Finding Country Music in NYC, From $10 to $1,000

Pre-CMA Live Performances Include Brooks & Dunn, Urban, Womack

First, the good news: For the first time ever, the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards will be open to the public, and a whole week’s worth of memorable activities will lead up to the big night.

Now for the not-so-good news: It’ll cost you — probably about $5,000 for a solo traveler — if you want to do things up right. Add another $3,000 for a friend — or maybe a little less since that’s one less postcard to send.

Tickets to the CMA awards ceremony are still available — for $254.50 each. But consider the all-star lineup of performers: Brooks & Dunn, Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney, Sara Evans, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Martina McBride, Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, Rascal Flatts, George Strait, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Gretchen Wilson and Lee Ann Womack. All the nominees for Horizon Award will be singing too, as will Jon Bon Jovi, Elton John and Paul Simon (on duets, that is).

Plus, the CMA hopes you’ll be impressed with non-singing presenters James Gandolfini, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. They’ll be joined by Trace Adkins, Vince Gill, Billy Joel, Kris Kristofferson, LeAnn Rimes, Shania Twain, Wynonna and Trisha Yearwood.

OK, so maybe $254.50 is not such a bad deal for that much star power. But you’d be wise to set aside the cash before you start painting the town earlier in the week.

To mix in some show tunes with your honky-tonk, check out the Broadway Meets Country concert at Frederick P. Rose Hall on Saturday night (Nov. 12). The late-night gala unites the brightest of the Great White Way with Nashville’s most famous voices (Adkins, Glen Campbell, Billy Currington, the Mavericks’ Raul Malo, Neal McCoy, Lonestar’s Richie McDonald, Jamie O’Neal, Roberts, Underwood and Yearwood). The ticket price is steep — $350 — but proceeds benefit the Actors’ Fund of America and the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. For a cool $1,000, you’ll get to mingle with some of the performers at a cocktail party prior to the music.

High rollers can also raise the roof at the celebrity poker tournament on Sunday night (Nov. 13) with Chris Cagle and Craig Morgan. Minimum bid to participate is $500, and all proceeds benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Fans can get into the patriotic spirit on Friday night (Nov. 11) at the American Freedom Festival with Charlie Daniels, Mark Wills and Darryl Worley. Tickets are $28, $38, $48 and $128. Proceeds benefits veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. To start off the day, Montgomery Gentry perform at 10 a.m. in Madison Square Park, followed by a march in the Veteran’s Day parade. At the conclusion of the parade, Adkins will participate in placing a wreath at the famed U.S. battleship, the USS Intrepid, now berthed on the Hudson River.

Later Thursday, Montgomery Gentry and Tracy Lawrence are booked at B.B. King’s. Tickets are $75. On Saturday night (Nov. 12), McCoy and Morgan share the bill there for only $25; net proceeds benefit the USO.

On Monday night (Nov. 14), Tim McGraw’s band, the Dancehall Doctors, will join the Warren Brothers and Hot Apple Pie in providing the music during a fundraiser for the Tug McGraw Foundation. McGraw and emcee Bob Costas will be there, and tickets are priced at $1,000. The Grand Ole Opry at Carnegie Hall is significantly cheaper ($35-$125), but it’s already sold out. The best bets include Dierks Bentley, Cross Canadian Ragweed and Pat Green at the Nokia Theater ($25) or Womack and Shooter Jennings at the Bowery Ballroom ($25).

Or try to catch the second of two Urban shows that night at Irving Plaza, for $45. He plays the Sunday night too, but both gigs at the 1,025-person capacity club are sold out. It’s the same story for Brooks & Dunn’s Thursday night (Nov. 10) show, where tickets were $37.50.

Joe’s Pub, a listening room in the East Village, is taking a more intimate approach to bringing country music to the city. Kathy Mattea (a four-time CMA winner) sings on Wednesday night (Nov. 9); the Del McCoury Band plays twice on Thursday. Tickets are $30. If you enjoy songwriters performing in-the-round, Joe’s Pub is showcasing Nashville’s top talent on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday nights, for $15. (Note a minimum of $12 food or two drinks at Joe’s Pub.)

For longtime fans and curious locals alike, it’s hard to beat the CMA Awards retrospective at the Museum of Television & Radio. The 90-minute film sequences live performances from country’s most popular artists from 1968 through the present. Screenings occur every day (except Monday) at 1 p.m. now through Dec. 31. Tickets are $10 for the museum.

Here’s a sample schedule, with occasional tourist attractions included.

Wed., Nov. 9 — $732 total
Flight into New York City plus taxi — $340
Kathy Mattea at Joe’s Pub — $30 plus $12 food minimum
Hotel — $350 (not including fees and taxes)

Thurs., Nov. 10 — $445.50 total
Coffee and a pastry at Starbucks — $7
Empire State Building tour — $14
Lunch at Rockefeller Center — $18
The newly reopened Top of the Rock observation deck — $12
Grand Central Station — free
Two slices of New York pizza and a drink — $7
Gallery opening for Charles Fazzino, the CMA’s official artist — free
Brooks & Dunn at Irving Plaza — $37.50
Hotel — $350 (not including fees and taxes)

Fri., Nov. 11 — $492 total
Big breakfast at Sylvia’s Soul Food in Harlem — $12
Veteran’s Day parade and related events — free
Dinner at B.B. King’s — $30
Montgomery Gentry/Tracy Lawrence at B.B. King’s — $75
Shots of Jim Beam — $25
Hotel — $350 (not including fees and taxes)

Sat., Nov. 12 — $809.85 total
Tylenol from Duane Reade — $3.85
Bloody Mary and scrambled eggs from room service — $16
Broadway matinee — $35 (using a half-price ticket service)
Dinner at Virgil’s Real BBQ — $30
Craig Morgan and Neal McCoy at B.B. King’s — $25
Broadway Meets Country concert — $350
Hotel — $350 (not including fees and taxes)

Sun., Nov. 13 — $460 total
Orange juice and a banana from a corner store — $3
Metropolitan Museum of Art — $15
Lunch at the Museum’s cafeteria — $12
Stroll through Central Park — free
Dinner at Ruby Foo’s — $35
Walk the Line movie premiere at Beacon Theater — free (to watch arrivals)
Keith Urban at Irving Plaza — $45
Hotel — $350 (not including fees and taxes)

Mon., Nov. 14 — $1,452 total
Bagel and coffee — $7
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island — $10
Power lunch on Wall Street – $20
Pay respects at Ground Zero — free
Window shopping in SoHo — free
Dinner and dessert at Carnegie Deli — $40
Tug McGraw Foundation charity event — $1,000
Lee Ann Womack at Bowery Ballroom — $25
Hotel — $350 (not including fees and taxes)

Tues., Nov. 15 — $683 total
Tall soy Chai latte at Starbucks — $3.50
Morning shopping at Macy’s — free (for those with willpower)
A healthy lunch at Macy’s cafeteria — $10
CMA retrospective screening at the Museum of Radio & Television — $10
I ? NY T-shirt — $5
Pre-show dinner at Tupelo Grill — $50
CMA Awards — $254.50
Hotel — $350 (not including fees and taxes)

Grand total: $5,074.35

Craig Shelburne has been writing for since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.