When people questioned me about the cost, I let them know that in most cases, these sort of food festivals are more about attracting culinary tourists rather than just providing a bargain way for locals to eat food from restaurants that they can visit any time. I had difficulty expressing this without making it seem like the local crowd was not important to the festival; instead the focus is about spreading the word about Nashville cuisine to a broad audience. This is why the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. was a very visible sponsor of the event. There are a lot of conventions that they hep to attract to town, but not many where they actually invest skin in the game.
In the end, attendance was much higher than many folks (including me) expected, and all the travel packages sold out very quickly, indicating that the foodie tourists bought into the pricing structure. That's also why some restaurants ran out of food early on both days of Flavors of Nashville. While I do sincerely hope that Music City Eats returns next year, I also hope that they do at least consider some sort of more a la carte pricing structure that might be more attractive to locals who want to experience part, but not necessarily all of the event.
That being said, I've attended three similar food and/or music festivals since Music City Eats, and I thought I'd share some of the details with Bites readers so that you can make an informed comparison. While no festival is perfect, I do think that MCE did a great job for a first year festival.
The first event that I attended was last month's Euphoria in Greenville, S.C. Thanks to a direct Southwest flight, this small South Carolina city near Spartanburg has become pretty easy for Nashvillians to visit, and the food scene there is booming. Euphoria is similar to MCE in that it features both music and food, thanks to the fact that singer-songwriter Edwin McCain, a Greenville native, was one of the founders of the festival. Local chefs are showcased in large tasting events, and guest chefs cook at cooperative dinners and at food demos during the weekend. Sound familiar?
Nashville was represented by the presence of Whisper Creek and Belle Meade Bourbon in the wine and spirits pavilion at the Saturday tasting. The main musical acts at Friday night's "Taste of the South" event were from Nashville, thanks to local songwriter Tim Nichols who invited Josh Leo, Adam Craig Band and headliner Kim Carnes to perform at a beautiful downtown amphitheater venue on the river. (Hey, we're getting one of those too!)
So you can see how similar Euphoria was to MCE, but perhaps on a slightly less prestigious scale in terms of guest chefs. But what did it cost to attend, you might ask? There were three pricing levels, plus a la carte options. Individual wine and food seminars and cooking demos were about $35 to attend, and the guest chef dinners ran $100-150 depending on the scale of the meal and the celebrity status of the chefs. The Tasting Showcase was $75 for a day pass. The package tickets ran from $165 for a whole hog dinner, food truck event and a jazz brunch, to $275 for those same events plus the big tasting/music evening. The full VIP experience was $795, but it also included free transportation to and from anywhere in town in a fleet of loaner Land Rovers.
I felt like the costs were fairly comparable to MCE, but without quite the same star power in the musical and chef celebrities. Euphoria was a great festival, and the locals seem to support it wholeheartedly. For an out-of-towner interested in the culinary scene in Greenville, it's definitely worth checking out.
I especially liked the fact that there were separate areas dedicated to Cheese and to Hops and Barley. Wherever the country of Cheesetopia is, I want to visit! I was also amused by the fact that the sign in front of the U.S. Pavilion advertised American cuisines as "Turkey Legs and Popcorn." For entertainment, they provide free musical acts from slightly over-the-hill pop acts. The night I visited, The Pointer Sisters were performing three hourlong sets. I couldn't help but think that they had regressed from headlining at Studio 54 to the free Epcot gig, and were no longer "so excited."
There was also entertainment in the form of a Jersey Girls tribute band and a few other Top 40 acts, but the main attraction was certainly the food, which was plentiful and tasty. If you were already looking to take a trip to Disney during the fall, this was a good reason to choose this particular weekend and this particular resort to visit, but I don't know that I'd make special plans otherwise.
Compared to the first year of Music City Eats, none of these events seems vastly less expensive than our event, particularly when you factor in the entertainment. I'd be curious to hear what the out-of-town visitors who came to MCE thought of their experience, but I would certainly rank it right up there with any of the best festivals I've attended in Charleston or Atlanta. I understand that $275-$500 is a bunch to spend, but for culinary tourism that seems right in line with similar events.
What say you, Bitesters?