things i learned while working at CMA fest, and other stories.

i will first tell you how i found this post online about needing (paid) merch help at CMA fest, which i responded to because 1) money, 2) it was outside my regular work hours (which means, extra money), and 3) i do all the merch stuff at my job so I GOT THIS.

for those of you who don’t know (because i didn’t), CMA fest is basically a week-long country music festival that takes place during the day in downtown nashville, but the main event (and what you’re paying for when you get tickets to the festival) is the concerts that take place at LP field on thursday-sunday nights.

my job, because i have a regular, full-time job during the day, was to sell merch at the shows at LP field, all four nights.

the whole thing felt strange in that way where you choose to do something and you know it will be an adventure because you don’t exactly know what you’re getting yourself into. but you’re getting paid and they gave you a parking pass, so it doesn’t matter that you don’t listen to country music or that you have always successfully avoided going downtown during CMA fest. it will be a story to tell.

we had orientation in the parking lot of LP field on the monday of CMA week. it felt like that first day of camp where you learn the job and the rules and stand next to a handful of strangers who you will get to know over the next few days and who will see you at your sweatiest. the only difference is, you get to go home and sleep in your own bed every night. (thank god for that.)

on the first day, i arrived on time, parked in the designated parking lot, and then called my contact person as i walked toward the field because i suddenly realized i didn’t know how to get in, considering working people don’t go in the same way as the people attending the shows or games at LP field. i was also wearing a t-shirt and pants, as i walked the long way around the entire field to find where i was supposed to be, “on the north end of the stadium” (like i know directions), because i work in an office where the air conditioning is turned down below zero degrees (or so it feels).

i quickly learned that it doesn’t matter that you’re not a shorts person when it comes to selling merch at CMA fest. you sort of stop feeling insecure about how your legs look when you are also sweating so much you can feel it dripping down your back. nobody cares what you look like. especially when they are drunk country fans, pointing to one of the eleven CMA fest t-shirts hanging behind you and telling you they want that one, “the one that says 'CMA fest' on it."

on the second day, people were somehow worse than they were on the first day. continuous long lines with less drunk, but more indecisive people. i had one lady try on a shirt in a size small, and then a medium, and then the small again, because she couldn’t decide which one to get. and people wonder why i could never give them an answer when they told me which shirt they wanted (the 'CMA fest' one!) and then asked my opinion on which size i thought they would be in that particular shirt.

this was also the day i realized not everyone who was working merch knew what they were doing, which probably explained why they kept leaving me by myself. they told us at orientation that we would never be alone in our booths, but every night, i would start out by myself until someone would noticed. “are you by yourself??"

on the third day, the lines finally died down and people mostly knew what they wanted, or at the very least, how it worked. we had twelve different booths, between downtown locations and LP field, and each location was stocked with different sizes of different shirts. by the third night, people were mostly asking for a particular shirt in a particular size and either i had it or i sent them to the next booth.

the other significant difference was that it was slow enough for them to send someone to help early enough so i could take my break and eat. the first two nights, they didn’t give us breaks until 10 or 10:30, which meant eating dinner looked more like shoveling bites of food into my mouth as i got people their shirts. on this night, i sat on the ground and ate my sandwich like a normal person and it was slow enough that i could sneak away later when carrie played.

of all the people who played CMA fest, she’s the only one i cared about enough to know which night and what time she would be playing.

(also. do you see all those people?)

on the last day, i worked the hardest, was the sweatiest i’ve ever been in my life, and had the most fun.

they decided to close down the two pop-up booths (one of which was mine) in favor of consolidating what merch we had left. this meant we were pretty over-staffed, with less booths and less work, but they promised us as many hours as we wanted, so some of us stayed just because we wanted more hours.

since the booths were well manned, i ended up outside counting artist merch. this felt hugely ironic, considering i'm the one who gets boxes of merch back with inventory counts written on them and i always have an intern recount it all anyway. but i did it because it was something to do, and then i went inside and killed time by exploring all the areas i could go with my working-backstage pass.

i know it sounds really exciting to have a backstage pass, and i did go backstage just because i could, but it was the most uneventful. unless you have a reason to be back there, or you're a crazy fangirl looking for trouble, you aren't really going to experience anything noteworthy. it was mostly just a lot of walking and time killing.

after that, i stood at the back of the merch trailer (which i have no photos of, but my view was what you see in the photo i posted of the empty seats) and watched the show. our passes got us down onto the field, so we did that for keith urban because one of the girls was obsessed. mostly with his face, as she kept calling him "the hot australian" and knew next to nothing about country music.

and then, before the last set started, i decided to call it quits. i had basically already worked almost another full work week in the span of a long weekend, and one more hour wouldn't make a significant difference in my paycheck. so i shook hands with my "boss," said goodbye, and beat the traffic getting out of LP field.