Mary Hilliard, President, Red Light Nashville

– Mary Hilliard

Mary Hilliard 

President, Red Light Nashville

Mary Hilliard went from publicist to business owner (The Green Room) to manager (Dierks Bentley) to de facto head of Red Light Nashville and president of the Country Music Association’s Board of Directors seemingly the way some people cross the street. Purposeful, aware of her surroundings, she simply moved forward – and employed vision of how things should be with tenacity, artist development and coloring outside the lines. 

“I get out of bed every day, trying to make small differences that will hopefully over time build to something big,” says Hilliard, who manages Bentley, Elle King, LANCO, Tucker Beathard and Caylee Hammack. “Because I come from a publicity/branding background, I automatically ask, ‘What makes this artist different? How do we best build that personal story for them through music?’” 

Having started the Green Room with then-neophytes Bentley and Jason Aldean, Hilliard doesn’t believe in short cuts. LANCO is van-touring; songwriter/upstart Beathard plays acoustic solo; King mixes headlining opportunities with dates on Miranda Lambert and Heart/Joan Jett’s tours. As importantly, she’s not afraid of helping artists build dreams, notably Bentley’s Seven Peaks Music Festival in Buena Vista, Colo. 

“This is our third year, and I’ve been told it takes three years to truly establish,” she offers. “A labor of love, this one is surrounded by so much joy, collaboration and mountain air! Seeing it build is so good.” Seeking “artists whose music I can’t live without and stacking one block on top of another,” Hilliard (who’s played key roles at various times in Tim McGraw, Chris Stapleton, Lady Antebellum and Kip Moore’s careers) wants long-term careers for anything she gets involved with. Bentley’s Riser Foundation alone raised over $8 million for charities, supporting his growth on myriad planes. 

“If [an artist] sounds like they’re not going to put in the same work a brand new artist is, we’re probably not a good fit,” she cautions. “Because no matter where you are, there’s always building – and dreaming – to do.”