Brett Eldredge posted a photo to Instagram this week of his first-ever CMA Music Festival appearance in 2010 – a set that, by his account, attracted a whopping 30 fans. This year, he’s playing to thousands on the main stage at Nissan Stadium. It’s such a success story that earns CMA Fest its reputation as a launching pad for young talent, many of whom perform on the free stages scattered throughout downtown.
Ahead of CMA Music Fest’s official kick-off on Thursday (it runs through Sunday night), we’ve combed through the overwhelming schedule to pick the 20 must-see free sets of the long weekend. Many are new artists, some are established vets, but all are sure to command your attention.