Nashville Pride's 'Man With the Plan'

Events like Nashville Pride are huge undertakings, and when such events are planned and implemented by volunteers this multiplies the potential for difficulties almost infinitely. And as board membership and leadership changes, there is the risk of the loss of institutional memory (“how did we do this three years ago?”). So the success of these events depends on impeccable planning, and for the last few years Jack Davis has been the “man with the plan.”

While many people are familiar with Davis’ involvement with Nashville Pride, his business has grown tremendously in recent years. He now manages between 20-25 large festivals, including the Sevier Park Festival, Tomato Art Fest, and Music City Winterfest. That’s up from six to eight per year three years ago.

Before Davis had built up his event management business, he worked on Nashville Pride as a volunteer. “Essentially,” Davis said, “I was invited to attend a meeting about seven years ago, because they were looking for some new volunteers interested in helping Nashville Pride grow. I had background in handling big events, from my work at Vanderbilt and managing a large arena.”

These skills made Davis a natural fit for Pride, and during his time volunteering with Pride made him indispensable. Literally. “Along the way, my own personal company grew. As I was leaving the board after four years of service,” Davis said, "including serving as President, the board asked me to come back in a hired capacity to keep the festival running smoothly.”

Davis and his company manage many aspects of Pride, making them look far easier than they are in reality. For instance, Davis said, “Part of our contract is to manage the process of securing entertainment, which is significantly more difficult that people might imagine! We typically go through 80-100 offers to get it down to our top few acts. As our festival has grown, so too has interest on the part of acts and by agents, but it all depends on schedule, timing, and of course money.”

While Davis oversees the process of securing entertainers, he doesn’t just pick them. “I will say that our board meetings at Pride are always open,” he explained, “and a lot of the acts we seek out are drawn from people's suggestions at meetings, or through messages, emails, and Facebook. We do track all of that and pay attention to it. We also pay attention to diversity and try to hit as many demographics as possible Unlike a typical festival that has a more select audience, we are trying to get something for everyone!”

As Pride President Joey Leslie pointed out, growth has been a major issue over recent years—a good issue for a festival to have, but it brings challenges. “The first year that I was involved with Nashville Pride, 2009, was the first year that the festival was moved downtown, and since that time it has almost doubled in size in terms of sponsors, in revenue, and vendors. We've seen ginormous growth in attendance alone.”

“The biggest change I've seen,” Davis said, “is that Nashville Pride has grown to be a major regional event that people travel for. It always was friendly and welcoming, but we're seeing an increase in attendees from greater distances and in the number of allies and people interested in celebrating diversity who come.”

Davis is confident Nashville Pride 2016 will be one for the books. “I will say that this year’s festival will by far shatter every Nashville Pride record that stands. We had 114 vendors last year: this year we have 211, with 64 on a waiting list! We will look at expanding the festival’s footprint significantly in 2017 based on interest this year. We're seeing a lot of national interest, with outlets like The Advocate and travel blogs like Orbitz planning coverage!”

Davis said the meteoric rise in interest in Nashville Pride has definitely coincided with the rise of Nashville’s own star. “It does coincide with Nashville's explosion,” he said, “and there's a lot of corporate interest in Nashville right now—that’s helped us nearly double our sponsorship income!”

And all of this interest and growth will, no doubt, translate into one of the best Nashville Pride celebrations in recent memory!





Photo courtesy of Jose Cuervo

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