First Willie, then the world — or at least the southeastern United States.
Somerset’s own Master Musicians Festival took home a prestigious prize Tuesday night in Florida, being named the smaller-size “Event or Festival of the Year” for this part of the country.
The honor came courtesy of the Southeast Tourism Society’s Shining Example Awards. MMF beat out festivals from an area including 14 different U.S. states to take home the top prize for events hosting under 100,000 people. (There is another category for events with more than that number in attendance.)
“It felt so good seeing the board members’ faces (when they heard the news), with all the hard work they’ve done, all the hard work we’ve done together,” said Tiffany Bourne, MMF president. “We took a big chance this year and it paid off.”
That risk was in spending a substantial chunk of the budget — albeit one for which MMF had prepared for and saved over the last few years — to bring in country music icon WIllie Nelson this past summer. The festival was celebrating its 20th anniversary and wanted to make a splash with the kind of big-name act rarely seen in this part of Kentucky.
Clearly, it got the attention of the right people.
“Willie Nelson brought a new light to the festival,” said Bourne. “It helped bring the community to love (MMF) even more. You could feel the proudness from the community, and it hasn’t worn off yet.”
It was that sense of community ownership that Bourne said really sealed the deal for the non-profit MMF — made up of all unpaid board members — to win.
“When I accepted the award and told them more about our organization and how we’re all volunteers, people from all walks of life getting together to do something cool for the community,” said Bourne, “(awards personnel) came up to me afterwards and told me, ‘That’s the reason we chose you guys.’ We’re doing it right.
“It’s all about working together,” she added. “The community has been a huge part of that. The last few years, the community has really latched on and made it their festival.”
And for good reason: Bourne noted that MMF annually brings in about $800,000 to $1 million in total economic impact for the area over the two-span that the festival takes place, particularly with all the visitors it draws to Somerset and Pulaski County.
The awards ceremony was held in Jacksonville, Florida. Bourne traveled there with Carolyn Mounce, executive-director of the Somerset-Pulaski County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"This just proves what an powerful event MMF is for our area,” said Mounce. “I was honored to go to Jacksonville with Tiffany to accept the award on behalf of her board."
MMF board members for 2013 include Bourne, Jessica Crockett, Matt Washam, Jeremy Reynolds, Willie Wilson, Kara Hawk, Marcie Cheshire, Megan Fries, Jay Tuttle, Tommy Cate, Kevin Jeffers and Denny Fries. New members to the board include Dave Weddle, Jonathan Muse, Meredith King and Kerry Brock.
The Southeast Tourism Society picks 20 festivals and events every month. To be considered for the best of the year award, an event has to have been in that number at some point. MMF was nominated for that distinction in July, and end up beating out festivals dealing with music, food, crafts and more from places like the New Orleans area, the Atlanta area, Florida, and many other locales.
Bourne said she was notified about a month ago of MMF’s win but had to keep it a secret — only she, the MMF board members, and Mounce knew.
Bourne and Mounce went straight from Jacksonville to Louisville, where the Kentucky Travel Industry Association’s awards will be given out this weekend. MMF could garner even more honors there — but Bourne is pleased with the recognition on a national level Somerset’s own music festival has already received.
“If you think about it, (MMF won over) every tourism board out of every county out of every state nominated in that event, and we got chosen as Festival of the Year,” she said. “It’s just something awesome for us, just a validation for our board.”