5 Must-See Performers at Nashville’s CMA Fest (Who Aren’t Headlining Nissan Stadium)

by Jim Casey

After a two-year pandemic-forced postponement, CMA Fest is returning to downtown Nashville on June 9-12. The four-day festival boasts multiple stages and more than 150 performers. And while the nightly Nissan Stadium shows are always the main attraction with headliners like Alan Jackson, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood, Zac Brown Band, and more, let’s highlight 5 must-see (and must-hear) artists on some of the non-Nissan stages.

Don’t let these 5 artists fly under your Music City radar while at this year’s CMA Fest.

1. Larry Fleet

  • Friday, June 10
  • Chevy Riverfront Stage
  • 11:30 a.m.-12 p.m.

With his mix of country, bluegrass, and soul, Larry Fleet dropped his 14-song debut album, Stack of Records, in September 2021. The Tennessee native released the album’s lead single, “Where I Find God,” in April 2020. The touching tune amassed more than 32 million streams, with the video garnering more than 24 million views on YouTube. In addition, Stack of Records features a couple of collaborations with Jon Pardi (“In Love With My Problems”) and Jamey Johnson (“Highway Feet”).

2. Randall King

  • Saturday, June 11
  • Ascend Amphitheater
  • Lineup starts at 7 p.m.

If it’s traditional country music you crave à la George Strait or Randy Travis, don’t miss Randall King at Ascend on Saturday night. The West Texas troubadour is carrying the honky-tonk torch in 2022. In addition to releasing his major-label debut album, Shot Glass, in March, Randall made a memorable Grand Ole Opry debut. Randall is headed out West for a summer tour, so catch him in Nashville at CMA Fest while you can.

3. Jenny Tolman

  • Sunday, June 12
  • Spotlight Stage
  • 1-1:20 p.m.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If there is a more talented singer/songwriter in Nashville—who isn’t signed to a major label—I haven’t seen or heard her. And that ain’t hyperbole. Jenny dropped her sophomore album, Married in a Honky Tonk, in February. And it’s full of the sonic swagger that made her 2019 debut album, There Goes the Neighborhood, an underground favorite. The only thing better than the new album is watching her perform the tunes live at CMA Fest.

4. Jackson Dean

  • Sunday, June 12
  • Maui Jim Reverb Stage
  • 1:25-1:50 p.m.

Singer/songwriter Jackson Dean released his debut album, Greenbroke, in March. The 10-song offering, which was produced by Grammy-nominated tunesmith Luke Dick, includes lead single, “Don’t Come Lookin’.” Fans of TV’s Yellowstone will recognize the tune, which was featured on Season 4, Episode 7, in December 2021. Jackson is hitting the road hard this spring and summer in support of the new album. In addition to CMA Fest, you can find Jackson at the Michigan International Speedway (July 22), Dierks Bentley’s Seven Peaks Festival (Sept. 3), and more.

5. Caroline Jones

  • Sunday, June 12
  • Maui Jim Reverb Stage
  • 12:45-1:10 p.m.

Caroline Jones is the total musical package. In addition to her multi-instrumental proficiency (guitar, banjo, mandolin, Dobro, lap steel, keys), Caroline is a stellar vocalist and songwriter. There’s a reason Zac Brown Band is once again featuring her as a special guest band member on their Out in the Middle Tour . . . she’s a star. Catch her solo set at CMA Fest on June 12. And pick up a copy of her 2021 sophomore album, Antipodes.