With recent news that the 2017 installment of the Geek Media Expo (GMX) has been canceled, our thoughts quickly re-focused on another event beloved by our blog, which has been notably absent for the last two years, on the watch of same folks responsible for the would-be fall convention. Our Editorial Board has been trying to develop the most tactful and responsible way to cover this topic for some time now, and we’re ready to put the spotlight on the subject.
We are, of course, referring to the once-great Nashville Zombie Walk.
This is a tale of community, prosperity, decline and — ready for this? — a bright light at the end of the tunnel!
So, where are we right now?
In 2016, as autumn temperatures dropped in Music City, one of the area’s largest haunted-holiday-themed events failed to materialize, exactly as it had in 2015. When the Halloween scream-season had ended, yet another October had passed and the Nashville Zombie Walk was missing again. For two consecutive years, the Walk had been absent after a lackluster showing in 2014. Many fans and regulars have been wondering what happened.
As we dive in, we must disclose that among the co-authors of this piece is one former producer of the event, those who’ve covered its inner and outer workings, and others who are privy to the “scoops” most folks are not aware of. We were there for much of its upward trend in growth. However, that fell off once the event changed hands, through an internal coup, and the inside view we once enjoyed faded as well. (In fact, there is a long and complicated story to be told of the re-shuffling of the local geek scene in the last few years, but that’s not for us right now.) Outside observation of the current state of affairs has been very confounding. For an event which had been propelled to bigger success than ever to have been wrestled out of the hands which were responsible for making it thrive to then have to suddenly fall flat seems very self-defeating, and fans have taken notice of the Zombie-brain-spilling face-plant.
Originally, the event was conceived by Zombie-genre hobbyists to coincide with World Zombie Day. Spread by word-of-mouth and through social media, those first few years were the building blocks for future successful events. Eventually, the event was passed on though a personal agreement of its longtime organizer, local goth “DJ Ichabod,” to Lucas Leverett (who now writes for ZIMB, with his column “The Stump”). It became part of a stable of “geek arts” events produced, at the time, by his brainchild — ArtsCubed — along with local fandom conventions Middle Tennessee Anime Convention (MTAC) and GMX.
The walk grew substantially. Local shops, haunts and vendors were involved as sponsors, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee was the benefactor of an attached canned food drive (as was the case with many Zombie walks). Not only were local volunteers involved in creating the event, but taking place in downtown Nashville, it also created interest from tourists who happened to be in the area. We covered the event that was coordinated by ArtsCubed in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The walk was transitioned from its longtime kickoff location in a tiny patch of park land on the riverfront, to a massive bridge-spanning public spectacle through downtown.
The Curse of Idle Hands…
Since then, what could have become a destination event was effectively canceled. Each year, we have been told it will return… without any results. The short version of the story is a typical one, in which power-rivals and internal organizational politics topple overall best-intentions. Leverett was ousted from his organization and despite a dispute over “ownership” of the walk, it came under the control of the new management at the time. Subsequent turnover of those leadership positions left nobody visibly designated as the event’s director, and a clear lack of experience by the folks left holding the bag was hindering the relationship between the walk and the city, with a volunteer team stretched to their limits as they juggled all that was left to them after the previous two leadership eras cleared out. Trying to get an official response from the group as to its future prospects was almost impossible for quite some time. It felt like ArtsCubed was holding the rights to the event hostage, for reasons that would become less and less fathomable as time marched on. New leadership had toppled the engineers of the prior take-over, but they seemed even less apt to produce the event, yet equally apt not to let it go to new (or old), and more responsible management.
We brought a variety of questions to the most recent responsible party, Nicholas Qualls, Executive Director of MTAC/GMX: How was it that the Zombie Walk ended up in the hands of MTAC/GMX after their separation of previous leadership? How were they keeping up with a balance of their workload between the conventions the walk? What were the long-term goals of their “ownership” of the walk? Was one person assuming key event responsibility? What was the general reaction from the public and city after the previous Nashville Zombie Walk? What happened to the walk in 2015? What were the events that led to it being effectively canceled? Why didn’t the walk happen in 2016? Will the group organize any more walks in Nashville? Why does the organization continue to essentially hold the rights to the name if the group has not been holding any more walks? Has a handoff of the event to another organizer been discussed as an alternative? Had they been contacted by prospective organizers for future walks? Has a release of the rights to the Nashville Zombie Walk been considered?
Mr. Qualls didn’t address the depth of these inquiries. He did, however, explain via prepared statement, “Our organization inherited [Nashville Zombie Walk] from its previous owners about three or four years ago. For the next upcoming year, 2017, we’re working with some new individuals to take charge of the walk while we continue focusing on the conventions.”
He continued, “If you’ve followed The Nashville Zombie Walk on Facebook, you’ve seen some of them already begin getting that community active again. There’ll be more to announce from them in the coming months as they plan a comeback in 2017.”
