UPPER CUMBERLAND – Improving destination awareness, increasing civic pride and solidifying community spirit. Music-focused festivals and events are vital to Upper Cumberland tourism.
“Festivals attract new visitors, acting as an indirect form of marketing for the region as a whole, while offering an opportunity to reach previously untapped markets,” said Ruth Dyal, executive director of the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association. “These new tourists bring with them new money, further diversifying the market and subsequently increasing both real and potential revenue generation.”
Perhaps the most convincing evidence of music’s economic impact on a rural economy was documented in a study of Bonnaroo released last year by Knoxville-based AC Entertainment, which co-produces the festival held each June in Coffee County, a southern border county to the UC.
According to the study, the festival has had a $51 million impact, with $36 million in direct expenditures through its 80,000 attendees and an additional $15 million in indirect and induced economic activity, including increased sales, income and jobs. Bonnaroo was responsible for $2.9 million in taxes that benefited the state in 2012 alone.
Coffee County receives $3 per each ticket sold, totaling about $275,000 annually, plus about $600,000 in sales tax because of the festival. The study found that festivalgoers spend on average $86 per day during Bonnaroo with $28 of that spent outside Coffee County and $35 outside festival grounds but within Coffee County, with gasoline and groceries representing the two largest spending categories.
But there’s never been a specific study commissioned to gauge the impact of regional events, like the Smithville Fiddler’s Jamboree and Crafts Festival. Considered the Upper Cumberland’s premier music event since 1971, the Jamboree is held annually on the Friday and Saturday nearest July 4.
“Since the beginning of the Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree & Crafts Festival, there is no easy way to measure the huge economic impact and amount of tourism growth for DeKalb County and the Upper Cumberland region,” said Suzanne Williams, executive director of the Smithville-DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce. “We do know that without the Jamboree, the story of Smithville would be very different today.”
For the past 16 years, the Jamboree has been selected as a Top 20 Tourist Favorite by the Southern Tourism Society. It is listed by the American Business Associates as one of the top 100 tourist events in North America.
In 1992, the Jamboree was rated fourth-best in the United States for a summer vacation destination by Vacation Magazine, which described the Jamboree as a family event that’s “among the top-rated bluegrass, folk and Appalachian music competitions in the nation drawing 140,000 visitors over two days as far as Australia.”
“The Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree and Crafts Festival is forever grateful for every family, tourist, musician and crafter that visits us year after year,” said Jamboree President Jack Barton. “The Jamboree has always been my family’s favorite time of the year, and we are glad that thousands of others agree.”
Bluegrass music has also drawn thousands of campers and visitors to the Defeated Creek Bluegrass Festival over the years, according to Smith County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bill Woodard.
“Music is also an integral part of William Walton Days, Hometown Christmas and other festivals that take place in Smith County,” Woodard said. “Gospel music is a longtime staple here.”
In Byrdstown, the annual Sierra Hull Bluegrass Festival has been staged on the second Saturday of each October for the past 11 years. The event has grown to include a 5K walk/run with proceeds going to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, a cruise-in to raise funds for the “Homes for Our Troops” organization and a full lineup of musical artists culminating with a performance by Pickett County native Sierra Hull, a musical prodigy who has gained international acclaim.
In acknowledgement of music’s importance, Overton County adopted its tourism slogan as “Home of Americana Music,” due in part to the duo of Jammin’ at Hippie Jack’s events held annually over Memorial Day weekend and the last full weekend in September. These celebrations of Americana feature bluegrass, blues and folk music on the rural Overton County farm of Jack “Hippie Jack” Stoddart. In addition to attracting a large crowd to the live event, more than 144 million viewers in 30 states can experience the performances through the public television series, Jammin’ at Hippie Jack’s.
The Council of Americana Roots Music is partnering with local officials in Livingston to present a concert series in Livingston’s downtown square the second Friday of June, July and August. Sierra Hull and the Highway 111 Band performs June 13. The Steel Drivers play July 11, and Scott Miller and Band performs Aug. 8.
Relatively new to the UC’s festival slate is the Muddy Roots Music Festival set for Aug. 29-31 at the June Bug Boogie Ranch between Cookeville and Hilham. It features three days of music, camping, vintage cars, vendors and pinups. The lineup includes more than three dozen bands that illustrate “the dramatic sonic and geographical diversity that goes into creating what we know now as the underground country roots, or ‘Muddy Roots,’ world,” according to event organizer Jason Galaz.
“It focuses on niche-based bands which draws fans all around the world as opposed to one local spot,” Galaz said. “More people travel (out of) Europe to attend than local Cookeville residents. They stay at hotels, shop at stores, purchase fuel for their rental cars and dine in town. We hire local companies to vend and work the event. I believe the Muddy Roots Music Festival benefits the local community by adding revenue as well as leaving a small footprint.”
Sparta’s annual event, Lester Flatt Day, celebrates hometown legend, Lester Flatt, featuring some of bluegrass music’s biggest stars, food, craft and vendor booths, a classic car show and fireworks display. This year’s Liberty Square – A Lester Flatt Celebration is set for Oct. 11.
Clay County Chamber Director Ray Norris pointed out that live music is a prominent feature during annual festivals like Homecoming Days, Moonshine Daze, the Chili Cook-off and Fall Fest.
“Many ‘snowbirds’ travel with music in mind and vacation following the festival circuit as they make their way down and back up the southeastern states,” he said. “Marinas often feature live music like Mitchell Creek Marina’s Memorial Day and Labor Day Rock the Dock events featuring local talent.”
“Musical events and festivals have drawing and holding power,” Dyal said. “There’s an economic impact by those (who) come specifically for the event and also those that didn’t but stayed longer because of it.”