It’s been a few weeks since Nashville Pride’s landmark weekend festival—the most successful it’s ever produced—and President Phil Cobucci acknowledges it required a few days rest after.
“I’ve definitely had some time to sleep,” he told me over the phone, with a laugh, “and that’s the important part, I guess.”
The month-long celebration culminates in two full festival days, a first this year, which essentially means eleven months of fundraising finances the twelfth. Everyone involved is entitled to a little while to decompress, especially when attendance at the festival, which met with 10,000 attendees last year, exploded this year.
“We had a total of 35,000 people attend the festival over the two days,” Cobucci said. “There are a lot of tracking mechanisms put in place to get that number. There’s the ticketing system, we count kids and families, sponsor tickets, vendors, the list goes on. It’s a multi-tiered effort.” The Equality Walk, which effectively opened the festival Saturday morning, met with similar success.
“We had 5000 people in attendance which is up from 2000 the year before,” he said. “This year we arranged for members of our trans community to lead the walk. We had about 200 people in attendance for that. It was a pretty momentous occasion with that. It was the desire of the board of Nashville Pride that we focus on celebrating every aspect of our community, every person in our community.”
The reason for such exponential attendance growth should come as little surprise to anyone who’s watched the political landscape over the past six or seven months, between threats from the new POTUS to roll back protections and liberties our communities have earned (most notably) from the previous administration, a new Supreme Court justice with a dubious record of impartiality, and a secretary of education who seems content to condone LGBT discrimination nationally. Not to mention here at home the unfathomable nomination and then withdrawal of Senator Mark Green as Army secretary and the absurd potential that Mae Beavers could become governor. Cobucci cited the recently released CMI Community Marketing survey, the annual poll that asks LGBT citizens their feelings politically and intentions regarding the marketplace, to explain the leap in attendance at Pride this year.
“Out of the survey questions, 63% of the LGBTQ Americans said they already did or will attend their hometown pride in 2017,” he said. “That’s compared to 47% having attended it last year. And they’re saying that it’s more important than ever for fear of rollback, recent LGBT equality gains and also layered with the political changes that are in our current government.”
Cobucci acknowledges two elements of noteworthy growth this year. The Pride festival’s expansion to fill the entire weekend is one; the other is Pride’s increased exposure in the community beyond a single weekend in June.
“The festival moved from a one-day festival with a Friday night concert to a complete two-day festival,” he said. “We cleaned up the way that the festival was marketed in years past so that it was clear that it was five dollars a day to get in with great music both days, and all are welcome. It was pretty interesting and exciting to see that the community was very receptive to that because we had no idea what we were walking into.”
“Pride’s involvement in the community has expanded,” he added, “and we have now a month of full activities leading up to the festival that has a little bit of something for everyone and that’s only gonna get better. I think the board has this passion now that they’ve seen that every single event that we’ve done has met with success and now we just have to build on all those successes. And to make sure that more of the community feels that pride is for them.”
An outdoor event the size of Pride cannot change dates based on the whims of Mother Nature and so it was just days before the festival that members of the volunteer board were crossing fingers and praying that Tropical Storm Cindy would leave us all alone. “We got really nervous on Tuesday and Wednesday and all the sudden on Thursday the weather looked like it would clear up,” he said. “It did storm on Thursday and Friday but the weekend ended up being this perfect weekend so I think there was a lot of fear leading up to the festival, like oh my goodness, what’s gonna happen?”
The festival itself, again the first ever two-day event in Nashville Pride history, went off without a hitch. “There was hardly anything that caused drama or any issues that made the festival not operate so that was really quite wonderful at the end of the day,” he said.
Financing a celebration of this size is another story.
“I can’t give you an exact number,” he said, “but I will just say that it is in the many thousands of dollars to put on the event every year. And I think that people really have no clue as to how expensive it is to put on this festival every year, and how much time and effort it takes. It is a year round process for a small all-volunteer board. That’s an important thing to keep in mind is that everyone on the board is doing this because they are passionate about the LGBTQ movement, they’re passionate about LGBTQ people and they care and we all dedicate thousands of hours every year to ensuring that this festival is a success and its something that is worth celebrating. It’s a meaningful event for a lot of people.”
“And on top of that we have great corporate sponsors and that’s something to celebrate in some respect,” Cobucci said, “that pride would happen but in a much smaller capacity if it weren’t for corporate sponsors. I’m of the belief that we need to be thankful for these corporate sponsors, that they are willing to give us financial support in order to make these things happen, to make these events bigger and more successful year over year.”
“I know there is a debate about corporate sponsors in the pride movement, especially lately, given a lot of the intersectionality of the movement right now, but I think the one thing to remember is that yes these organizations are trying to pay to reach us and that’s great, they’re doing a wonderful job of trying to support our community,” he said. “The beauty of pride is that the event itself is an opportunity for people who cannot be true to themselves in the space they are currently living in, or they are a young person who cannot walk down the main street of the their small town holding the hand of their boyfriend or girlfriend. It is the 45-year-old father of two who is in the middle of transitioning to be their true selves and what happens within that fenced in area, in the park every year, is the ability for those people and our community to live their true identity and have no judgement for being who they are or how they want to express themselves and the fact that we have corporations that are willing to help fund that, I think is a pretty meaningful thing.”
Right now, with Nashville Pride 2018 a full eleven months away, the board is looking to evaluate what traditionally has been a time of reflection on the previous year with an eye toward tweaks for the future, in favor of looking beyond just a single year window.
“Our mission is to educate and celebrate LGBTQ people throughout Middle Tennessee,” he said, “and so the more we can do that aligns with that message is obviously a success for everybody involved. So not only are we doing that kind of recap, which we do every year, but starting in August we’re going to be embarking on a strategic plan process that will look toward the next two years as we look forward and ask, How can Nashville Pride continue to grow, continue to be successful and continue to engage the community in a big and meaningful way? It’s a big process but we’re just starting on that in a couple weeks.”
In the end, after meeting with such success this year, the board has every reason to stay the course, two year window or not.
“Every single event that we had this month stood out to me in some way, shape, or form,” Cobucci added, “and there is really not one that I can specifically say was the most exciting or the most special because they all had unique elements to them that really tied together the beautiful fabric of what Pride is in Nashville and Middle Tennessee and showed us where we need to continue moving forward.”
Photo above: Nashville Pride President Phil Cobucci, second from right, at the Nashville Pride festival with Out & About Today co-hosts Brent Meredith, Chuck Long, and Pam Wheeler.