Don't Burn Bridges: How a Full-time College Student Organized the Largest Halloween Party in Utah

November 02 2015

Korey Smith created his first event while attending high school in Roseburg, Oregon. The school administration had canceled a school dance, so he took matters into his own hands. He rented out a bowling alley and charged a couple of dollars at the door to pay for sound equipment, giving his fellow students a place to dance that night.

The enterprising student brought his event making skills to college at BYU, where he eventually caught the attention of Provo Live, a non-profit initiative to deepen the music and entertainment event scene in the college town of Provo, Utah. They asked Korey to be their event producer. And they also asked him to organize the biggest event he’s ever done.

Provo Live throws events throughout the school year, but none is bigger than the annual Nightmare on Center Street. Now in its 5th year, the Nightmare on Center Street started out as a small dance party to give college kids a place to hang out on Halloween. Korey has helped turn it into the can’t-miss event of the night that includes free admission, free drinks, closing down the historic Center Street, lighting up a huge stage with revolving DJs, dropping thousands of balloons, contests and giveaways, and sponsors like Coca-Cola and Monster Energy.



Photos by:  Miles Mortensen, Provo Live


In his role as event producer, Korey handles everything from marketing, hiring photographers, lining up sponsors, coordinating talent, pulling permits, and blowing up balloons.

This year, the event attracted an estimated 9,000 costumed partygoers. That’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment for a full-time college senior, urban planning student, collegiate athlete (Track & Field), and new husband. 

SpinGo caught up with Korey between midterms and track practice a few days before Halloween to talk about the event, his approach to event making, and achieving balance. 


My number one priority is my wife, and then school and track. I make sure I take care of those things first, and then I bury myself in whatever needs to be done.

SpinGo:  What's it like trying to balance school and organizing this event?
Korey Smith:  It's hard. I'm in school all morning. I'm at track practice from 2 to 5. So my whole day until 5 o’clock is consumed. I'll get breaks in between classes, and I'll be able to make phone calls and send emails to different people to organize things. I spent the last couple of weeks seeing how the sponsorships are going and lining up more sponsorships as well. Yeah, if there's something that needs to be done, I'll make time for that.

I got married in June. My number one priority is my wife, and then school and track. I make sure I take care of those things first, and then I bury myself in whatever needs to be done. Whether that's checking the Facebook page and making sure everything's going smoothly and seeing if I need to grow it or promote it more...or designing flyers or hiring the photographer. It's a combination of a lot of things. Honestly, it’s just kind of buckling down and see what needs to be done and making sure those arrangements follow through. 


Photo credit: Korey Smith


Any particular challenges?

On the day of the event, we are not able to close the street down until 2 pm. We’ll have to rush to get everything ready. Last year we had it closed down for 24 hours. This year we'll need more help, more hands. Clean up is always a hassle when you have that many people. That takes manpower to sweep all that up.


Where does that manpower come from?
Because it's a free event, we don't really have the budget to pay for manpower. Last year we had interns. This year, BYU's student volunteer organization will send people. Other than that it comes down to friends who are willing to help out. It’s purely volunteer-based. It's whatever we can get. People beforehand are pretty willing to help. But as soon as the event starts, they aren’t as willing to stick around. They want to celebrate Halloween and enjoy the holiday. 

Last year I was there for 24 straight hours to make sure everything got done. And it's something, that if I have to dig in again, I will.


How long have you been planning?
We start thinking and planning during the summer. We’re always trying to think of what we can do for a backup plan just in case weather isn't good—like if we need to move it to a parking garage.


So you have both places locked down?
Yeah we figure that out and start pulling permits early. 


What's that process like?
We have done this in the past and we have a pretty good relationship with the mayor, and he likes what we do. He actually speeds up the process for us and has been good in helping us out in pushing the sound ordinance past 10. We go until midnight and need the approval of the city.



How has it been with promotion?
We've had success. Again it comes down to manpower. Hanging up posters. Doing flyers. Facebook ends up being a big source for invites and getting people to share. I made a video from last year and uploaded it to Facebook and offered a prize to everyone who shared the video on their wall. The prize is a gift card that winners will get on the night of the event. The video has a few thousand views now. 

We try and make do with what we have. Becauses it’s a free event, we try and keep our marketing expenses as low as we can.


What are you the most nervous about?
Weather is our biggest worry. Last year it was 75 degrees. Next year it could snow. You never know what could happen with the elements. I worry about malfunction and just not providing the best event that we can. Letting the people down is my biggest fear. We want to keep it growing every year and keep people wanting to go to Center Street for Halloween.


When you make the event about your audience, that's how you are going to reach success.


Where does your passion come from?
I'm passionate about the things that are going to make the crowd enjoy it more. Just seeing that many people show up and have a good time—that's what is most fulfilling.


Describe your approach as an event maker.
The most important thing for event makers is to not burn bridges. Make as many relationships as possible and keep good relationships with everyone. Whether that’s the day of the event or not. It's a lot of work, but I've never said that it was too much work for the reward. The reward is seeing that many people appreciating what you did, and there really is no way to explain how cool that feels—that what you did was worth their time or money. When you make the event about your audience, that's how you are going to reach success.

How has building relationships payed off for you?
Last year one of our sponsors came in and paid for their spot to do a photobooth. I was excited and thankful to have them. We helped them set up and made sure they were well taken care of. They ended up having more success than they previously thought they would have and got some awesome exposure for their company. 

This year, they came back and are doubling the amount of sponsorship money. They just knew it was worth it, because we helped them out so much last year in building their name. 



Do you have any essential tools that you couldn’t live without?
Facebook is the best thing that ever happened to events. It keeps everyone connected in a community like this. I use the events part of the apps everyday in making the posts, keeping the activity up, and sending out invites. Email is also very important in reaching out to people that are potential sponsors and getting other people to contribute in some way. 


What are you doing during the event?
Once everything’s set up, there’s still a lot going on. I deal with small issues, like if a speaker goes out, I get that taken care of. Or I'll help the videographer climb the truss so that he can get a good shot. I keep things organized, making sure the sponsors get mentioned, make announcements and making sure people stay off the stage. I can normally find plenty to do. At some point during the event I'll take a step back and try to just enjoy the event for myself. It is nice to let the event work itself. 


Any memorable event experiences?
I crowdsurfed once at an event with 3,000 people and thought I was going to die. But with the adrenaline of the moment, I didn't care. It was worth it.