Master Musicians Festival hires full-time executive director

Tiffany Finley will begin new role managing day-to-day operations July 7
Tiffany Finley
Tiffany Finley

SOMERSET, Ky. — The Master Musicians Festival board of directors has hired Tiffany Finley as its full-time executive director.

Finley, who has led this two-day summer music event on Lake Cumberland for the last 11 years as a volunteer, will begin her new role on July 7. She will step down as president of the board of directors and assume day-to-day management of the festival, including fundraising, event execution and volunteer recruitment. The board will vote in a new slate of officers at its August meeting.

This is not the first time the 27-year-old non-profit festival has hired a paid director. Gabrielle Gray, who started the festival in 1994, was MMF’s first director, followed by Robyn Burkett Baker from 2003-09. Finley took over as board president and volunteer director in 2009, at a time when the festival was struggling financially and could not afford to pay an employee.

“Since I worked for county government at the time and had the flexibility to do both because it benefitted the community, the MMF board asked if I would serve as president and volunteer director,” Finley said.

But after Finley left her role in community development, that flexibility has not been as easy to come by. It became increasingly difficult to lead the festival while working a full-time job in the private sector, she said.

“Taking on the role of director full-time will allow me to focus completely on fundraising, networking and promotion so the festival can grow and thrive,” Finley said. “I am very proud of how much MMF has grown over the last 11 years. Now our board members and I feel like it is time to take the festival to the next level.”

Indeed, the last decade has been one of growth for MMF with the attraction of major acts like Willie Nelson for the festival’s 20th anniversary, the Counting Crows the following year, Dwight Yoakam in 2015, and most recently, John Prine. Other notable performers have included Amanda Shires, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Dawes, Mark O’Conner, Doc Watson, JD Crowe, Punch Brothers, The Avett Brothers, Tyler Childers, Steve Earle and Old Crow Medicine Show, among others.

Because MMF has faced significant, unpredictable challenges in the last two years — a major storm that shut down the festival early in 2019 and a global pandemic that prevented it from happening in 2020 — board members felt the time was right to invest in a full-time executive director who can devote more time to rebounding from those setbacks.

“Anyone who has served on the board during the last 27 years knows this is a hard-working group of volunteers who spend a great deal of time away from their loved ones and careers to make the festival happen every year,” MMF Vice President Jessica Crockett said. “Hiring Tiffany, who has an incredible amount of expertise in the music industry and a sincere dedication to her community and MMF, is a way to alleviate some of that pressure for board members and ensure the festival continues to be successful.”

Finley said volunteering for MMF has been one of the greatest joys of her adult life. She said she is thankful the board has given her this opportunity and is excited about the future of the festival and the community.

“This experience has shaped me into the person I am today, a person who knows the difference between simply going to work and pursuing your dreams,” she said. “For me, being MMF’s executive director is the dream.”