Return of the Tomato

East Nashville's Invitation to Party

It may be the most homegrown and organic neighborhood block party ever invented.
     The Tomato Art Fest began as an art show theme in 2004, dreamed up by Meg and Bret MacFayden, owners of Art & Invention Gallery on Woodland Street, as a way to inspire artists and give people a “cool” reason to come outside and enjoy the sticky days of August. The Tomato Art Fest began as an art show theme in 2004, dreamed up by Meg and Bret MacFayden, owners of Art & Invention Gallery on Woodland Street, as a way to inspire artists and give people a “cool” reason to come outside and enjoy the sticky days of August.
     Now in its eighth year,The Tomato Art Fest in historic East Nashville’s Five Points area (which is touted by Budget Travel magazine as “Nashville’s version of New York’s East Village”) continues to be a free — and free-wheeling — costume-friendly, imaginative and colorful event that draws thousands of attendees. Organizers expect more than 20,000 people at this year’s event on Saturday, Aug. 13. Activities begin at 7 a.m. and go on throughout the day, with the last band going on at 8 p.m.
     The reason for its exuberant growth and popularity is clear to Meg. “It has an intimacy that other festivals lack,” she says. “It’s not about just showing up. Everyone, whether they’re organizing a crazy contest or dying their hair with red food coloring, or simply jumping into the parade line on a whim — they’re making it what it is.”
     Here’s the recipe: take the tomato (technically a fruit, but considered a vegetable) and use it for a cheeky symbol of unity.Voila! You have a motto — The Tomato …A Uniter,Not A Divider, Bringing Together Fruits And Vegetables — that encompasses the attitudes and philosophy of Nashville’s most eclectic neighborhood. Now invite all the neighbors to bring their own ingredients and run with it.
     The result is a saucy, kaleidoscopic, family-friendly festival that has received kudos from both local and national press with mentions in Southern Living magazine, Family Circle, and Epicurious to name a few. Locally, it was voted “Best Festival” four years in a row in the Nashville Scene’s readers poll.
     “What Bret and I care and love the most is community,” Meg says. “We love building community, helping people feel a part of the community. That’s what our motto is all about. The Tomato Art Fest brings together community in a way that’s really fun.”
     And for her, simple things are really the best. Take, for example the neighborhood parade that kicks off the day.
     “The parade is so wonderful and goofy,” she says. “It starts out in front of Fanny’s and picks up people along the way, all of them smiling and happy. I love that people think it’s fun to dress up in red clothes. It’s so delightful it almost makes me cry.”

All things tomato and then some!
     Silliness and whimsy are what the Tomato Art Fest is all about, from the art to the activities and contests. For a complete list of the festival’s unique offerings visit www. tomatoartfest.com. Here are a few highlights:
     The Tomato 5K, sponsored by the Margaret Maddox YMCA, kicks things off on Saturday morning with a special Children’s Fun Run at 7 a.m. The 5K begins at 10th and Woodland Street at 7:30 a.m. Participants can register online until June 30 for only $25. From then until August 12 at 11:59 p.m. the cost is $30.Runners are welcome to register in person on race morning for $35.
     A New Orleans-style “second line”parade starts at 9 a.m. Neighbors in all manner of costumes fill the first line marching band as well as the second line dancing behind. Don’t be shy — jump right in and join the fun anywhere along the meandering neighborhood route! Ends at corner of 11th and Woodland near the main stage.
     The Wet Burrito Contest, sponsored by Nuvo Burrito, encourages competitors to eat a burrito while being sprayed by a water hose. Do you have the stamina to be the “fastest face filler” or best of show? Winners will receive “prizes and glory.”
     Bored with dressing up Barbie dolls? Take fashion to another level by adorning and decorating a real tomato for the Beautiful Tomato Contest sponsored by Alegria.
     Into creative costuming for yourself? Enter the kids’ costume contest at Fanny’s House of Music at 1101 Holly Street.
     Got a tomato-based cocktail recipe that deserves recognition? Enter the Bloody Mary Contest sponsored by 3 Crow Bar at 1020 Woodland Street to compete for the crown of Best Bloody Mary.
      Be sure to get in on the Bobbing for Tomatoes Contest, sponsored by Wags and Whiskers at 1008 Forrest Avenue.
     No registration needed for the RedHead Competition, just show up with your tomato red locks. This contest is open to all redheads — men, women, boys, girls, and those whose red hair is just NOT REAL!
     Check out vintage looks at the East Nashville Fashion Show, put on by The Hip Zipper. Pet lovers will like the “faux paw” doggie fashion contest, coordinated by the Lockeland Springs Neighborhood Association.

