Nelly didn't make it to join Florida Georgia Line at the HGTV Lodge in Nashville to perform "Cruise," their massive cross-genre hit sitting at number five this week on the Billboard Hot 100, but plenty of other stars were there, and CMA Fest fans didn't care.
"We came here for this band at this place," said Lisa Lee, in for the festival from Albany, New York. "I love Brian and Tyler, and I wanted to see them up close, and this was the best place."
At nearly 2500 square feet, the Lodge is much smaller than the large venues FGL is now playing. The duo is supporting Luke Bryan's "Dirt Road Diaries" tour, and Taylor Swift's "Red" tour on arena stages in August.
The "more-country" version of the hit, without Nelly's help, currently tops the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
It was almost an episode of "House Hunters." Festival attendees searched their maps for "Fan Alley," and then tried to hunt down tickets before swarming the HGTV Lodge performances. It became an extremely popular destination because the venue was so small, and the lineup of artists so well-known.
While free tickets were given to fans who registered for them in advance, a "hopefuls line" seemed permanently packed for almost every artist. Some were using Twitter to beg for tickets from fans who couldn't make it.
HGTV's Lodge in downtown Nashville was a tricked-out, modern-looking barn, complete with air conditioning to house what turned out to be highly sought-after intimate performances and autograph signings. "Folks who love their homes, also love their music," said Denise Conroy, SVP of Marketing and Creative for HGTV. "We support that passion."
The cable channel's Lodge, which also housed a misting station and a charging area for cell phones, produced its music series as an experiential event with marketing partner Pop2Life, a company that joins big brands with music, and specializes in consumer engagement. Pop2Life, in turn, worked closely with several partners, most notably the Big Machine Label group.
Florida Georgia Line, Justin Moore, Brantley Gilbert, and Thomas Rhett were some of the Big Machine artists who called the HGTV Lodge their home during the festival.
"The Lodge was an incredible and unique venue for Big Machine to showcase several of our artists during CMA Fest," said Mandy McCormack, national director of Radio Marketing for Big Machine.
"HGTV created an atmosphere that not only served as a luxurious escape from the Nashville heat, but (became) an intimate experience for both the fans and our talent. We would undoubtedly partner with them again," she added.
Other big names at the HGTV Lodge included Little Big Town, Jake Owen, Joe Nichols, Kip Moore, David Nail, Brett Eldredge, Phil Vassar, "X Factor" winner Tate Stevens and "Idol" finalists Casey James and Lauren Alaina.
One non-country act, The Goo Goo Dolls, also appeared. HGTV is incorporating Goo Goo Dolls tracks in its new "Brother vs. Brother" series, a show that pits brothers Drew and Jonathan against each other in a home renovation showdown.
Knowing that people who are passionate about music are also passionate about their homes, HGTV puts on the series of performances to touch their audience, and to bring in new viewers.
For cable networks, "New people are hard to come by," said Conroy. HGTV will market its programming to those fans who attended the Lodge concerts long after the festival through emails and contesting.