In Any Event 

Pandemic planning: ‘There’s no place like home’

Creativity is never lacking in the event planning crowd, and, at Event Check Knox, we’ve noticed that creativity coming to life.

Event planning requires big picture thinking with attention to small details. Planners must be nimble, especially when things don’t go as planned. But 2020 brought a pandemic, and now planners deal with constantly changing circumstances and trying to figure out how to make the call to proceed – or not to proceed with events – as COVID-19 continues to disrupt the calendar.

“It is absolutely an exercise in being adaptable, dynamic and flexible,” said Sharon Moore, director of development for Zoo Knoxville.
From left, Angie Wilson, Sharon Moore and Erin Donovan at Zoofari in 2019. (Blue Streak photo)

Zoo Knoxville has a slate of events throughout the year, and each one has been or is being considered through the lens of precautions due to coronavirus.

Recently, Zoo Knoxville announced plans for Zoofari, and the new format stands out because it is among the first of large-scale virtual events in this area that is delivering the party right to the ticket holders. It will take place Saturday, Aug. 22 – the rescheduled date from June 13 – and the zoo has provided a “how-to” guide that even, for a fee, offers to send a technician to set up and later remove a screen and projector at your home if you’re hosting a watch party.

“We’re also having production crews at several of the watch parties like ‘New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,’ ” Moore said.

The plan is to drop in with cameras to chat live with attendees. Awards will be bestowed for hosts with the best party theme. Attendees will get to virtually enjoy seeing celebrations at the watch parties of Chelly Clayton, Randy Boyd, Sharon Pryse, Lucy Schaad and Mary Ellen Brewington, who will have a dress-in-character “Tiger King” theme (pictures, please!).

Most virtual events until now have been solely online with a watch/chat/video/donate format that has worked very well for many organizations, including Knoxville History Project.

Zoofari is expanding the virtual event realm by offering varying levels of perks, including catering, delivered signature cocktails and wine and even floral arrangements. The event site, which boasts a Journey to Oz theme, reminds us that in the pandemic, there’s “no place like home,” and says the event will, “knock the ruby slippers right off your feet.” Clever!

Packages start at $250 with higher-priced ones offering tickets to a private patron party and behind-the-scenes visits at the zoo, which will be scheduled later.

A Zoo Knoxville tiger enjoys the water.  Zoofari 2020 is “Lions & Tigers & Bears Oh My Virtual” so attendees will have to wait for the 2021 event to see this stunning tiger up close. But the 2020 virtual event will still support the zoo’s mission of animal care and conservation. (Zoo Knoxville photo)

As for other Zoo Knoxville events, “Feast with the Beasts,” which had been set for Aug. 1, had to be canceled as a large gathering at the zoo wasn’t deemed feasible in the summer. It would have been the 26th year for the event, which includes food, libations and live entertainment.

The zoo is taking an optimistic approach to September by scheduling Brew at the Zoo and Wild Vine on consecutive evenings, Sept. 18-19. The craft brew festival started two years ago, and the wine tasting event started last year. Attendees can buy tickets for a single event or for both.

“Plans for this are tricky, so we’re regrouping and being creative,” Moore said. “The issue is queue lines for alcohol. It is preferred to have guests seated.”

The event team is exploring creating beer gardens throughout the park with timed entry for each one. Each garden will offer a small number of beer or wines delivered to tables for tasting.

With the extra infrastructure needed to run the event this way, the zoo needs 1,000 people in attendance, which is more than the zoo currently hosts on a normal day. Stay tuned to the month of September on Event Check Knox for updates on these events.

Other big events in Knoxville also have been affected with the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra having to cancel its annual “Evening Under the Stars event, which will return in 2021.
Symphony in the Park, shown here in 2019, is an enchanting and fun-filled evening of friendship, food and music. (Blue Streak photo)

Planners for Ijams Nature Center’s 35th Symphony in the Park presented by Clayton Homes and Colonial Pipeline have weighed options and will host a virtual event. The event is still scheduled for Sept. 13, but the start time may shift a bit as plans are finalized.

“We’re once again going to feature musicians from the KSO and our special guest is professional storyteller Elizabeth Rose, who is just wonderful,” said Cindy Hassil, development director at Ijams Nature Center. “She focuses on Appalachian folklore and other uplifting stories for all ages. I can’t wait to see what she and Aram Demirjian (KSO’s music director) plan.”

The planners are working on an online auction and other surprises. As with Zoo Knoxville, there are plans for a food element and perhaps hosting the presenting sponsors on-site – physically distanced, of course.

Amid the constant change, Moore said that hope remains.

“Every nonprofit in town is doing an amazing job figuring out this new world and the adaptability is inspiring,” Moore said. “It’s cliché, but true – we’re in it together and we’ll get through it together.”


Tina J. Knight is the brand storyteller for Moxley Carmichael. Previously, she served as manager of internal communications for Discovery, Inc., and became a seasoned event planner. Her love of 90s gangsta rap runs deep.  

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