Jack Davis and Good Neighbor Festivals Continue Celebrating Community With TAF…ish

At the beginning of 2020, Jack Davis and his team at Good Neighbor Festivals prepared for another busy year of managing community festivals and events with their trademark efficiency and innovation. With years of experience managing a full schedule of popular events — Sevier Park Fest, Nashville Pride, Light the Nations, Tomato Art Fest, and more — they seemed ready for any challenge. Until a once in a century pandemic began to spread around the globe.

“The first realization that [COVID-19] was going to have a dramatic impact was around the first week of March,” Davis says. “We were watching the East Coast start to shut down and started looking at our calendar. At that time, we were hoping it would only be a couple of months, but clearly, that changed pretty significantly.”

As the number of new infections began rising and cities and states imposed restrictions on crowd size, Davis and his team were forced to confront a new reality. With the arrival of Spring, festival and event season was just around the corner, starting with Sevier Park Fest on the first weekend of May. On March 20, with only six weeks to go, the festival was canceled.

“We made that decision fairly quickly, not knowing what the rest of the year was going to look like,” Davis says. “We started looking at alternative plans for each of the events rather than making a blanket cancellation across the board. We are lucky to be a part of community events in Nashville, and we did not feel like pulling out of all of them at the same time was the best idea when we can be pretty damn creative if we have to be.”

Jack Davis, photographed by Travis Commeau

Recognizing that different events called for different strategies and logistics, Davis continued the one-size-does-not-fit-all approach. “Some events have traditionally always been at a particular time,” Davis says. “Like the American Artisan Festival; it has always been Father’s Day weekend and relies on people traveling from all over the country. We canceled that event because we didn’t see people traveling significantly for the remainder of the year.”

For other events, Davis looked at the possibility of rescheduling to later in the year, perhaps in an altered form. That was the case for one of Good Neighbor’s largest events, Nashville Pride. Because the annual celebration of LGBTQ+ culture and civil rights is usually held in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots which launched the Gay Pride Movement, Davis felt it was important to celebrate the occasion in some form. That led to the creation of several online-only events, including Pride in Local Music, a Livestream event celebrating LGBTQ+ musicians in Nashville as well as Austin, Texas.

“We worked with several organizations to produce three or four weekly series online, and we also moved a number of our traditional marketplace vendors who are part of Nashville Pride each year to an online store,” Davis says. “We were pretty happy with the results.”

One example of Good Neighbor Festivals’ creative and socially distant approach to live events was the first Drag Drive-In at Studio 615 on June 19 and 20. By putting a unique twist on the classic drive-in experience, the show featured live performances by several popular drag performers. Attendees enjoyed the show from their vehicles with the audio broadcast through their car’s FM radio. Davis says Good Neighbor has plans for more drive-in events later in the year.

“This year’s Tomato Art Fest is a hybrid of online pieces with a few small in-person gatherings that we hope we can still have, but we’re monitoring the situation to adapt to the facts [of the pandemic].”

Of course, Good Neighbor’s biggest event of the year, at least in terms of attendance, is the Tomato Art Fest. More than just an event, it’s become a symbol of East Nashville pride, spirit, and unity. Although the standard-issue Tomato Art Fest was off the table, Davis and his team crafted an alternative, which emphasizes the core values of the festival while promoting safety during a pandemic.

“This year’s Tomato Art Fest is a hybrid of online pieces with a few small in-person gatherings that we hope we can still have, but we’re monitoring the situation to adapt to the facts [of the pandemic].”

With the festival’s origin in a Tomato-themed art show, Davis knew continuing that portion was vital. “There are two pieces to this year’s art show. The gallery show that is open to the public will remain much the same,” he says. “It will be back in the former Art & Invention building, which is now remodeled. It will work like any retail establishment that is currently open — masks will be required, the number of people in the show will be limited, and all of the surfaces and restrooms will be cleaned on a regular basis.

“We have almost 100 local and regional artists signed up, so we’ll have upwards of 300 different pieces of art this year. If you don’t feel comfortable coming into the gallery you can view all the art and purchase it online. There will be a ticketed preview event on Thursday, August 6, with extremely limited capacity, and tickets for the event will come with an access code for early access to the online gallery.”

The annual Bloody Mary Garden Party is also on the schedule with social distancing measures and a significantly reduced number of tickets. While the multiple music stages of past Tomato Art Fests will be missed, Davis is currently planning a Tomato Art Fest concert in East Park with tickets for distinct, sectioned-off areas to ensure social distancing. “We have artists ready and willing to participate, but we will probably not finalize that event until the last week of July,” Davis says.

Davis also devised a plan for the Tomato Push, Pull, & Wear Parade, the centerpiece event of each year’s festival, to continue by turning the concept of a parade inside out. “We couldn’t let go of the celebratory spirit of Tomato Art Fest, and we felt like the parade was the easiest piece to maintain the tradition,” he says.

Houses and businesses on the parade route can register online to become tomato-themed stationary floats. Their owners will be encouraged to dress in the usual wacky and wonderful costumes that have become a hallmark of the annual parade, with prizes awarded to the best-decorated houses. Maps will be available online, and the decorations will be maintained throughout the first week of August, allowing spectators to “parade” the route at their own socially distanced pace.

While science requires individuals to maintain their physical distance amid a pandemic, our need for social interaction and unity in the time of crisis means that our sense of community is more important than ever. No matter what happens next, Davis and his team plan to continue crafting events — live or virtual — centering around fun and community pride. After all, it’s what a good neighbor does.

“Everything this year has an asterisk next to it that means ‘subject to change,’” Davis says. “So we’re taking it week by week and month by month, just like everyone else.”

For more info on Tomato Art Fest, follow their Instagram at @tomatoartfest or go to tomatoartfest.com.

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