In Any Event 

Steer attendees to a themed event

Food baskets from Holly Hock Stock event. (Blue Streak photo)
Food baskets from the Holly Hock Stock event. (Photo from the Blue Streak)

Adding a theme to an event takes extra work, but the effort can be well worth it. Two of Knoxville’s experts, Gay Lyons and Kate Jackson, offer advice on how to plan a themed event and provide examples of memorable ones.

The first benefit of deciding to attach a theme to an event is that it forces a planner to get organized from the beginning.

“I think themes help in the planning process,” said Gay Lyons, director of marketing and development at Positively Living. “You have a base idea and then you can build on it.”



Planning any event takes time and organization; executing a themed one presents a few extra challenges. Lyons emphasized that the first decision is deciding on a budget. The available funds to spend will inform every decision that follows.

“Pick a theme and work drinks, food, costumes and decorations around that concept and then hit the accelerator,” Lyons said.

Kate Jackson, an event manager at the Knoxville Convention Center, doesn’t usually come up with theme ideas, although she can do so, if needed. Typically, a client already has a theme and wants the Convention Center to make the vision a reality. That involves everyone from the cooks in the kitchen to the setup crew in the ballroom.

“The planning of themes is where the challenges come into play,” Jackson said. “There are extra details, and that’s why it is important to have a team.”

“It is pretty amazing what happens when you have a theme and a group of people that brainstorm and make it happen,” Lyons added. “You can’t do it all by yourself. You need a team.”

The Medal of Honor Society Convention’s Patriot Awards Gala at the Knoxville Convention Center featured an elegant and patriotic stage. (Photo by the Knoxville Convention Center)
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Patriot Awards Gala at the Knoxville Convention Center featured an elegant and patriotic stage. (Photo by the Knoxville Convention Center)

Lyons is a longtime planner and has handled scores of events for nonprofits and organizations in the Knoxville area. Lyons, who also attends and lends assistance to a multitude of events every year, cited a 2013 fundraiser for the Tennessee Theatre’s Stars on Stage as particularly fun.

It was called “Six Faces of Bob” in honor of Bob Newhart, who performed at the annual benefit. The catered food reflected each “face,” including Beverly Hills Bob (his residence), Chicago Bob (location of “The Bob Newhart Show”), Vermont Bob (location of “Newhart”), 1970s Bob (the decade when the iconic show dominated television ratings), Irish-German Bob (Newhart’s heritage) and Button-Down Bob (based on the title of his first album).

Themed events also can create a natural connection for guests. This definitely was the case for Holly Hock Stock, a benefit for Knox Heritage that was held on a farm.

“My top favorite was Holly Hock Stock,” Lyons said. “The party was centered on the famous Woodstock Festival. The food was catered by Holly’s, Benton’s Bacon was served, and the event was located on a beautiful farm, which helped create the great environment, great event and great title.”

Cynthia Moxley and Alan Carmichael at Holly Hock Stock. (Blue Streak party)
Cynthia Moxley and Alan Carmichael at Holly Hock Stock in their best hippie attire. (Blue Streak photo)

Lyons recently organized “A Night in Knox Vegas” as a benefit for Positively Living. The attire was “Rat Pack” with a contest for the best-dressed in the style of the iconic Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. The menu included “Show me the Money” meatballs, “Cha-Ching” meats and cheese and “Blackjack” buffalo chicken.

The best themed decor Jackson has seen to date was during the Knoxville Medal of Honor Convention, an annual event at locations across the country that honors the living recipients of the Medal of Honor and remembers the deceased heroes. The Patriot Awards Gala, held at the Convention Center, was the finale to a week of events last September. The gala’s patriotic theme included a star-studded ballroom shrouded in beautiful blue hues.

“I have never seen the ballroom look that great,” Jackson said. “The linens and the flowers and the whole backdrop was incredible.”

The classic logo from
The classic logo from 007.

Another notable event last fall was the JDRF East Tennessee Chapter’s 22nd Annual Dream Gala, “A View to a Cure: Men on a Mission,” which was held at the Convention Center. The James Bond-themed event featured 007-inspired attire, signature drinks at the “shaken not stirred martini bar,” a speedboat at the Cumberland Avenue entrance, a Maserati inside the ballroom and a “Live and Let Buy” auction.

Jackson pays attention to themes that are trendy because she knows those will come up in client discussions. She also is prepared for new ideas.

“Everyone goes on Pinterest and comes up with very creative themes,” Jackson said. “You want something that will give you the memory of a great event.”

Skilled planners will make sure the client’s vision ends with a memorable event.

“You can make any theme work,” Lyons said.

John Beaty, an intern for Moxley Carmichael, will attend any themed event, especially if it involves food, an open bar and dancing.

5 responses to “Steer attendees to a themed event

  1. Great article and I absolutely agree! Themes make planning much easier and more cohesive! At Above the Rest, creating themes is our specialty so we always enjoy it when clients give us any theme to work with, including the “unusual” themes–like a trout fishing theme for a wedding rehearsal dinner, vintage circus prom, Chinese new year, etc. Themed events create excitement and memories!

  2. I do love a theme. Gives you something to hang your planning hat on–and, done well, it can be so much fun for guests.

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