Image: A poster for the Italian Street Fair dated 1992, one of the years the fair was held in Brentwood.
By LANDON WOODROOF
Yesterday, as part of our What’s Up With That Series? of reader-generated stories, we took up the topic of festivals in Brentwood. In that story, we looked at the status of festivals in the city today and turned our attention back a few decades to examine the birth and eventual demise of Pearfest.
Today, we look at another festival that once graced the streets of Brentwood, albeit only for a few years.
The Italian Street Fair was an annual fundraising event for the Nashville Symphony. It was a Labor Day weekend staple in the city for over 35 years. In 1991, organizers decided to move it to Brentwood.
The festival had long been held near Vanderbilt University in Dudley Field. In Brentwood, the festival was set up on a large, green expanse in Maryland Farms (yes, large, green expanses used to exist there).
“The grassy grounds of the Maryland Farms office complex in Brentwood will be transformed into a Roman holiday, complete with the ‘Trevi Foundatin’ and ‘Appian Way,'” a Brentwood Journal article announcing the 37th Annual Italian Street Fair stated on Aug. 28, 1991.
The fair featured carnival rides, tents housing dozens of vendors, including booksellers and record sellers, an assortment of musical entertainment and, of course, Italian food.
“3,000 pounds of sausage have been ordered and 10,000 homemade rolls on which to serve them have been baked,” another Journal article from that same day says. Additionally, the members of Nashville Golf Classics were reported to have concocted their own “homemade spaghetti sauce, chicken cacciatore and linguine with clam sauce” for hungry guests.
Admission was $4 for adults, $1 for children 12 and under and kids under 3 were free.
That first fair in Brentwood attracted 90,000 people, according to a Journal article from September 4, 1991.
It was a very different time in Brentwood’s development. CoolSprings Galleria had just been open for a few weeks. The same Brentwood Journal edition that gave the fair’s attendance totals also featured a front page story on how the city had implemented a “new interviewing process which allows city officials to see potential candidates [for jobs] through videotaped interviews.”
Current Williamson County commissioner Paul Webb was in that first batch of interviewees. His video interview must have been good. He was hired as the new city accountant, the story says.
The next couple of years saw the festival book bigger and more popular musical acts who would perform with the Nashville Symphony on Sunday nights.
In 1992, that performer was famed pianist Floyd Cramer. In 1993, the artist caused quite a stir.
“‘Phones have been ringing continually at the [Nashville Symphony Guild’s] office with callers asking about tickets for this year’s headline act, Leon Russell,’ said event co-chairman Chris Wendzicki,” according to a September 1, 1993 Brentwood Journal story.
In the same article, the Journal reported that the fair had grown very popular, creating long lines. The lines were reportdedly so long that people had to buy food tickets to eat. Even the hungriest may have wanted to wait a while to eat, though, after riding such stomach-churning rides as the Tempest, the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Octopus, or the Gyro.
Now, an exercise in imagination for present-day Brentwood residents, with the help of a festival schedule reprinted in an August 31, 1994 edition of the Brentwood Journal.
It is 1994. It is Labor Day weekend and you and your family or friends want to attend the Italian Street Fair. You load up in your car and drive down to a big open field in Maryland Farms where on Sunday, September 2 you will have the opportunity to see Johnny Cash performing with the Nashville Symphony.
The fields where you could have eaten meatballs, bought books, rode the Octopus and seen Johnny Cash perform were located just north of Maryland Way. Now, a UPS Store and some other businesses occupy the space.
As it turned out, 1994 was the last year the Italian Street Fair was held in Brentwood. A Tennessean article from March 16, 1995 contained the news that the fair was bound for Riverfront Park in downtown Nashville.
According to the article, the owners of the space where the fair had been held were trying to sell it. In turn, they could not guarantee its availability come Labor Day.
“Even for this year, the chances were 50-50,” the article quotes Joyce Redden, president of the Nashville Symphony Guild, as saying.
The fair moved back to Nashville and was held at Riverfront Park for a couple of years before moving to Centennial Park. The results there, however, were financially underwhelming. The last installment of the Italian Street Fair was organized in 2000, according to a July 12, 2001 article in the Tennessean.