Music is a primary pillar of Mayor Tommy Battle’s workforce development strategy, commitment to quality of life, and his desire to provide more inclusive cultural and creative offerings for current and future residents of Huntsville.
Huntsville is the first city in America to embark on a comprehensive, data-driven journey to strategically amplify its music economy. This visionary understanding of music’s role in placemaking led Mayor Battle to direct his administrative team to assess how the music industry could further enhance the Rocket City’s economy and quality of life.
Huntsville’s music scene, uniquely and equally inspired by its Southern surroundings and high-tech innovation, plays a leading role in the City’s long-term strategy for smart growth.
With this in mind, Huntsville set out to answer this central question: how could the City known for its stellar rocket propulsion propel itself to the forefront of the music universe? The goal – to create a more dynamic music environment, from education to creation, production and performance, in a way that strengthened Huntsville’s growing economy.
The City partnered with international consulting group Sound Diplomacy in late spring 2018 to find the answers and to create the road map to achieve this goal.
Sound Diplomacy completed its directive, conducting an extensive Music Audit that assessed the strengths and opportunities of Huntsville’s music offerings. Concluded in August 2019, the plan has been called “the most innovative music strategy in the United States.” The Rocket City’s bold commitment to music affirms the role of the arts in supporting a vibrant economy, sustaining a healthy community and building a well-rounded City.
The audit paved the way for the creation of the Huntsville Music Board, a governing body tasked with implementing and prioritizing the road map provided by the audit to nurture the City’s growing music industry.
The implementation of the multi-year music plan is still in its infancy, but work is already under way.
One of the first steps in the plan was for Mayor Battle to appoint the Music Board, a first-of-its-kind in Huntsville and the State of Alabama. To ensure the board represented the varied interests and needs of the music community, the Mayor asked for candidate recommendations from music industry leaders and Council Members, and he opened up nomination process to allow interested candidates to self-submit applications.
The inaugural nine-member Music Board was officially appointed by Mayor Battle at the January 23, 2020 City Council meeting. One of the Board’s first priorities is to create the position of Music Officer to serve as a resource for the local music scene and to assist in the marketing and recruitment of music-related jobs.
The City hired its first Music Officer, Matt Mandrella, in January 2022. Click below to learn more:
As Huntsville’s Music Officer, Matt Mandrella will advocate for the City’s growing music sector and help oversee music-related strategic planning initiatives and economic opportunities.
Coming to Huntsville by way of Memphis, Tennessee, Mandrella last worked as marketing and projects manager for Elvis Presley’s Graceland. There, he was involved with all aspects of marketing for the iconic Graceland campus and served as the primary marketing contact for Graceland Live, a new music venture with Live Nation focused on bringing renowned touring acts to venues at the property.
Though new to the Huntsville area, Mandrella hails from Mobile and earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of South Alabama. He applied for the Music Officer position after learning more about the role and City of Huntsville.
Before working at Graceland, Mandrella spent more than a decade in one of the nation’s foremost music cities – Austin, Texas. In Austin, he worked for several venues and companies involved in booking, marketing and promoting live music.
Some of his biggest accomplishments there were as Marketing Director of Fun Fun Fun Fest, followed by a role as Director of Business Development at Do512, Austin’s largest and leading source of live event information and a subsidiary of DoStuff Media, an online media group with entertainment websites in more than 20 cities.
The Music Board held its first meeting in March of 2020 and looks forward to collaborating with the community as it builds the processes and structures to grow the City’s music industry over the coming years.
Erin Huelskamp Bohn is a flutist, stage and music director, and composer. She also serves as artistic director of Opera Huntsville and orchestra director for Asbury Church in Madison. Erin performs frequently in the greater Huntsville area, though she’s also performed in such venues as L’Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris,, Studzinski Recital Hall at Bowdoin College in Maine, the Interlochen Academy of the Arts in Michigan, Bard University in New York, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Harvard University, and many more. Shortly after the completion of her first opera “The Year of the Serpent,” Erin delved into directing theatrical works. Her production of “Light and Power” with the Juventas New Music Ensemble won the American Prize in opera as well as second place in the Professional Division of the National Opera Association’s video competition. Trained as a classical dancer for 16 years, Erin began composing at the age of 10 with no musical training. She holds a bachelor’s degree in both music composition and flute performance from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master’s in composition from the Boston Conservatory. A Madison resident, she also maintains a private teaching studio.
