Behind the Scenes at the Medal of Honor Patriot Gala

📅September 24th, 2014, 13:42

20140910_152323_resizedThe 2014 Medal of Honor Society Convention was an event three years in the making, and the convention was a significant honor for our city. The Knoxville Medal of Honor Convention Executive Committee and Co-Chairs Joe E. Thompson III and Chris Coyne, along with organizations, venues and vendors across the area, planned for many months for the September festivities.

The convention previously has been held in such places as Gettysburg, Pa., and Charleston, S.C. Next year’s event will be held in Boston. These cities are rich in American history and patriotism, but I heard several attendees remark that Knoxville showed our heroes the best welcome of any city. I am proud of Knoxville for recognizing the importance of this event and stepping up to honor these men for the service they have provided to our country.

The Knoxville Convention Center was the location of several convention activities, including the culmination of the week’s events, the Patriot Awards Gala.  It took hundreds of hours for planning and setup, hundreds of volunteer hours from the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial Association, Knoxville Chamber, Visit Knoxville and community volunteers, as well as coordination among numerous vendors and organizations, to stage the Patriot Gala. In total, vendors and organizations working on the Patriot Awards Gala tallied approximately 10,000 staff hours to make the Patriot Gala an unforgettable night.

In addition to the planning work by Convention Center Executive Chef Chris Moore and our SAVOR…Knoxville culinary team, our parent company SMG sent SAVOR…Catering staff from other properties, including Jason Grayson, the director of food and beverage at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass., and Chef Kasey Thexton, executive chef at INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita, Kansas. Jason and Chef Thexton stayed with us through the convention to ensure the intricate food service worked flawlessly. US Foods Executive Chef Ed Butler also consulted on the project.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look from the Convention Center that shows what it takes to put on a massive event like the Patriot Awards Gala.

The Patriot Awards Gala

On Saturday, Sept. 13, the Knoxville Convention Center hosted the Patriot Awards Gala, the culmination of the Medal of Honor Society Convention. We served more than 1,400 honored guests, including more than 50 Medal of Honor recipients; emcee and actor Gary Sinise; and award winners U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr.; CBS Sports writer and broadcaster David Feherty; chief Washington correspondent and anchor for CNN Jake Tapper; and actor and producer Mark Wahlberg. The gala was one of the largest, most elaborate service setups that we ever have had at the Knoxville Convention Center, and I am proud of how our staff stepped up to meet the challenge.

Event planners from the The Webster Group in Washington, D.C., spent thousands of hours coordinating with vendors and planning every detail of the convention.

20140912_135817_resizedSome 135 volunteers from the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild spent 20,000 hours making quilts for each of the 78 living Medal of Honor recipients. The Quilts of Valor were displayed along our concourse for guests to view as they entered the Patriot Gala. Those recipients who did not attend had their blankets shipped to them.

20140912_135353_resizedInside the ballroom, professional lighting design company Bandit Lites begins the lighting setup for the evening, and a completely new stage construction goes up. Bandit Lites spent 242 hours planning and setting up for the Patriot Gala.

20140912_141402_resizedOur ballroom is a blank canvas for clients. The wall draping, specialty linens and chairs added an element of luxury to the event. All Occasions Party Rentals and our in-house event services vendor, All Convention & Expo Services, spent a total of 1,500 hours setting up the room. The wall draping was provided by Quest Drape and took approximately 10 hours to hang.

20140912_135519_resizedThe room was set with a combination of round, square and rectangular tables for an extra element of interest to the room design.

10612648_10204606654588009_4623980766335082306_n[1]Meanwhile, in the kitchen …


… the culinary team prepares 1,400 individual warm Amaretto bread pudding servings in small mason jars for dessert.


Before any guests arrived, our entire event services team and servers met to review the game plan. With an event of this magnitude, it’s all hands on deck. The Knoxville Convention Center staff and local staffing agencies alone spent 1,864 staff hours on the Patriot Awards Gala. The project was such an undertaking that we brought in additional assistance from former food and beverage managers Jessica Stout, Brent Christian and Stacey Swafford, and we hired extra help through local staffing agencies TSI, Express, Labor Ready, Labor Exchange, Skyco, Acuforce and I Know a Guy.

10610510_10204606653667986_7440779951053302453_n[1]Our staff is ready to serve.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeautiful table settings adorned guest tables. The floral designs were created by Michael Speir Design, and flowers were provided by local florist, LB Floral. Michael Speir spent more than 220 hours preparing the floral and stage designs for the event.


Michael Speir designed the stage setup for the Patriot Gala, and local company, Brownlee Construction, spent 107 hours on its fabrication and construction.

10615603_10205011402471871_830390772106334690_n[1]The Knoxville Convention Center staff in front of the finished product.


Our 30,000-square-foot ballroom showed a complete transformation. From lighting to event rentals, we have very talented vendors in Knoxville who helped make this event possible.

MOH_gala_0822[1]It’s showtime.

MOH_gala_0825[1]A view from the stage at the Patriot Gala. More than 1,400 guests attended to honor our nation’s heroes. The lighting on the ceiling was another brilliant touch by Bandit Lites.

MOH_gala_2343[1]Master of Ceremonies and actor Gary Sinise with City of Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero. What a great night and a great honor for Knoxville.

The Patriot Gala is one of the most prestigious, ambitious events that the Knoxville Convention Center and the City of Knoxville ever have undertaken, and it was for a very rewarding cause. I could not possibly thank every vendor, volunteer and staff member that helped make this event possible; however, in addition to vendors already mentioned, a special thanks to our partners TEC/TV, Streamline Video, M&L Sound, floral assistant Lesley Britt, Masskus Productions, M&M Productions USA, IATSE Rigging, Showcall, The Tombras Group, Tennessee Florist Supply and the Knoxville Police Department who helped make this possible.

The Knoxville Convention Center was proud to be part of a great team working on the Medal of Honor Society Convention, and we hope to see this event return in a few years to Knoxville, one of the most patriotic cities in the United States.