The many hats of Zan Comerford
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
Someone who wear’s many hats is usually defined as multi-faceted, versatile, accomplished, eclectic and most of all diverse.
It’s fair to say that Zan Comerford fits this definition to a tee. Her star shines brightly on the many moons around her, and after recently having had an opportunity to work alongside her, I discovered how resourceful she was, passionate and motivated by the potential for cultural change through creating interactions in unconventional spaces.
After completing her studies in journalism, Zan has managed campaigns for Symbiosis Festival (California), SONIC BLOOM (Colorado), Oregon Eclipse (Oregon) Okeechobee Festival (Florida), Bass Coast Festival (Canada), Miami Beach Pop (Florida), The Edwardian Ball (San Francisco), The Soiled Dove (San Francisco), Body & Soul (Ireland), Patagonia Eclipse (Argentina), along with pioneering Bay-Area record label MalLabel Music. She also regularly teaches strategic marketing to artists and creative entrepreneurs around North America’s west coast, and is a frequent guest lecturer at Selkirk College.
With all those feathers in her hat collection, it’s no surprise that her modern approach to life is a combination of curiosity, creativity and organization. She excels and knows how to balance out her varied talents by understanding her priorities without sacrificing integrity. As multi-dimensional as she is, it’s her progressive and bold style that shifts narratives and opens the door for discovery, while always seeking to create an element for human response.
At any one time or another, Zan is performing as a social media maven, event coordinator and planner, an educator, and works as a marketing and communications manager for many of the world’s preeminent festivals and events. Most recently she played an integral role as the Event Coordinator for last month’s Winter Kickoff Carnival & Events with Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism.
The flagship event was the ‘Carnival’ portion for Winter Kickoff, where she and her mighty team transformed the Nelson Visitor Centre parking lot into an expressive and artful display of light, sound, performance, music, media and imagery.
It truly was a uniquely curated environment and spectacle under 3600SF+ of canopy tents provided by Headphone Entertainment.
The audience thoroughly enjoyed the rich immersive experience, which included a VR heli-skiing tour experience with CMH, Sherpas Cinema and Mountain Culture Group, a craft beer tasting room, along with culinary explorations and demonstrations with local chefs.
The attendees had an opportunity to discover interactive art and roaming performances that engaged the senses, while kids activities animated the joyous atmosphere. The all ages event surely delighted and surprised, and it set the stage for a tremendous kick-off into a magical winter ahead.
“It’s people like Zan that can make magic happen. She took one word, ‘Carnival’ and made it a spectacular community event. She’ll be working again next year to make Winter Kickoff amazing,” relished Dianna Ducs, Executive Director of Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism.
Fresh off the heals’ of this successful event, I was lucky enough to catch up with Zan to discover the broader scope of what makes her want to create and facilitate human interaction and connections.
Hello Zan, nice to see you and thank you for spending time with us at The Daily Dose. So I must say, I don’t think anyone can forget a name like Zan, but it gets better, Zan is short for Zanzibar. Can you elaborate and tell me more, what’s the meaning behind the name? Is there some exotic context or is it just some cool hippie original? I have to ask…
It’s definitely a relic from my hippie days. Zan is short for something else, but when people would ask me, I would tell them it was short for Zanzibar. They’d tell me I have cool parents, and I would agree. No harm, no foul!
Ha touche, so tell me about your personal journey into creating live event experiences?
I got involved with events when I was 19 and living in Ireland and the UK. I just started handing out flyers for club shows and caught wind of a massive seven-day festival happening in the middle of the Danube river in Budapest called Sziget. I went to the festival alone and was blown away by the powerful potential for connection and education that occurs when the routines of day-to-day interactions are removed. People act completely different to both strangers and friends when the context is shifted, and I wanted to be a part of it. Fast forward a few years and a friend bought me a ticket to my first Shambhala Music Festival when I was still living in Vancouver and the rest is history.
