With Tailspin Ale Fest, Tisha Gainey’s long voyage finally came in for a landing at Bowman Field – after, shall we say, a number of hops.
BY STEVE KAUFMAN | PHOTOS BY TONY BENNETT
Tisha Gainey’s career has often taken the form of one of those Warner Bros. cartoon characters who steps off the side of a cliff and lands safely on a ledge, or on a bird, or on a passing cloud.
As Gainey took her journey – trying this, discarding that – she kept coming back to certain totems from her undergraduate life at Purdue University: marketing, computer programming, graphic design, real estate and beer.
Unsure of what she wanted to do after graduating in 1997, with a degree in marketing and communications, Gainey impulsively joined some college friends in Portland, Oregon.
She got a temporary job in customer service with an online startup called SHN.net, providing chat rooms and forums for people with serious and chronic diseases.
She liked the job well enough, but not the continually gray, drizzly Portland weather.
When she told her bosses that she had decided to move back to the Louisville area, they told her that they were just writing her a permanent job offer. But her mind was made up, so she declined the job offer and headed home.
“That company became webMD.com,” she said. “I would have been in on the ground floor of something big.”
It was not the last time Gainey looked back and wondered.
But if you listed her personality traits and joys of life, you couldn’t find a better place for her to be, roughly 20 years later, than where she is now: running an events company called HB Productions and producing, among other things, the popular Tail Spin Ale Fest, held every February at the Louisville Executive Aviation hangar on the grounds of Bowman Field.
It has history, it has people, and, most of all, it has beer.
Beer has been central to Gainey’s life since she started exploring various brews while in college. But not for her, even on a student’s budget, the cheap pitchers of beer available in most campus bars. Her hangout was Lafayette Brewing Co., an off-campus establishment across the Wabash River from Purdue. And her first drink of choice was a sturdy, flavorful English cask ale.
The whole culture intrigued her so that she switched from her computer programming major and dabbled in the hospitality and tourism management school.
Not that it was a straight line from campus tavern to ale fest. There were side tracks and plenty of those steps into the unknown. After returning home from Oregon, she created ads in the weekend home sections for (at the time) Paul Semonin Realtors,and developed the very first web site of all the local MLS listings.
But in 2002, she moved again (an affair of the heart), to Orlando, Florida, and found work with Walt Disney Imagineering as project engineer on Disney’s “earport” store at Orlando International. She also helped Disney produce the first Lights, Motors, Action, Extreme Stunt Show in the park, at MGM Hollywood Studios.
When the show opened, her job ended, so she went to work with Ginn Development Intl. in Orlando on the pricey, luxurious Bella Colina housing development on Lake Apopka. “Everything seemed to be taking me back to real estate,” she said. “These were $2.5 million lots, $10 million homes. Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods and some Arabian prince took the helicopter tours and bought lots there.”
But her affair of the heart soured.
So, back home again in Indiana.
Through her cousin, Todd Antz (owner of The Keg Liquors in Clarksville and New Albany), she found a job as a beer rep for World Class Beverages, covering the southern third of the state. At least she had a job when she stepped off the cliff this time. But it was not a job she’d ever expected to have.
“I’d never wanted to sell – anything!” Gainey said. “But I was craft-beer passionate, knowledgeable about the product and I really like people.”
She didn’t particularly like what she called “all that windshield time” – driving several thousand miles a month. And she wanted to take the new craft beer phenomenon to the Louisville market, where she felt there was tremendous untapped possibilities. So, she switched to Beer House Distributors. And through that, she became beverage director at one of her customers, Buckhead Management Group, for whom she began to create sponsored programs and events, and even a craft beer menu app.
The leaps into the unknown were becoming purposeful. A new pattern was developing: creative marketing, customer relations, events and, always, beer.
A chance meeting at the Louisville Beer Store in NuLu (in Louisville) put her together with Trevor Cravens, president of Draft, the largest craft beer magazine in North America. Draft became a partner in some of Gainey’s events for Buckhead, which led to a conversation about starting their own craft beer festival.
“I was getting married at the time, and looking at wedding venues,” Gainey said. “I looked at Bowman Field and fell in love with the hangar space – the environment, the architecture, the history.”
Tailspin (“the name was part of my marketing genius,” she laughed) was launched there in February 2013, as a winter warmer festival, and drew a sell-out crowd of 1,800 people. Not only that, but the crowd came from as far away as Anchorage, Alaska. “We had people that first year from Seattle, Atlanta, New York, Miami, Alabama,” Gainey said. “Only about 45 percent of our attendees were local. I thought, ‘Something is happening!’ ”
And it continued to happen. This year, there will be about 4,000 attendees.
She formed HB Productions LLC, an events coordinating business that is also involved in The Keg Liquors Fest of Ale at the New Albany Amphitheater; the Jeffersontown Summer Crafts Beer Festival; and Cheers on the Pier in Owensboro.
Three years ago, she also helped start the Bowman Aviation Heritage Festival, a static airplane display show featuring vintage planes and memorabilia – the history of flying.
“In two years, Bowman Field will be 100 years old,” Gainey noted, “the oldest continually operating commercial airport in the country.”
HB Productions LLC is another leap of faith for Gainey. If it doesn’t work out, she says, “I can always get another job.”