Behind the scenes of the Madison Street Festival
A lot of hard work goes into pulling off the successful event each year
The Madison Street Festival is planned for Oct. 7 in downtown Madison
MADISON – If you have lived in Madison or North Alabama for any amount of time you probably know the Madison Street Festival quite well, but do you know the people behind the festival?
The festival has made a name for itself as a premier fall event in the South, and a committee of dozens of hard-working volunteers has made that possible for over forty years.
Crystal McBrayer, the president of the Madison Street Festival, heads a committee of forty-three volunteers that work year-round to put the festival together and execute its charitable mission.
“We start meeting at the beginning of the year, and we work twelve months out of the year on different aspects of the organization,” McBrayer says. “So, when we take a little break around the holiday time, we come back at the beginning of the year and we focus on distributing the grants that we were able to award from the last festival. So then, that works and from that point on it’s the behind-the-scenes kind of thing, making sure our registration procedures and policies are in place.”
As McBrayer described, planning for the next year begins almost as soon as the festival ends. The army of volunteers hit the ground running in January with plans for that year’s festival. The first months of the year are filled with acquiring sponsorships and setting up vendor registration. The last two months before the festival are dedicated to mapping out the more than ten different sections and the vendor line-up and working out the logistics of transportation and supplies ahead of time.
Things start picking up even more the week of the festival as volunteers sometimes pull off thirteen or fourteen hour days to coordinate the process and traffic of set-up and loading of supplies in downtown. A generous, local sponsor cares for the hard-working volunteers and vendors the week of by supplying food, and the Madison City Public Works and Police Departments pitch in, as well, to support traffic and logistics for a smooth and safe festival day for volunteers, vendors, and attendees alike.
All in all, the festival requires the generosity, enthusiasm, and time of so many people, or as McBrayer put it, “It’s really quite a juggernaut with a lot of puzzle pieces but when the puzzle pieces are put together, it really is quite beautiful.”
This year is the festival’s forty-first year. It is the second festival since coming back from the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s expected to be bigger and better than ever.
“We’ve got a strong committee this year. This festival this year probably has ten to fifteen percent more participants than we’ve ever had. It will be the biggest festival we’ve ever had,” McBrayer predicted, and based on the vendor registration filling up forty percent of each section’s capacity within only the first week of registration, her prediction is looking spot on.
The festival has twenty-eight sponsors this year and two-hundred eighty-six participating vendors. All the hard work of the volunteers and vendors ultimately benefits Madison education programs. The non-profit aspect of the festival was founded specifically to raise money for Madison City Schools. Today, it continues to benefit Madison City Schools but has expanded to include a variety of educational programs throughout the city.
“The reason the non-profit even was brought for the Madison Street Festival and implemented within the organization was to support Madison City Schools. That was the only reason and that was the goal twenty years ago was to create a non-profit where we could give grant money back to Madison City Schools. Now, here we are fast forward to 2023, and our main focus still is a big part of the Madison school system. Fourteen out of the sixteen grants we gave away last year went to Madison City Schools but we have expanded our reach to the community. So, we have opened it up to other educational programs,” McBrayer explains. “Then we sit down and we read every one of the applications and we see where we can make the biggest impact with the money that we have.”
The festival committee accepts grant applications from qualifying groups from September 1 until October 31. Last year, the committee was able to donate $9,000 to sixteen different programs. The committee spends November reviewing the grant applications and then officially presents the awardees with their grants at a city council meeting in January.
In recent years, the festival has gone even beyond grants to incorporate the local schools and offer students opportunities to grow and use their skills. For example, the festival hosted a photography club for student photographers to practice their photo-snapping skills as official press during the event. It also invited the James Clemens lacrosse team to host a water fundraiser, established a student art tent to display the work of local students, and welcomes groups from Madison schools every year to march in the parade.
“We’re always trying to find ways to engage and whether in its education, [like] photography, or fundraising, which is what the festival really is and also with the water fundraising or art and showcasing students,” McBrayer stated.
October, November, and December are also filled with reviews of that year’s festival, highlighting the aspects that went well and looking for ways to improve.
McBrayer calls the whole festival experience “a full-circle kind of thing.”
“It’s really cool because it really is a full-circle kind of thing,” she says. “The community rallies for us every year and supports us and pours into us whether it’s through sponsorship or vendors or participants that are spending thousands of dollars in activities to do over in the children’s area. They’re supporting us and they’re loving us and then we’re able to create this event for people to come and experience all of that.”
The festival is a year-round commitment for committee volunteers, but the joy and passion they have for the festival and its charitable mission makes it all worthwhile.
“They are the ones that are creating the magic.” McBrayer says of the forty-three committee volunteers. “They are the ones that are really making it amazing and they work so hard and so passionately and they give so much of their time.”
McBrayer herself has dedicated time and energy in some way to the Madison Street Festival for a total of fifteen years, first as a vendor, later as a committee volunteer, and today as president.
McBrayer described the dedication and generosity of the volunteers, “The community just can’t grasp what they give to make this happen every year, and I’m so proud to be associated with them and to be surrounded by them and to do work with them because they’re just amazing.”
This year’s Madison Street Festival will take place Saturday, October 7. You can follow along with the festival at madisonstreetfestival.org and on Facebook and Instagram @madisonstreetfestival.
Below is a list of MSF commitee members and the areas of the festival they oversee:
Amber Keyes, Debbie Overcash
Board of Directors-
Crystal McBrayer, President
Tommy Overcash, Logistics Director
Kathy Morris, Treasurer
Amber Keyes, Secretary
Noelle Apel, Hallie Kenny
City Council Liaison
Susan and Dave Bailey, Brenda Parker
Rebecca Franz, Kathy Morris
Beth Mumaw, Faye Wishik, Tuyet Clark
Tommy Overcash, Cameron Overcash, Warren Munster, Michael McBrayer, John Morris and Mike Gentle
Chad Self, Cory Wilson
Kathy Morris, Krista Csontos
Student Art Tent
Melissa Patch, Meissa Cain
Charity Stratton, Cathy Larsen, Sarah Potter