MusicFest comes to Muletown

Columbia Daily Herald – JAY POWELL

The downtown streets of Columbia came to life with music as the first Muletown MusicFest pushed on despite early forecasts of scattered rain and much-too-cold-for-comfort temperatures.

The weekend’s festivities began with a capacity VIP crowd packed into Puckett’s Upstairs on Friday night. The night featured a high energy two-hour-long concert from Tim Akers &The Smoking Section.

The 16-piece all-star group of Nashville musicians and songwriters brings out the funkier side of some of music’s chart-topping hits of the past and present. It recently went viral with a YouTube video of their take of the Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars hit “Uptown Funk.”

An after party followed Friday night to celebrate the reopening of Lucille’s Restaurant, now 822 South.

“This wouldn’t have happened without the support of a lot of people,” Rick Clark, one of the festival’s key organizers, said. “The board of people that were helping me with this whole thing from the beginning … worked an insane amount of full-time weeks to get this thing going.”

The festival’s sponsors included the Listerhill Credit Union, who gave away a Yamaha acoustic guitar to the lucky winner who put their best skills forward at a game of cornhole, Kiwanis of Columbia, Columbia Noon Rotary, Maury County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Maury Regional Medical Center, and about 100 volunteers.

The rain and cold weather caused some food and other outdoor vendors to pack up early. The inclement weather didn’t stop community members and those who traveled to hear music from trickling into the downtown square, however, and to celebrate the talent and artistry Maury County had to offer.

Christy Castro, owner and head chef of Christy’s 6th Street Restaurant, said she couldn’t be more excited to be included as one of the food vendors set up along the courthouse square. She also saw the benefit that festivals have on local businesses like hers.

“We are so very excited for this new opportunity,” she said. “Festivals are kind of how we got started years ago. I worked a full-time job, but I always worked festivals and have been involved 17 years or so. People came and asked us to cook for them. Then we became a catering company, and then the company decided to open a restaurant.”

Acts originally scheduled to perform on the courthouse were moved into other venues due to rain. To Whitthorne Middle School Jazz Band co-director Cord Martin, moving his students in the Maury Youth Jazz Band into Puckett’s was something he has wanted to do for years.

“We were supposed to be on the courthouse steps, but I think this worked out for us actually,” Martin said. “I’ve always wanted to bring some students, even myself really, here to play on this wonderful stage in downtown Columbia and to give them the opportunity, at that age, to play. It’s one thing to play in school, but to be able to present this to the community is what it’s all about.”

The youth jazz band consisted of alumni from each year of the Whitthorne Jazz Band, which Martin and co-director Brian Webster founded five years ago.

United Way of Maury County was the beneficiary of the festival. The nonprofit oversees funding distribution to about 20 501(c)3 organizations throughout the county and has an annual goal of raising $350,000.

“United Way is such an important part of Maury County. It’s one of the best ways people have to give money to the 20 or so agencies that we partner with,” United Way board member Jan Brown said. “We’re excited about this and it’s fun, I just wish the weather was better.”

Clark described United Way Director Laura Truelove as being “truly instrumental in finding all of the volunteers to help set up and run this festival.”

Rains might have kept some would-be attendees indoors, but the festival’s daytime events still drew hundreds into the local businesses, with new music starting every hour and new things to discover around every corner.

The afternoon picked up when local TV celebrity Sarina-Joi Crowe performed her set at Wall Candy. Crowe said she appreciated being included in the festival, not just because she’s worked so many years building a career as a singer, but because she still wants to be considered a hometown girl.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, born and raised, and I just kind of realized last night at the Tim Akers concert what I represented for Columbia, and it just means a lot to be considered,” Crowe said. “It makes me feel very important, and there’s not very many times during the day that I feel important. I’m just honored to be part of the first one and people are still interested enough to come out and see me.”

Crowe will perform at Venue Tenn Oct. 16 and said she hopes to perform every first and third Wednesday each month at Legends Restaurant.

Muletown MusicFest events continue Sunday with a downtown social at 2 p.m., which includes performances from several community church groups.

Photo by Mike Christen