Special events spice up the Democratic National Convention

NO ONE WAS SURPRISED that Vice President Al Gore received the nomination at the Democratic National Convention, Aug. 14-17 in Los Angeles. The real drama came at a series of special events held throughout the city during the convention. Some highlights:

The California welcome party thrown by Gov. Gray Davis on Aug. 14 came off without one problem, reports Carleen Cappelletti, senior vice president and partner with event producer Merv Griffin Productions, based in Santa Monica.

The event, held at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, offered 10,000 delegates and VIPs the chance to experience distinctive California cultures. Merv Griffin Productions created decor and entertainment in four zones: California High-Tech, a cyber cafe with a laser light show and Web links to the convention headquarters; Coastal Colors, featuring beach scenes and surf hut bars; California Extreme, with professional skateboarders and a rock-climbing wall; and Hooray for Hollywood, complete with movie-premiere red carpet and Oscar statues.

Entertainment included a wide range of acts, from Japanese taiko drummers to mariachi groups to surf bands. On the main stage, actors including Laurence Fishburne, Alfre Woodard and Noah Wyle read famous speeches from John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. "We wanted to have a serious element in there, too, to celebrate democracy," Cappelletti notes.

Classic Party Rentals, Los Angeles, provided rental items; Paramount Pictures' Special Events Department handled catering.

The secret to the smooth event: "Lots of planning," says Kenneth Heidt, executive director of special events, meeting and conference services for Paramount. "I had 60 meetings within a three-week period, with everyone from the Secret Service to the Department of Transportation."

BARKING AT THE DOGS In contrast, protesters angered by event sponsors including Philip Morris and the National Rifle Association tried to cause headaches at the Blue Dog Democrat event, held Aug. 13 at the Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park. "But as soon as guests got in, it was like a cocoon," says event producer Adrienne Levey, partner in Los Angeles-based Spellbound Creative Concepts.

Nearly 3,000 guests enjoyed the pier's midway games and rides. Blue carpeting, "dog tag" credentials and plush blue toy dogs as trophies underscored the event theme.

Coping with the protesters had its costs. Although she normally would stagger staff arrival, "we had to bring in all the crew much earlier," says caterer Joann Roth-Oseary of Someone's in the Kitchen, Tarzana, Calif. "We spent $6,000 in overtime, but there was no way out of it."

DRIVING FORCE The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles was the site of more than two dozen events during the convention. Spellbound worked with Creative Solutions Group of Warren, Mich., to create interactive displays noting the importance of the auto industry for client UAW-Daimler Chrysler National Training Center.

Through a series of receptions, luncheons and dinners, nearly 10,000 guests including White House chiefs of staff toured the displays while enjoying food from Someone's in the Kitchen. On an upper-level parking lot, Academy Tent of Los Angeles set up a 100-by-100-foot tent featuring a red, white and blue light show inside by San Diego-based Southwest Show Tech.

The Petersen events illustrate the power of special events to communicate a corporate message. "How many opportunities do you get to educate people across the board - governors, mayors, people from across the country?" Levey asks.

Passed Hors d'Oeuvre Crab Cakes, Eggplant Caprese, Tuscan Crostini, Rosemary and Prosciutto in Phyllo, Wild Mushroom Ravioli, Spicy Shrimp with Five-Pepper Jelly

Station One Caesar Salad, Assorted Focaccias, Medallions of Veal Piccata, Farfalle with Shrimp and Roasted Garlic, Grilled Peppers and Asparagus

Station Two Fried Oyster Salad with Pernod Buttermilk Dressing, Cajun Catfish and Hushpuppies, Blackened Beef Tenderloin, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Black-Eyed Peas, French Bread, Breadsticks and Corn Madeleines

Dessert Bananas Foster, Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding with Creme Anglaise, Pralines

Venice Beach Station Fish and Chips, Onion Rings, Hamburgers, Mini Baby Back Ribs, Cole Slaw, Potato Salad

Mexican Station Chicken Taquitos, Rice and Beans, Cheese Quesadillas, Beef Empanadas, Carne Asada

Asian Station Chicken Satay Skewers with Thai Peanut Sauce, Sesame Noodle Salad, Kung Pao Chicken, Spring Rolls, Beef Wontons

California Cuisine Station Barbecue Chicken Pizzas, Penne with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mushrooms, Caesar Salad, Mini Barbecue Spareribs, Grilled Summer Vegetables

Dessert Cookies, Fudge Brownies, Apple Bars