CMA Fest Expands Its Charitable Reach to Help Feed Nashvillians in Need

Malcolm MacGregor/Getty Images
Nashville, Tenn.

The Country Music Association has donated proceeds from its annual CMA Music Festival to music education programs for more than a decade.

Now it's using the event to feed Nashvillians in need.

Musically Fed, a Phoenix-based non-profit, swooped in with little more than a week's notice to gather up leftovers from backstage catering tables at 10 different stages during the festival June 6-9. Some 800 high-quality prepared meals were delivered to a variety of shelters -- including the Nashville Rescue Mission, Room at the Inn and Nashville Launch Pad -- that aid homeless residents who might otherwise go hungry or be forced to steal food to simply get by.

Concert productions are necessarily awash in catering. With artists using a backstage area as a makeshift living space for a day, promoters -- in this case, the CMA -- typically provide food to the artists and their entourages, and usually there's a fair amount that goes unused once the artist packs up and moves on to the next city.

"I've seen the waste," says Musically Fed founder Maria Brunner, a music industry veteran who works in event marketing through her primary firm, Insight Management.

Recognizing that volumes of edible -- often delicious -- food is scrapped after events, she developed Musically Fed as a conduit that makes it easy for abundant backstages to provide assistance to needy non-profits.

"All you have to do," she says, "is get permission."

When Warner Music Nashville presented a showcase June 8 at Ascend Amphitheater, Brunner organized the delivery of leftover roast beef, potatoes au gratin, vegetables and desserts to six Nashville charities. And that was just one of the post-show food rescues Musically Fed conducted during the festival.

WMN was key to this year's effort. WMN vp radio & streaming Chad Schultz, one of Brunner's former employees, discovered in a May phone call that Brunner had established Musically Fed, and he made CMA chief marketing officer Damon Whiteside aware of the program.

"So I get an email from Damon saying, ‘We're in,'" Brunner recalls. "I said, ‘Great. When you get through this CMA Fest, let's plan for 2020.' He goes, ‘No, I mean next week.'"

Brunner assembled a makeshift team -- including Berg Entertainment owner Suzanne Berg and Grand Victor Sound (formerly RCA Studio A) vp studio operations Sharon Corbitt-House -- to connect the festival, its backstage crews and six different local charities. Musically Fed transported the food, as it's begun doing in several cities and for a variety of tours.

Brunner got the idea after a conversation with a Phoenix friend about homeless veterans.

"Three weeks later, U2 was rolling into town, and I knew they were coming in to do rehearsal," Brunner recounts. "I just decided, ‘I know how much food they throw away; maybe we could not throw that away.' That's pretty much how it started."

Working with Live Nation Southwest president Terry Burke, Arizona Catering president/CEO Mitchell Katz and the Talking Stick Arena, they fed 108 people with the leftovers from that first rehearsal, and Bono was impressed enough to ask that they repeat the feat for a second rehearsal and the actual concert. In total, they distributed 300 meals.

The idea grew from there. The Musically Fed program is active in Phoenix, Dallas and Charleston, S.C., according to Brunner, and it's been employed for four Zac Brown Band tours, plus shows and/or tours by Kenny Chesney, Fleetwood Mac, Muse and Shawn Mendes.

The CMA Fest campaign had its first-year hiccups. One crew had a light turnout for lunch, meaning an unexpected windfall of food for the shelters. In another instance, rain delayed a show and with nothing else to do, the crew gobbled the entire spread. In yet another case, a miscommunication halted a pickup at the Loveless Cafe, but the restaurant subsequently asked Musically Fed to begin picking up food from a monthly songwriters event.

In one of their final runs, they loaded three pickup truck beds with food from the Riverfront Park stage for an appreciative crew at the Nashville Rescue Mission, who asked them to stay for ice cream.

The 2020 CMA Fest -- the one Brunner thought would be the first for Musically Fed -- is still a year away, but she hopes last week's trial run is a harbinger of things to come.

"Together," she told WMN employees in a follow-up email, "we fed hundreds of people, made new friends, and formed an amazing team."

Festivals 2019


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