Dr. Calame Sammons is a lifelong resident of Huntsville and graduate of Huntsville High School. He developed an early interest in music and played in several bands from junior high school through college at Vanderbilt University. In Nashville, he was immersed in a vibrant musical atmosphere at famous venues like the Grand Ole Opry and The Exit Inn, which featured both country and rock performers. Dr. Sammons’ own musical pursuits took a 40-year hiatus while he attended medical school, completed his residency and started an orthopedic practice in Huntsville. Five years ago, he joined the Unorthodocs – a band comprised of his orthopedic partners and their physician assistants. His love of music was passed down to his two sons, who moved to California in pursuit of their own musical dreams. Dr. Sammons enjoys all genres of music and looks forward to seeing Huntsville become a regional center for diverse music enjoyed by all.
Lauren Gowins is the owner of Bold Agency, an award-winning strategic creative agency in Huntsville. She oversees integrated campaigns for both large and small companies that include services such as web design/development, branding, digital strategy, photography and videography. Lauren lived her childhood in four countries and immersed herself in a variety of cultures. Through her experience, she developed a knack for gaining insights into diverse human behavior. In addition to owning a business, she established Huntsville’s inaugural Design Week event series in 2019. Design Week Huntsville is a multifaceted event that unites interior designers, graphic artists, illustrators, multimedia designers and industrial designers to discuss and promote great design in the community.
Codie Gopher is an independent researcher of modern culture based in his hometown of Huntsville, Alabama. With over 20 years of experience in the music creative zone, Codie is working to bridge the gaps economically, as well as with sustainable opportunities for his community, to enhance the quality of life for the next generations of creators. Being involved with Huntsville generated music projects, acknowledged by the likes of Forbes, The New York Times, SPIN, National Geographic, NPR, and other national and international publications, the idea of Huntsville making future strides in Music Tech is not impossible in his eyes. The key in his research is understanding the festiveness of the minds which are cultivated in the city, and how said cultivation impacts the world. Creating music inside the territory of Cummings Research Park and reaching over 90 million homes is proof Huntsville has what it takes to strive in Urban Tech. Between 2014 -2018, Codie helped to curate the first Hip Hop Exhibit at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia, Alabama, which opened in August 2018. This project documented the body of work, plus the influence Alabama Hip Hop has had on the world of music, and pop culture. He is a self-published author and believes culture is a key component to the future of his community. Codie understands music education, mixed with a thriving entertainment economy is viable and doable.
Ron Poteat joined Regions Bank in 1979 and leads Customer Experience and Regions360 for the institution’s 15-state footprint. He previously served as area president and market executive for Huntsville/North Alabama. He’s held several other positions during his 37-year tenure with Regions, including Huntsville branch administrator, senior vice president of retail banking and executive vice president of retail banking in North Alabama and southern Tennessee. Ron graduated from the Alabama Banking School at the University of South Alabama in 1991 and completed Retail Bank Management graduate school at the University of Virginia in 1994. He’s president of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber Foundation and past chair of the Chamber of Commerce (2013). He is also 2021 board chair for the United Way of Madison County and is a past member of the University of Alabama in Huntsville Foundation Board of Trustees. Additionally, Ron has served on the Alabama State Banking Board since 2013.
Deqn Sue is alternative pop with a sharp lyrical edge bursting with message and humor. This Alabama native is a deft song maker whose quick lyrical and sonic turns create surprise. She’s had her music featured with T-Mobile and in TV series, ‘Orange is the New Black to name a few. Time Magazine dubbed her the ‘Queen of Quirk’ and with hints of Funk, R&B, Pop and even vaudeville, she transcends style, spinning words and sounds purely engaged in the now
Singer/Songwriter, Consultant, CEO/Director of Purple19. Judy has a passion for connecting people to music and musical relationships and has either performed or curated concerts in the Huntsville area since she was in high school. Purple19’s mission is to create connections, foster professional development and inspire creativity among local musicians (Music Biz Mondays.) She curates and hosts SheWrites – a local songwriter series, and is the featured events coordinator for Women in Music Weekend.
Mario Maitland is an award-winning musician, sound engineer, sound designer and producer, and is also one of the Tennessee Valley’s top arts education instructors. He is founder and operator of The Maitland Conservatory, which focuses on providing real world performance and production training for young people, and interactive programs in the Huntsville City School system that teach classroom lessons through music creation and performance. The Conservatory is also an important training ground for upcoming podcasters seeking to tell stories about their communities. Most recently, Mario launched an outreach effort called “The Industry Summit”; a conference which connects aspiring artists and creatives with industry professionals.
Mark Torstenson is co-owner and manager of The Fret Shop, a locally owned music store specializing in quality string instruments and accessories. He holds a BA of Music Performance from The University of Alabama/Huntsville and has performed in the Huntsville area for over 30 years. He also serves on the board of the Microwave Dave Music Education Foundation and is a committee chair for the Huntsville Council PTA. When he is not playing guitar with Mambo Gris Gris you may find him advising his 2 teens on the ins and outs of playing in a band as they start musical careers of their own.