NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The 50th CMA Fest is just hours away.

The festivities kick off on Thursday, but ahead of the long-anticipated weekend, News 2 got a behind-the-scenes look at the opening performance.

During a time when school is normally out and campuses everywhere are quiet, at Tennessee State University, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“This past week we’ve been meeting pretty much every day, you know with summer break and everything, we don’t have the whole band, but we have a good number of the band here, and it’s just been an amazing experience to be back here,” explained Hailey Russell, a junior and the Piccolo Section Leader.

Outside the band room, you can hear the iconic sound. Russell took a break from continued practice to sit down with News 2 and described the experience.

“I’m excited. I know a lot of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) don’t get this experience, so for TSU to be able to broadcast our brand on this stage is amazing,” Russell said.

This will be the first time a collegiate marching band will open for the CMAs; the Grammy Award-winning Aristocrat of Bands at TSU is making history yet again.

“I’ve always experienced the CMAs in terms of seeing all the people coming into town and the traffic and, you know, the parties and things of that nature. Never really had attended any of the events, but knew that this was something that was huge,” said Reginald McDonald, the director of the band.

The performance is a chance to show the CMAs are more than just country music, but also an opportunity to focus on the diverse melodies of Music City and the chorus of people behind it.

“I put the CMAs on the same pedestal as the Grand Ole Opry. There’s not a person who walks around this country that’s not in tune to music, country music, pop music, R&B, what have you, and not know about something as significant as the CMAs,” McDonald explained.

Inside the band room, it’s a small group with a mighty sound and message for all to hear.

“As I looked around in the band room a few minutes ago, I saw kids from Alabama that are sitting there. I saw one of our kids from Houston, Texas, and for them to sacrifice to be here,” McDonald said. “They could be doing a number of things, but they are here, dedicated to the Aristocrat of Bands, but more importantly, they understand the title of being ambassadors for Tennessee State University.”

The CMA opportunity comes on the heels of another first. Earlier this year, the Aristocrat of Bands was the first marching band to debut in a live performance at the Grand Ole Opry.

Now it’s another stage, and a chance to put TSU on the map.

The band’s performance will kick off starting with the Hall of Fame Ceremony parade down the Pedestrian Bridge at 9 a.m. Thursday. A live performance on the Riverfront Stage will follow.