Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Nashville Barroom Takeovers Become Larger Factor at CMA Fest

By meerna Jun17,2024
Nashville Barroom Takeovers Become Larger Factor at CMA Fest

The Country Music Association’s CMA Fest has been experiencing a growing trend ever since it relocated to Downtown Nashville in 2001.

Last year, the festival hit 90,000 visitors a day for the first time, and local media reported that it equaled those numbers in the 2024 edition, held June 6-9.

But the growth most evident at this year’s festival was the bulging presence of “barroom takeovers.” From Spotify to iHeartMedia to Warner Music Nashville and even Billboard, at least 11 labels, booking agencies and other organizations rented out performance spaces — or even entire buildings — for a range of extracurricular concerts. In some cases, artists played shows at those venues on top of their official CMA Fest activities. In other instances, artists dropped into the side bars without appearing at a sanctioned CMA event.

The uptick in these ancillary events is a natural outgrowth of the booming business in artist-affiliated bars. In the last year alone, Garth Brooks, Eric Church and Morgan Wallen have all opened the doors on new clubs along Lower Broadway, and Lainey Wilson took over the FGL House from Florida Georgia Linerebranding as Bell Bottoms Up. Bon Jovi even opened a new bar during the run of the festival.

Those locales offer a ready-made spot at the edge of the festival’s footprint for businesses that want to market to core fans; thus CAA took over the weekly Whiskey Jam at the Skydeck for one night, Big Machine Label Group offered daytime shows at Wilson’s club, and Sony Music Nashville occupied Acme Feed and Seed with its Camp Sony at the same intersection where CMA Fest hosted its Hard Rock Stage and Riverfront Stage. It’s advantageous for the label, fans and the artists, too.

“Being right there at the end where all the action is happening, it helps in terms of foot traffic,” SMN senior vp of marketing Jennifer Way says. “It helps in terms of catching artists that (play) a show and then can just pop up into the bar.”

Not that the adjunct shows are limited to the run of the festival or to the Downtown footprint. WME held its annual three-night Losers Live at a bar on the edge of Music Row, about a mile and a half away, June 3-5. Randy Houser, BrantleyGilbert and Mark Chesnutt headlined the three nights, all playing for free to make an impression on country-centric fans and other members of the industry.

“Many people arrive in Nashville prior to the official start of CMA Fest, and they travel from all over the world to hear live music,” says WME country music agent Carter Green. “So WME and Losers give the people what they want.”

The volume is impressive. While the festival itself yielded more than 300 artist performances, Spotify House trotted out 40 acts — including BRELAND, Tyler Hubbard and DustinLynch — during its three-day run at the BlakeShelton-affiliated Ole Red. SiriusXM booked 56 artists across four days at Margaritaville for performances and/or interviews, including Lainey Wilson, Jake Owen and Riley Green.

“This is surely the only genre who could pull this off the way we pull it off because all of the artists are so punctual, on time or early,” SiriusXM associate director of strategy, operations, and artist and industry relations Alina Thompson says. “We were on schedule all four days, and I was just so grateful to every artist and every artist team that came through the door.”

The opportunities, though, also represent a potential long-term problem. Several veteran music executives grumbled that the festival’s official daytime stages lacked some of the star power that they have boasted in previous years, though that’s a direct result of the country’s current popularity. At least 50 artists — including Kenny Chesney, Luke Combs, Kane Brown and HARDY — played up to four out-of-town gigs during the four-day CMA Fest. Many were booked at the Carolina Country Music Festival, which overlaps with CMA Fest in Myrtle Beach, SC Some of those acts made it back for the Nashville event. Someone didn’t.

That’s not a new development, but combined with the artists who choose to play the nearby clubs, it meant that the smaller stages had a higher volume of acts who were unfamiliar to many festival attendees.

That doesn’t mean the festival faces any sort of imminent disaster or that it represents a long-term trend.

“I think it changes year by year,” Carter says. “If people feel that way this year, it could change next year, and you could have all the biggest acts in country at that time playing during the day.”

Artists’ outlook on the festival is tied to their place in the food chain. It’s great exposure for acts who haven’t hit the commercial mainstream — Wyatt Flores and Puddin (K. Michelle), for example, garnered attention with multiple appearances. But the artists play for free, and the headliners are key to attracting the thousands of fans whose ticket expenditures assist music education charities.

“If you’re a newer artist, you need to be there,” says SiriusXM/Pandora vp of music programming – country Johnny Chiang. “A-listers or B-plus artists, it’s not so much a need for them to do it. It’s just a way for them to give back. There’s a different perspective.”

In most instances, the artists and the ancillary businesses seem to defer to CMA in booking artists, a sign that the industry supports the festival’s mission.

“The CMA typically gets all their stuff scheduled first,” Way says. “We don’t really confirm the exact unique fan experience or activation until the stages are booked, until the artist knows where they’re going to be.”

Meanwhile, if the barroom takeovers siphon off too much of CMA’s business, Chiang suggests it might be effective for the organization to “get in deeper” with the unofficial groups, many of which are already partners in some way.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it’s on one of their stages or one of our bar locations,” Chiang says. “What you’re talking about is still promoting country music and the CMAs.”

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By meerna

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