The conference was sponsored by the 410-room Sheraton Music City, a beautiful property with more than 33,000 square feet of meeting space that, while just minutes from Nashville’s airport, feels like a country estate, and Visit Music City, Nashville’s convention and visitors bureau. Attendees knew they were in for something special as they swept up the long drive, through the Sheraton’s gates, to the spacious, gracious lobby, where they were treated like the eagerly anticipated guests they were.

RCMA staffers were on hand to make sure all could register seamlessly and to usher them into a session room for a musical greeting from singer, songwriter, and fiddle player DeMetri Moon. Acquaintances became friends as RCMA’s director of conferences and events Dean Jones helped break the ice with some interactive activities, and strangers warmed into colleagues as planners and suppliers got to know each other—and the organizations and venues they represent—at the adjacent trade show.

The conference coincided with the grand opening of the new Nashville Music City Center, so Aspire conference attendees toured the facility on the first day of the conference. And what a facility it turned out to be.

Aspire attendees were awed by the city’s new convention center, a 1.2-million-square-foot facility that boasts an eight-acre expo hall, a 57,500-square-foot Grand Ballroom, an 18,000-square-foot Junior Ballroom, breakout rooms galore, and a 175,000-square-foot green roof, designed to mimic the rolling hills of Tennessee.

The artwork alone was jaw-dropping, with pieces including the multistory “Euphony,” a stunning sculpture of steel ball chains by artists Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues. The center commissioned eight original pieces for permanent installation, along with hundreds of non-commissioned artworks that peek out at visitors from every nook. The center also is seeking to achieve LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—Silver certification for its environmentally friendly design, which includes a 360,000-gallon rainwater collection tank that will store rainwater from the roof, which will then be used to irrigate outdoor landscaping and flush the hundreds of commodes in the building.

Opening in September is the adjacent Omni Nashville, with 800 guest rooms, 54 suites, and a 25,013-square-foot ballroom, a 15,013-square-foot junior ballroom, and more than 49,000 square feet of pre-function space.

In between the Music City Center and the Omni, which abuts the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (in the midst of its own 220,000-square-foot, $75 million expansion, including a 10,000-square-foot glass-enclosed ballroom), is a plaza dedicated to public concerts. In fact, to top off the first day’s events after a private dinner in one of the Music City Center’s meeting rooms, Aspire attendees, sitting in a VIP section, enjoyed a concert by the Gospel-inspired Fisk Jubilee Singers, old-time pickers The Time Jumpers featuring Vince Gill, musician Mikky Ekko, and pop singer Sheryl Crow. The happy but tired crew, wowed by the fireworks that exploded in light-soaked glory overhead at the evening’s finale, headed back to the Sheraton Music City for a good night’s rest before the next day’s educational activities began.