Written by Lori Boatfield
Photos by Steve Babin
Shot at Orion Amphitheater

Matt Mandrella

As Huntsville’s Music Officer, Matt Mandrella advocates for the city’s growing music sector and helps oversee music-related strategic planning initiatives and economic opportunities.

Prior to relocating to Huntsville in January 2022, Mandrella worked at Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, Tenn. There, he was involved with all aspects of marketing for the iconic Graceland campus and for Graceland Live, a new music venture with Live Nation focused on bringing renowned touring acts to venues at the property. Before working at Graceland, Mandrella spent more than a decade in one of the nation’s foremost music cities – Austin, Texas – where he worked for a variety of different venues, festivals and companies involved with booking and promoting live music across the USA such as Fun Fun Fun Fest, Mohawk, SXSW and DoStuff Media. Mandrella originally hails from the Mobile area and earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of South Alabama.

Talk about how you got interested in music.

I was always very into music. I was in choir and in middle school band playing saxophone, but really started playing guitar in college and started some bands in the Mobile area. The goal was to graduate and pursue music full-time. I moved to Charlotte, and jumped into the scene up there, writing music and performing around the Carolinas. In those days, you had to move to either LA, Nashville or Austin to make it, so I worked on putting an EP together, then decided to move to Austin because I had a friend there who needed a roommate. Within a week of getting into the Austin scene I realized I did not have the onstage chops to sustain a career. But I moved out there for music and I was gonna figure out the music thing, so I dove into the industry aspect, and behind-the-scenes of how it all worked.

How did you get to Huntsville?

It was funny, I saw the music officer job posted on Facebook and checked it out. You know how you look at something and then every time you go on Facebook or Instagram, you’re constantly seeing the ad or the story? It seemed like the perfect job, cut out for my résumé, but it was in Huntsville. I was really happy working in Graceland, but it just kept following me and following me. I said, I haven’t been to Huntsville in 20 years, but I see it on a lot of lists – the good lists, so I threw my hat into the ring. By the second interview I made up my mind that even if I didn’t get the job, I was probably going to relocate to Huntsville. We just had a kid, and I couldn’t think of a better place to raise a family. I got lucky getting the job. We were surprised by how fast Huntsville had grown. When we were here for a wedding 20 years before, there was nothing to do. It had changed a lot, and it just keeps changing – in good ways.

What is the strategic plan for the Huntsville Music Office?

The music office is focused on developing our music ecosystem – the conditions that can make music thrive in an environment. That’s everything from elementary education to big, amazing concerts at the Orion and the VBC to a major music festival. We were the first city in North America to take a strategic, data driven approach to elevating our music ecosystem. We see music in the same realm as a parks and recreation department or greenways – as a quality-of-life initiative. We see it as a way to enhance the quality of life for our residents but also to promote tourism and get people to visit.

We have such a unique challenge in Huntsville, where we have the lowest unemployment rate in the country, but we have a lot of good jobs to fill. To attract talent here, people need things to do after 5 o’clock – and music fills that niche for a lot of people. While our music scene won’t be the same as a Nashville or an Austin, we want to be in the same conversation when people are talking about the great North American music cities. Creating our own identity and elevating the culture that’s already here will put us on the map for others in the world. We want people to know, yes, NASA is here, but there’s also an amazing music scene to dive into as well.

Talk about your family.

My partner Kelly and I have been together 12 years. Our daughter, Sela was a pandemic baby, born St. Patrick’s Day 2020. We were two days away from me not being able to be in the hospital, because they already had restrictions down to allowing only one family member. We came home and sheltered in place. We were lucky because the grandparents were all there, they worked out a deal with their Airbnb hosts so they could stay a little bit.

Now we’re just regular parents of a toddler. We have two awesome dogs, and we do family stuff.

What’s your favorite thing about Huntsville?

Honestly, the people. The community. How kids act with each other. Our daughter is 4. We can take her out to Campus 805 and go to one of the breweries and throw a soccer ball out on the green. There are going to be kids in two minutes that gravitate and all play together. It’s the largest city in Alabama but it still has a small-town feel.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

We love going to the Havoc games and soccer games. Taking the dog on a long walk through Monte Sano. We enjoy the downtown stuff, like Tinsel Trail, just hanging out at MidCity. We’ll find a part of town and park there and hang out for the day. Or on a Friday night, we’ll all meet up and ramble around downtown. And of course, concerts. Social life blends into work life. I have the best job ever because of that.

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