16 Cool Things to Do in Nashville This Summer
Now is the time for live music festivals, summer time activities, and rooftop bars in Nashville.
Sure, the calendar says that the days are getting shorter, but that just means you have more time at night to take advantage of the many entertainment options in Nashville. The late summer schedule is filled with big festivals and other fun smaller musical events. You can also take a booze cruise on the Cumberland, soak up some culture at Shakespeare in the Park, or take part in an old-timey guitar pull. Use those extra evening hours wisely.
Party on the runway at the Cornelia Fort Pickin’ Party
Fortunately, the runway in question is at the uncommissioned Cornelia Fort Airpark on the edge of Shelby Park, and acoustic musicians are encouraged to bring their instruments and join in the fun at this old fashioned bluegrass jam. Pickers will break off into small groups all over the airfield while guests enjoy their music and the performances by headliners Emily Kidd and Brazilbilly on the main stage. Local vendors will be on hand to provide food and drinks, and proceeds go toward projects at Cornelia Fort and Shelby Park.
Celebrate the return of Live on the Green
It’s been a couple of years since this downtown festival favorite last set up shop on Public Square Park, but Live on the Green is back, and it’s coming in hot over an extended Labor Day weekend, September 1 - 5. With two stages, the music will never stop from Thursday through Monday, featuring local headliners including Sheryl Crow and Moon Taxi. If you’ve never experienced the soulful stylings of British-born songstress Yola, prepare to have your mind blown when she closes out the festival on Monday night. You might have seen Yola playing Sister Rosetta Tharpe in the recent Baz Luhrman-helmed Elvis biopic, and she was definitely a highlight.
Being LGBTQ+ is A-OK at the OUTLOUD Music Festival on September 17. In addition to a day of musical performances from acts like Slayyyter, Betty Who, and CHVRCHES, the fest will feature installations by many LGBTQ+ artists, a silent disco food court, and food trucks plus multiple bars. VIP-level tickets offer even more access to the stages and lounges, and you know you’re worth it.
Make a Pilgrimage to Harlinsdale Farms for some amazing music
Better than Ezra frontman Kevin Griffin founded the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival in 2015 to showcase the creativity of his adopted hometown of Franklin, Tennessee. Thousands of fans descend on the horse farm at Harlinsdale to enjoy two days of music, art, food and cultural exhibitions. Headliners this year include Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlisle, Jon Batiste, the Avett Brothers, and Lake Street Dive along with a long lineup of supporting acts on multiple stages. Plant a chair in one spot and listen all day or stay mobile and flit from stage to stage for the maximum music experience.
Catch not just one, but two plays at Shakespeare in the Park
The Nashville Shakespeare Festival has a tradition of staging performances of some of the Bard’s most beloved works under the star each summer, and this year, they’re doubling the fun. In addition to a presentation of Cymbeline, a pretty funny play even though it’s titled as a tragedy, the troupe will also put on performances of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean in the outdoor amphitheater at ONEC1TY off Charlotte Ave. Bring a blanket and order food and drink from on-site vendors or opt for the royal treatment with a catered pre-show meal and VIP seating options.
Enjoy September Sundown in Centennial Park
September Sundown is a special series courtesy of the organizers of the popular Musicians Corner concerts in the shady corner near the front of Centennial Park. With performances every Friday in September, it's a wonderful opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy the first feel of autumn while shopping from local food, drink and craft vendors. They’re adding an extra Saturday night show on September 17 in partnership with the big Americanafest that will bring bands from all over to Nashville to perform in multiple venues around town.
Take a cruise on the Pontoon Saloon
If you want an experience that’s different from the typical pedal tavern trip around Lower Broad, get nautical with a cruise on Nashville’s only honky tonk on the water. The Pontoon Saloon is a 50-foot party barge that cruises the Cumberland River with public and private rentals. The boat is equipped with a professional captain and deck hand, as well as a pumping sound system, a restroom and coolers full of ice for all the B you can BYO. Guests can also pre-order buckets of beers or seltzers in advance and save a trip to the store.