Vendors offer handmade, handcrafted wares
     While the Tomato Art Fest is free, more than 150 food and creative vendors will be on hand with the best that East Nashville has to offer. So bring a few bucks for crafts, jewelry, art and photography, pottery, Tshirts and more. And plan to eat your way up and down the streets. Local businesses and nonprofits will have informational booths as well.
     “The fest continues to grow each year and with it the number of vendors eager to participate.We generally get double the applications for the number of booths we can accommodate. So the choosing gets harder and harder,” vendor chair Jack Davis says. “We’re thrilled with the expanded crop of vendors this year and think festival-goers will be, too!”

All sorts of kiddy fun
     The festival always has plenty of children’s activities.Never mind potential meltdowns — many of the offerings start early to beat the heat:
     • The Kids' Fun Run begins at Batter'd & Fried Restaurant at 7 a.m.
     • Bongo Java jumpstarts the morning     with more than coffee. Kids can dive into crafty projects starting at 7 a.m.
     • East End Methodist Church at          12th and Holly Streets will have activities for children.
     • Pied Piper Creamery invites children ages 10 and under to make their own tomato- inspired ice cream sundaes using Red Velvet Elvis ice cream and bright green vanilla syrup. The messy fun starts at noon.

We grow music over here
     “The Tomato Art Fest is all about original, homegrown music. So we are particularly keen to showcase local talent from East Nashville and the surrounding Nashville area to align ourselves with the spirit of the festival,”music chair Dana Delworth says.
     Festival planners expect more than two dozen singers, songwriters and bands to entertain throughout the day on two different stages. (A third stage is a strong possibility; details are being worked out).New this year is an acoustic stage sponsored by The Green Wagon located at Forrest and 11th Streets.
     Performers (confirmed so far) include parade leaders Half Brass, Ned Van Go, The Red Caps, Bodhicitta Bellydancers, Totie Meets the Phantom, and Roy Agee’s KISS Tribute brainchild. More artists are being added every day according to Delworth, who promises that the lineup is, once again, “super East Nashville local.”Expect the first performers to begin around 10 a.m., with the last taking the stage around 8 p.m.

Come pitch in
     True to its homegrown spirit, the Tomato Art Fest relies largely on the work of many, many volunteers. Event day will need extra volunteers to help set up and tear down, to pick up trash and to be runners between booths. Interested? Fill out the volunteer form at www.tomatoartfest.com to get started.

Make a donation
     What started out as a modest neighborhood event eight years ago has grown tremendously, even gotten a bit sophisticated with official street closings, Metro Parks assistance and other security measures. While the festival is still hosted by The Art & Invention Gallery and brought to life by a merry band of energetic and dedicated volunteers, there are costs involved when you invite more than 20,000 people to come play with you. Those inclined to help “Team Tomato”make this enduring gathering a success are welcome to make a secure online donation at the festival’s website.    
Party, preview, purchase...
     Want first dibs on the art? Want to be able to SEE it without the crush of thousands of sweaty festival-goers? Then make your way to Five Points on Aug. 12, the Friday night before the festival for the popular Tomato Art Fest Preview Party. A $25 admission gets art lovers in the door at The Art & Invention Gallery to enjoy this year’s crop of tomato art, live music, food and Bloody Marys.

When all the ingredients come together
     Tomatoes take their own sweet time ripening on the vine and unless you need a green one for fried okra, they’re worth the wait. Party details are a lot like that, too. Sometimes they don’t come together until the eleventh hour. (And sometimes a press deadline happens well before they can be confirmed.) So follow the Tomato Art Fest on Twitter and Facebook for the very latest updates and check out the official website at www.tomatoartfest.com for complete information about events, contests and lineups for the music stages.
     Never been to East Nashville or felt compelled to don a papier maché tomato head on a hot August morning? What are you waiting for? You’ll find directions and maps on the website, too, along with plenty of photos from last year’s fest for inspiration.
     For a fun, neighborly, arty good time head to Five Points (the conjunction of Woodland and South 11th Streets) on Saturday, Aug. 13 from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. for the Tomato Art Fest!
     “We’re so grateful that so many people are willing to come play year after year.” Meg says.