Muletown MusicFest brought record days for downtown businesses

Columbia Daily Herald –  JAY POWELL

The economic impact of Columbia’s first music festival saw record sales days for downtown businesses, and an opportunity for some residents to visit places they might have passed by for years.

Muletown MusicFest organizer and Columbia resident Rick Clark reported the final tallies during last week’s meeting of the Columbia City Council. Despite inclement weather and cold temperatures, the festival met its fundraising goal for United Way of Maury County. Extra funds raised benefited Arts in Action and Kiwanis of Columbia, Clark said.

“We really appreciate [council’s] support of this event,” he said.

“As we know with past undertakings with the city, these things are not easy to do, but we managed to have a real successful event. The goal was to create an event that would bring lots of business to the downtown area, and to celebrate the city and the county. We succeeded in basically packing people in everyone of those businesses.”

Some reported record numbers, including an 18 percent sales increase at Puckett’s Restaurant compared to the last four Saturdays. Muletown Coffee also reported record sales, Old Curiosity Book Shop doubled its Saturday sales, Venue Tenn was up 25 percent in sales and Southern Exposure 35 percent, Clark said.

822 South, which reopened during the festival, reported better sales than it ever saw when it operated as Lucille’s Restaurant, he added.

“All of these places were totally packed and we’re so thrilled to see that, and to have such wonderful music, support and enthusiasm from people,” Clark said. “One of the things we heard repeatedly were remarks that people were sort of seeing the city in a totally different way, which was an incredibly positive thing.”

Joel Friddel, another of the festival’s organizers, agreed with Clark, saying one of the more interesting things he noticed were the reactions from locals and natives who came back to reconnect with their roots.

“We had people visit the city who were actually from Columbia and heard about this,” Friddel said. “They came back because this was an opportunity for a music festival they wanted to see. We talked to a couple of these individuals out on the street and they were really pleased to see the life on the square and all of the downtown changes.”

The festival also drew visitors from East and West Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Illinois. It was a collective effort of about a dozen organizers, downtown business owners, community sponsors, city leaders and about 100 volunteers.

Mayor Dean Dickey commented on the organizers’ decision to choose United Way as the main benefactor.

“I believe when you made your decision to support United Way of Maury County, that was a good decision, and probably drew some people to support it. We just thank you for what you did and look forward to next year,” Dickey said. “My only suggestion is you need to put somebody in charge of the weather.”

Councilwoman Debbie Matthews said in her experience of working at fundraising events, the organization and professionalism of Muletown MusicFest organizers exceeded many of the industry’s bigger and longer-running music festivals.

“My husband and I work in the music business, so we have things almost every week where we’re playing a show to raise money for someone, and we’ve done a lot of these festivals,” Matthews said. “To have the swag bags, to having people check on me for the sound that I needed, etc., was so above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen for a first-year festival, or sometimes a 10-year festival.”

Another economic component was the impact Muletown MusicFest had on the city’s growing tourism industry, which is one of the top priorities of city leaders. With the recent 5 percent increase of the city’s hotel/motel tax, Clark said tourism and the ripple effect it would have on local businesses was one thing organizers considered.

“One of the goals that a lot of us discussed is the idea of creating a dynamic that puts more people in hotel rooms,” Clark said.

“We had people from all over the eastern part of the country who were from south of Chicago down to the Florida Keys, Atlanta and Birmingham coming to this event who bought tickets. All of these people came in here, which translates into money into the community and a more robust tourism dynamic. It’ll be even better next year.”

Photo by Clark Quinn