What are the most unique and memorable events you have worked on?
They’re all so incredible and unique but marketing the Oregon Eclipse Festival was definitely a major highlight. Over 40,000 people from over 50 countries came together for seven days in central Oregon for an incredible, multi-faceted festival that celebrated and witnessed a full solar eclipse, with indigenous representatives from over 10 nations holding the central ceremony. It’s something I’m still processing, even as I gear up for the next eclipse festival in Argentina in December of 2020. Second to that would be Body & Soul Festival in Ireland. Experiencing a similar tone of this immersive event set inside the stone gardens of a 400-year-old castle was just incredible, and seeing the passion that Irish people put into having a good time, it was definitely inspiring. Honestly, it’s really hard to pick.
Fair enough, let’s bring this back to the local angle then. You just recently completed an amazing and very successful Winter Kickoff Carnival event designed and curated with Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism. What was this live event experience like compared to your other experiences you have been part of, which are more defined, established and global in nature?
This was such a great experience. I really wanted to bring some of the elements I see happening in bigger centres, Las Vegas, Montreal, San Francisco, where community events are immersive and brands participate by activating spaces, not just by hanging logos. It was such a great opportunity to connect with the incredible business community we have here, and I was so pleased to see such a big turnout. The Kootenay’s love to party, and I was humbled to have an opportunity to fuse my experience in the festival industry with the community and create a family friendly event. All my secret goals came true, except it could have been 5 degrees warmer.
Event attendees have well established expectations regarding site experiences, what do you feel is the most important element to creating a memorable live event experience?
I think one of the most important aspects to creating an event people remember, is to provide them with opportunities to interact with the space and with each other. Most of our day-to-day interactions revolve around production and consumption, which is great, that’s how the world works. However, if people are put into a situation where something makes them curious, invites them to sit and look at each other in a new way, prompts them to observe the world around them in a different light, I feel like that’s the space where big changes can take place.
I’m sure your individual event goals can be as varied as the events themselves, but ultimately, people have a live event to make some kind of connection with the attendees as you mentioned, what type of connections are most important for you to facilitate?
It sounds cheesy, but I always hope that people make a connection with something bigger. Whether that’s the feeling of being a part of a community, or the feeling of being connected to the music, or connected to something outside of the norm; feeling that they belong to something, and that their participation in this big experiment matters, that’s where the big things begin.
The emotive event experiences are moving past the simple stirring of video playback to create experiences of course. Smart planners are creating tactile interactive experiences that connect deep emotional states as you are aware. In the digital era, we use technology as a means to human interaction, how do your events that you are associated with create more deliberate connections, how do you facilitate that exactly?
We know how to interact with most things we come into contact with every day. Sit in the chair, drink the coffee, plug the meter. Things are where we expect them to be. However, when you include expected things in unexpected ways our brains shift, like at Winter Kickoff, you’re sitting on a ski chair inside the Carnival, which Whitewater provided, or a giant snowman walks past you as you’re standing around a fire beside an incredible drag performance, things shift. New ideas and new conversations pop up. Whether it’s just a question, or a connection with your neighbour, or even a different mood, it’s just all about providing an opportunity for a shake-up.
Nicely put, I will wrap up our conversation with Shambhala Music Festival then. It’s a cyclical force within the outdoor global event space, how do you see your life here in Nelson influencing and shaping what is happening in the future, beyond this region, beyond Shambhala?
I feel so fortunate to work with different events around the world. I haven’t worked with Shambhala for a couple of years now, but they certainly are the Grand Daddy in the scene, and they helped carve a big path. When I’m on the road and I try to explain where I live, I ask people if they have heard of Shambhala, and nine times out of 10, they have. I say I live in that town, and I couldn’t be more proud.
For further information or to contact Zan directly, you can email her at email@example.com
To check out images of the Winter Kickoff Carnival please visit www.winterkickoff.com
Happy Holiday from the The Daily Dose!