Mary Hilliard Harrington, Artist Manager, Wild Heart/Red Light Management

Lesley Olenik

Mary Hilliard Harrington

Artist Manager, Wild Heart/Red Light Management

Call Mary Hilliard “a baller,” and she’ll probably laugh. The woman who’s a fierce and fearless artist advocate and the leader of Coran Capshaw’s Nashville Red Light Management office has long been a woman quick to speak her mind, dig in to create what she believes could be and foster artist dreams over years when necessary.

Though the business card says “Artist Manager,” the force behind Wild Heart/Red Light helped Dierks Bentley create and grow the genre-blurring Seven Peaks Music Festival in Colorado and Elle King’s genre-straddling collabs with Alex Da Kid, X Ambassadors and Wiz Khalifa (“Not Easy”) and Miranda Lambert (“Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)”), as well as championing Caylee Hammack and Tucker Beathard.

As chairwoman of the Country Music Association, Hilliard has helped spearhead its Music Industry COVID Relief program, from advocating for government funding to addressing food insecurity among the working backbone of the music business across genres.

“Like everything else the last year, it’s been an evolutionary process,” she says. “From the first realization that we were in a true crisis, then understanding it was going to go on much longer than any of us originally thought, to now thinking about rebuilding and reactivating the live portion of the business in a scalable way, it’s been a lot of focus, exploration and digging in.

“The work has followed that same timeline and the results are that everyone around me is still standing and optimistic about the road and the future of our business.”

Citing an incredible support network of friends who are also managers including Capshaw, Clarence Spalding and Marion Kraft, Hilliard stresses the importance of being able to compare notes “and to commiserate with them about work and about life. Even with all the distance, in some ways, I feel closer to them than ever.”

Having always kept her focus on giving back, the last year has been fertile for the woman who founded the Green Room Public Relations firm in 2006. “I did some advocacy work. Over the summer, I had an address to the National Governors Association to educate them about our business, how we were being overlooked and just did my best to represent that working backbone of the live business, which has been so devastated by COVID.

“I’ve also worked with organizations like Music Health Alliance and Second Harvest to try and address healthcare and food insecurity. Go to where the work is being done. Additionally, Nashville had a devastating tornado just as COVID happened, so I helped organize a lot of clean-up and fundraising around that as well.”

Hilliard is also looking at the realities facing women, people of color and LGBTQ members of the community. 

“I’ve been on task forces and working for gender diversity and equality in Nashville for many years,” she says. “I feel like we’re finally starting to see some of that effort starting to pay off in everything from improved hiring practices and sexual harassment politics within the industry to helping push the agenda of growing and exposing more female artists and creators. 

“When it comes to racial diversity and inclusion, country music has a long way to go, but I think we’ve had a major reckoning and I feel a tremendous shift happening. I’ve personally been working hard to understand unconscious bias and to put myself in a position to help correct it with those around me.”

Hilliard is optimistic about the ongoing testing and vaccination process. “If the rollout continues as planned, I see outdoor shows in the heartland of America coming back first, hopefully as early as midsummer,” she says.

She feels the hunger for live music, continuing, “I truly believe the opportunity for headliner-level artists to go back to amphitheaters and select music festivals will be there in some form by the end of this year.”

And for Hilliard, nothing appeals quite like Bentley’s festival. “When we got together with Live Nation for Seven Peaks, which is in Buena Vista, Colorado, at the base of the Collegiate mountain range, we made the decision to program it with a really eclectic mix of bluegrass, country and rock. It’s about music, not genres or labels. For me, it’s magical, and there is nowhere else in the entire world I’d rather be right now!”