We Found A Survivor…
Through our investigation and observation of this controversial topic, and great patience, we managed to track down the new man on the scene, Dan Lee. Mr. Lee has taken on the assets and “ownership” of the Nashville Zombie Walk, and was eager to help us fill in the gaps. Dan’s part of the story helps tie up a lot of loose ends, and we’ve now got the scoop on the pending triumphant return of the walk!
Dan, by contrast, was ready and willing to answer our questions — quite thoroughly.
Hey, Dan! Thanks for helping us put the finishing touches on our exploration of the fate of the Nashville Zombie Walk. What brought you to the walk in the past and made you part of the community surrounding it?
– “I’m a horror fan and I love Halloween. Because of the career field I ended up in, I usually spent Halloween working instead of celebrating it with my son. When I heard about the Zombie Walk in 2007, my family and I decided we’d check it out. We made ourselves up, went out, and had probably one of the best family outings we’d ever had. It became a regular tradition every year after. It was also great to see this huge, strange event in the heart of Music City collecting canned goods and donations for the Second Harvest Food Bank.”
When did you initially speak up about the situation with the walk and how? What was the response?
– “Like a lot of people, I initially went to the event’s Facebook page in 2015 and posted on the timeline and sent a couple of messages that were never answered. I started going to events around town like the Way Late Play Date at the Adventure Science Center and, seeing booths for GMX and MTAC, I asked when the event would be. The answer was always the same: ‘We’ll be making an announcement next week.’”
How did you end up in control of it, and what primary role do you think you play moving forward, vs. others who may end up involved?
– “As September started in 2016 and there was no answer on when the walk would be, I began emailing and messaging anyone I could find with any sort of connection to the event. A lot of the addresses and accounts for organizers that I could find had been deactivated. Finally, fed up with the complete disregard I felt had been shown to supporters like myself, as well as rumors that the sister events to the Zombie Walk had been responsible for its demise, I wrote a blog post bashing those events and voicing my displeasure over how the Zombie Walk (and its fans) had been completely forgotten and disrespected by organizers. I posted links and tagged GMX, MTAC, and any other event or locale that had even a fleeting association with the Zombie Walk in hopes that I’d provoke some kind of response.”
“In less than a day I received an email from an organizer at GMX. He explained to me an abbreviated version of how the event had unceremoniously been dumped off into the hands of people who didn’t understand it and eventually left it by the wayside. It was during this conversation that the offer was made. ‘If you’d like to try and organize it, we’d be more than happy to hand it over.’ Ever since then, I’ve been the sole organizer and entity of the Nashville Zombie Walk.”
“Moving forward, I’d love to see more participation from fans and walkers in the organization; everything from voting on routes and campaigning with local businesses to encourage participation to maintaining social media with photographs and art inspired by the walk. This is — our — event and I want to see people taking pride in it. Eventually, I’d like to find someone reliable who shares a vision for the walk’s future. I’d like to be able to step away from organizing and focus on promoting the event, taking less of an upfront role. Ultimately, I just want to see this tradition thrive again the way it’s done for the better part of a decade.”
What’s your biggest hope and your biggest challenge with the walk?
– “My hope is that we can make up for a two-year absence with something truly amazing and fun. This has to be one of the strangest and coolest parades anyone will see and for the people who never gave up faith, who kept watching the site for updates and information, I feel like they deserve to have that faith rewarded with the absolute best Zombie Walk. There are some great horror and Halloween-themed events that come through Nashville beyond the Zombie Walk and I’d love to get the organization more involved with them. It seems a bit like a dream, but seeing this walk become a part of a larger horror-themed weekend in Nashville, something drawing crowds from all over the region, would just be amazing.”
“As for the biggest challenge I’ve faced, it has to be figuring out how to actually pull this off. I had absolutely no clue what I was getting into when I took over the organization of the event and, until recently, I’ve been completely on my own trying to figure out how to make it happen. Thankfully, I’ve met some folks in the last few weeks who have the know-how and the experience to help me make this happen.”
How are you feeling about the future of the walk with current plans falling into place?
– “I’m a lot more hopeful about the Zombie Walk now, than I was a few weeks ago. It’s a gradual sort of hope that keeps building. I’ve gone from seeing this event rotting in a shallow grave, to breathing some new life into it. With every step that’s taken, we’re seeing it move closer and closer from dream into reality. There are lots of exciting developments that I’m bursting to share with everyone when the time is right.”
For our part, here at Zombies In My Blog, we look forward to spreading the word. There are already lots of elements in motion that we can’t wait to share with our readers. The Nashville Zombie Walk lives, and it has renewed support from all those who once enjoyed producing it, promoting it, covering it, and participating in it.
We’ve seen the future, and it’s coming up undead — in the best possible way!
Stay tuned, folks.