served basis. Seating is General Admission.


3. Little Big Town (10:15-11am CMA Closeup Stage and Saturday at LP Field): They are the only country band I’ve seen in Nashville play their last two albums in their entirety live in front of the local music community. During both shows, not one member took a sip of water. They are beautiful human beings inside and out.

4. The Railers (10:30-11am AT&T U-verse Showcase Stage): Any band that arranges a forgotten Antebellum spiritual gets an automatic A+ in my book. You’ll dig their single, “Kinda Dig the Feeling” as a definite bonus.

5. Kip Moore (11am HGTV Lodge): The lucky ducks who scored tickets for the Ultimate Fan Experience will have access to the HGTV Lodge and a preview of new music from Kip. I love “I’m to Blame” and I know a lot of diehard fans are ready for Wild Ones (out August 21).

6. The Cadillac Three (12-12:30 Chevy Riverfront Stage): Jaren, Kelby and Neil are the soundtrack of my college experience. Years ago, I traveled to a farm field to see them play with rockers Autovaughn and the Pink Spiders. TC3 came up in the same class of Nashville musicians as Kings of Leon, but I always thought TC3 put on the better show. Their new song “White Lightning” is a smash-and-a-half.

7. Ashley Monroe (12:45-1:15pm Chevy Riverfront): I expect Ashley will premiere selections from her upcoming album The Blade, including her super breezy new single “On to Something Good.” Thirty-minute sets only allow for six-eight songs so pray she gets to your faves. I’m hoping to hear “Weed Instead of Roses.”

8. Drake White & the Big Fire (12:45-1:10pm Budweiser Plaza Stage): This is a toughy. Drake and Ashley go on at the same time. But every song of Drake’s feels so good, good, good. You’ll feel you’ve made right, right, right decision catching his set.

9. Eric Paslay (1pm HGTV Lodge and Friday 1:30-2pm Chevy Riverfront Stage): Eric is a college buddy of mine. I remember watching him test out new material on students in the quad outside MTSU’s Mass Communication building. He was talented then and he’s mad talented now. Eric is a Grammy-nominated songwriter with Will Hoge as co-writer of the Eli Young Band hit “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.”

  1. Rainey Qualley (2:05-2:30pm Belk Park Stage and Friday 2:15-2:45pm AT&T U-verse Showcase Stage): Rainey is my superlative pick for Most Likely to Squeeze in a Psychic Reading Between Shows. She’s cosmic and imaginative. And I love her song “Turn Me On Like the Radio.”
  1. Courtney Cole (2:05-2:30 Gildan Broadway Stage at Hard Rock Café): You don’t have to be inebriated to love everything about Courtney. Her song “Drunk” is a ton of fun!
  1. Jana Kramer (2:05-2:30 Budweiser Plaza Stage): I love all the online footage I’ve been seeing of fans singing “I Got The Boy.” It’s fantastic music!
  1. Casey James (3:15-4:15pm CMA Close Up Stage): I love him because we both adore Kenny Wayne Shepard, Double Trouble, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan.


14. David Fanning (12:05-12:30pm Budweiser Plaza Stage): He co-produced Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not” at 22. His ears are golden and the possibilities are endless with this Ardmore, Alabama native. Justin Timberlake loves him, too!

15. Kelsea Ballerini (12:45-1:10pm Budweiser Plaza Stage): She’s my BAE. All her songs are great. True story — I caught grown men singing all the words to “Dibs” at her headlining debut at Nashville’s Third and Lindsley. She’s a goddess. Just listen to “Sirens.”

16. Kellie Pickler (12:45-1:15pm Chevy Riverfront Stage and Saturday 11:30am-12:30pm CMA Closeup Stage): If you want to hear new Kellie music, book it to Riverfront Park. Her new single “Feeling Tonight” is way fun!

17. Angaleena Presley (12:45-1:15pm AT&T Showcase Stage): She co-produced her solo debut American Middle Class with her husband Jordan Powell, and it’s killer music. Yes, that’s a real pill bottle and the real Chris Stapleton on “Pain Pills.”

18. Native Run (1:25-1:50pm Budweiser Plaza Stage): I will definitely be among the Native Runners rockin’ out! Rachel Beauregard has serious pipes and Bryan Dawley is an acoustic guitar master.

19. Brothers Osborne (3:25-3:50pm Budweiser Plaza Stage): These boys are the real deal and making Deale, Maryland proud! I’ve only heard their full-length debut hanging out with friends, but I know every word. It’s a masterpiece, and John Osborne is a wizard on guitar.

20. Deana Carter (4:05-4:30pm Budweiser Plaza Stage): Deana has the best set of ears in music. She’s behind some of my favorite collections including Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound. Deana’s latest album, Southern Way of Life, is a dream.

