Brittany Carlberg’s position as Festival Director for the Nashville-based Good Neighbor Festivals is a big job. For Tomato Art Fest alone, she has to coordinate vendors, planning, programming, music stages, and more, for an event that regularly draws in the neighborhood of 60,000 people. Add in the numerous other events throughout the year and the job sounds overwhelming, but Carlberg not only gets the job done, she loves it.
A native of Southern Illinois, Carlberg arrived in Nashville in the summer of 2013 to finish her senior year at Tennessee State University. “I knew I wanted to be in Nashville and I knew I wanted to do something with music,” Carlberg says. “Nashville was kind of close to home but far enough away. I had internships at a booking agency and a marketing PR firm, but I realized they weren’t for me.”
While general PR work held little appeal, working on campaigns for various music festivals piqued her interest in festival management. “I was working as a server at the Mad Platter at the time and my boss, Marcia Jervis, suggested I talk to Jack Davis [founder of Good Neighbor Festivals] about how to get started in the music festival world. We met for coffee and two weeks later he offered me a job — three weeks before the 2014 Tomato Art Festival.
It was definitely a case of jumping into the deep end, but Carlberg loved the experience, found her calling, and quickly rose to her current position. An outstanding achievement, especially when you consider Good Neighbor’s hallmark style of tailoring events to the local community excludes a simple “one size fits all” approach.
“Every neighborhood has its own personality, and we try to highlight that personality and build on what makes that neighborhood unique,” Carlberg says. “What I love most about what I do is, getting to know local Nashville — people, businesses, and more.”
“The day after an event I wake up, start my coffee, and I’ll do a social media scroll to see everyone who has tagged the event in their posts. Seeing the joy on people’s faces gives me an appreciation for all the hard work we put into making it come together. It makes the long hours and hot temperatures totally worth it”—Brittany Carlberg
A local focus remains paramount whether Carlberg is working on neighborhood-based festivals like the Tomato Art Fest, Light the Nations, and Sevier Park Fest, or city-wide events built around non-geographical communities like the American Artisan Festival, Middle Tennessee Highland Games, and Nashville Pride. While Carlberg brings the same level of care and devotion to every event, she freely admits she has favorites.
“Tomato Art Fest is a favorite because it was my introduction to festival management, and the community really shines through,” she says. “It’s really amazing to see people champion something that is so unique and different. For me, that East Nashville sense of ‘come as you are, we accept you,’ really shines through.”
“And then Nashville Pride gets me every year,” she continues. “For some people, it’s the only day they get to feel truly themselves in a safe space with nobody judging them. Usually, it will hit me about mid-day. I’ll get the chance to step back from my event management brain and just take it all in. Just seeing the joy and feeling the energy of the crowd. It’s very emotional and having any part in inspiring that joy in others is powerful. It makes my soul happy.”
It’s a happiness that was in short supply last year for Carlberg and the Good Neighbor team when the pandemic gutted their usual schedule. “We need to have the ability to pivot, be flexible, and think outside the box in our industry,” Carlberg says. “That’s in a normal year, but it was amplified by a thousand last year. There was a lot of planning, then re-planning, and then planning it again to ultimately decide we couldn’t do an event safely.”
Despite those challenges, Good Neighbor persisted and crafted pandemic-safe events like the first Drag Drive-In show, virtual events for Nashville Pride, and an ultra-simplified “Tomato Art Fest…ish.” With the arrival of vaccines and studies indicating low transmission for outdoor events, Carlberg is cautiously optimistic about the future.
“We’re grateful that the vaccines are allowing us to pick back up and bring people a sense of community and joy after a year that was separating for us,” Carlberg says. “Obviously, do whatever you’re the most comfortable with, but we’re excited to see you whenever you feel comfortable to join in.”
Join Brittany and the rest of the Good Neighbor Festivals gang at the 2021 Tomato Art Fest Aug. 13-14, and make sure to grab our July/August print edition, which has the official festival map & event guide.