Just as golfers remember every shot, and anglers love to describe the fish that got away, event folks trade tales about odd requests.
One of the oddest I heard was from a client who asked me to produce a rededication party in a cemetery. I staged a New Orleans-style jazz funeral complete with Percheron horses in mourning attire. An old-time undertaker, a brass band, town officials twirling parasols and participants waving hankies landed the event lots of attention and awards.
In another cemetery event, Bill Lomas, owner of Pageantry Productions in Los Angeles, honored his departed wife Ronnie’s wishes with a celebration-of-life parade replete with clowns, stilt walkers and an elephant.
Fawna Ferguson, promotions and events officer, for the City of San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affairs/Economic Development, recalls parachuting penguins as one of the weirder requests to come across her desk. "Actually, it was people dressed as penguins dropping into the event site," she says. "Another request was for a bull drive on a Friday morning at 7:30 a.m., during rush-hour traffic downtown." (Both requests were denied due to FAA regulations and municipal codes.)
Planners often are asked to scale mountains that seem insurmountable. Gail Stewart, a special event consultant from Valencia, once was approached by a client who declared, "I’m sure you can make reindeer jump over the fountain in front of Burbank City Hall."
Then there are the last-minute requests. Kathy A. Newby, senior event consultant for Stuart Rental Company in the San Francisco Bay Area, helped produce the Raiders vs. Titans 2002 AFC Championship Halftime Show featuring LL Cool J and Amerie.
"After Amerie was situated in her dressing room at Oakland Coliseum, her stylist called me and requested hair extensions," Newby says. "Needless to say, it was a Sunday with high security, but we found an open beauty supply store that had extensions, so we sent her limo driver, who had VIP access to the stadium’s secured parking lot. He made it back in time for Amerie to hit the stage looking gorgeous."
Toni Bodenhamer of Toni B & Company in Santa Rosa doesn’t have to think too hard about weird requests. "It was July 1 back in the ’90s when I got a call from a truck driver whose vehicle had broken down on his way across the country delivering a four-story-tall American flag that had flown over the USS Constitution in Boston Harbor on America’s 200th birthday," she recounts. "He missed his appointed destination, and, as he said, ‘It really needs to be displayed on America’s birthday.’
"All I had to do was find a crane company that would donate a five-story crane to lift the flag over our Sonoma County Fourth of July Celebration-and assemble a crew of 20 people to hold it as it was unfurled from their arms."
Three crane-company calls later, Bodenhamer had a crane and an operator. "We billed the hold-the-flag job as a special sponsor opportunity and quickly got the crew needed," she says. "The crowd sang America the Beautiful as the crane pulled the 90-foot by 45-foot flag up from the sponsors’ arms and we watched it float in the breeze over our heads against a blue sky. The sponsors said it was one of the best things they had ever done."
SO HERE’S THE TIP: Always answer your phone, because a weird request could be the one that sets your event apart and turns into a great story that has legs for years to come.
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