21. Laura Bell Bundy (4:05-4:30pm Belk Park Stage): I’m confident Laura Bell can do anything. She can sing, dance, make you laugh and make you cry. She’s Tina Turner, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire all wrapped into one.


22. Kristian Bush (10:00-11:00am Chevy Riverfront Stage): I can’t think of a better way to start a Saturday. He’s inexhaustibly positive and it’s contagious.

23. Jamie Lynn Spears (10:45-11:10pm Budweiser Plaza Stage): No joke — I think it was in winter 2011 when I saw on Facebook that Jamie was playing my neighborhood bar. It was late, I was already in bed, and at that moment, I threw on my biggest coat to cover up my PJs and headed straight to the show. This lady can sing!

24. Maggie Rose (11:15-11:45 Chevy Riverfront Stage): I can’t get enough of Maggie. I’m convinced she can sing anything. She’s a class act who can slay Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself” at karaoke.

25. John and Jacob (11:25-11:50pm Gildan Broadway Stage at Hard Rock Café): I. Love. These. Guys. Kacey Musgraves and Little Big Town do, too. John and Jacob have opened for both acts and they have a huge following in the U.K. I’ve met their mommas, and they were raised right.

26. Kelleigh Bannen (12:05-12:30pm Budweiser Plaza Stage): “Smoke When I Drink” is the coolest single to hit the airwaves all year. She’s a good soul with a huge heart and a voice that cuts deep.

27. Sunny Sweeney (12:45-1:10pm Belk Plaza Stage): Anytime is a good time for Sunny. I fell in love with her music when I first saw her at South By Southwest in 2007. You will love it, too.

28. Jaida Dreyer (12:45-1:10pm Gildan Broadway Stage at Hard Rock Café): I can’t wait to see Jaida! My best girlfriend Audra calls her “mermaid,” and Audra’s talent is more rare than rainbow-farting unicorns.

29. Song Suffragettes (12:45-1:45pm CMA Close Up Stage): A must-see for aspiring female songwriters. The Song Suffragettes movement is huge on Music Row right now with sell-outs every series.

30. Stephanie Quayle (1:25-1:50pm Gildan Broadway Stage at Hard Rock Café): Stephanie is blessed with the voice of an angel. You’ll love it, too.

31. Chris Janson (2:05-2:30pm Budweiser Plaza Stage): Merle Haggard had his pick of the litter to open for him at the Ryman last August, and he picked Chris. He’s a force onstage and his nod to alternative rock in “Buy Me a Boat” excites my inner Beck fan.

32. Parmalee (3:00-3:30pm Chevy Riverfront Stage): Hurricanes, floods, crime scenes, these guys have been through it all. And they’re unbelievable.

33. Corey Smith (3:45-4:15pm Chevy Riverfront Stage): I’ve seen this guy at least three times and he never disappoints. As a songwriter, he works hard to take care of his point of view for his fans. You’ll never forget a moment of this show.


34. Jack Ingram (10:00-11:00am Chevy Riverfront Stage): He’s among my favorite interviews of all time. He’s thoughtful and sincere with serious Texas swagger. I can’t wait for his new collection!

35. Ruthie Collins (12:45-1:10pm Budweiser Plaza Stage): If you want to turn your friends, children or kin onto Hank Williams, you can take them to the Country Music Hall of Fame (which I encourage). Or you can take them to see Ruthie’s fiery set. This “Ramblin’ Man” cover is crazy imaginative.

36. Striking Matches (2:05-2:30pm Budweiser Plaza Stage): Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis are world-class musicians, and every moment of their debut album Nothing But the Silence is musical perfection.

37. Locash (4:05-4:30pm Budweiser Plaza Stage): Preston Brust and Chris Lucas put on one helluva show. Do. Not. Miss. Them!

38. Joey Hyde (12:05-12:30pm Belk Plaza Stage): When I first saw Joey open for Kip Moore in Memphis, I thought, “Where has this country blues rocker been all my life?” He’s musically exploratory and “Let’s Get It On” is still way fun.

39. Jackie Lee (2:05-2:30pm Belk Plaza Stage): If you like your country with a little rockin’ soul, check out Jackie! He was raised on Dolly Parton, Johnny Paycheck, George Jones and Styx. He loves Frank Sinatra, Michael Bolton and worship music, too

40. Hailey Whitters (2:00-2:20pm Chevy Roadhouse Stage): All my friends tell me I will love Hailey. I think you will, too, after this video.

The nightly concerts at LP Field are sold out. But they’re being filmed for an ABC special airing this fall.


41. Sam Hunt

42. Dierks Bentley


43. Maddie and Tae

44. Thomas Rhett

45. Randy Houser

46. Zac Brown Band


47. Brett Eldredge

48. Little Big Town

49. Carrie Underwood


50. Brad Paisley