Get poolside at a ritzy hotel or with Swimply
What do you do if the weather is oppressively hot and your friend with a pool at his apartment complex is still mad from the last time you dropped a full bottle of vodka onto the pool deck? Treat yourself to a day poolside at one of the several Nashville hotels that offer affordable day passes. You can be treated like a real guest with bar access, free swim, chaise lounges, cabanas and towel service at spots like Dive Motel and Swim Club, WET at the W Nashville and The Governor’s Pool at White Limozeen atop the Graduate in Midtown. Pinewood Social has a couple of fun dipping pools behind its multi-purpose eating, drinking and bowling complex in SoBro, or you can actually rent time by the hour at a residential pool using the Airbnb-like service Swimply.
Mix it up at the Nashville Cocktail Festival
After years of primarily being an East Nashville event, the Nashville Cocktail Festival has found a new home for 2022 in Centennial Park in the shadow of the Parthenon. The main events will be two nights celebrating the mixologists and cocktail culture of Nashville with a Friday night Luau party and a Saturday night event featuring cocktails made with sotol, tequila’s slightly wilder cousin. In between, patrons will enjoy a little hair of the dog at an Aperitivo Brunch in the park on Saturday morning. Remember to hydrate.
Go on a mural walk
Music City has evolved into mural city over the past few years, and not just the famousones that tourists love to use as selfie backdrops. The walls of the city are dotted with all sorts of public art projects, including many with historical or cultural significance. Former Thrillist contributor Kristin Luna is the doyenne of local wall art, and she shares the stories behind many murals at her personal blog, Camels & Chocolate. Or if you don’t feel like leaving the couch to discover some fine art, you can always take a virtual tour instead.
Go take a hike
We could all use some fresh air every now and again, and the city is fortunate to feature some excellent hiking trails close to the urban center. Stroll along a flat paved path as part of Nashville’s extensive greenway system, choose one of the hiking paths around Radnor Lake, or wander around the one-mile loop at Centennial Park taking in changing perspectives of the scale-model of the Greek Parthenon and the newly remodeled Great Lawn that has been designed to carry less auto traffic to open up more space for walkers and bicycles.
Not to be confused with the numerous boozy “transportainment” options hauling drunk tourists around town, the Music City Brew Hop is actually a public service, operating two different hour-long loops between several of Nashville’s best craft beer breweries. Pay one price and hop off and back on all day long with no fear of adding your name to the roster of the “overserved.” Intentionally avoiding the worst of downtown traffic, the routes will show you more of the real character of the city.
Cheer on the Boys in Gold with Nashville SC
After starting the season on a two-month road trip while they waited for their new stadium to be completed, Nashville SC have returned home to their extraordinary home of Geodis Park, the largest soccer-specific stadium in the US and Canada. Not only is the team a whole helluva lot of fun to watch on the field, but the constantly cheering and singing crowd provides a basically unbeatable home field advantage. Every aspect of the modern stadium is top drawer, and the sightlines are superb. Go see what real football is all about.
Celebrate the veggie that’s actually a fruit at the Tomato Art Festival
East Nashvillians take a special pride in their own brand of weird quirkiness, and it’s never more on display than during this weekend celebration of all things tomato. Always held during the prime tomato-picking season, this year’s Tomato Art Fest will be August 12 - 13, so plan to dress accordingly. And by “accordingly,” we mean your red and green finery or a punny t-shirt that says something like “I love you from my head tomatoes,” or “legalize marinara” as you take part in the gala public parade that is a highlight of the fest. Cooking contests and a tomato art show are also popular events.
Chill to Jazz on the Cumberland
One Sunday a month, Nashville Cumberland park turns into the coolest jazz club in town. The free event features jazz groups from across the region playing classic tunes or original compositions in a family-friendly atmosphere with food trucks and other concessions available for purchase. Bring a lawn chair and let the smooth jazz get your mind right for another week of work. Or just forget about work completely. You know what they say, “Don’t let Monday ruin your Sunday!”
Revel in bluegrass under the stars at the Full Moon Pickin’ Party
This longtime music series is a fundraiser for the Friends of Warner Parks, a support group that helps care for the two huge urban parks that we’re lucky enough to enjoy. Under the full moon, professional bluegrass musicians perform from small stages, but even more enjoyable are the small groups of amateur pickers who bring a guitar or banjo from home and form impromptu jam bands. Bring a blanket, bring the family, bring the dog (on a leash), or bring your own instrument to join in the fun.