Livin’ on a prayer and a Z-Pack

I’m staring at my external hard drive.

It’s cold, silver and seemingly lifeless, with the exception of an occasional blip of a green light, telling me that it’s still doing its job of storing information.

Good thing, since I feel like my brain is on overload right about now.

I’m not delirious, at least I don’t think. I’ve been fighting a sinus infection for the last four days, and I think the antibiotic is messing with my head. Maybe it’s nerves. Either way, the hard drive is capturing WAY too much of my attention.

It’s the day before the day before the NWTF National Convention officially starts, but I’m already at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center. My butt is planted on the (quite comfy) sea foam green couch in the production suite, sifting through agendas, scripts, videos, graphics and PowerPoint presentations.

Months of work done by no fewer than two dozen people sits on an external drive that’s about the size of three packs of Trident gum stacked side by side. I hold it in my hands like Gollum grasping the ring, afraid to give up control of the gigabytes of information nestled in the belly of my silver … square … PRECIOUS sidekick.

I slowly, cautiously let go of each file, into the hands of a more-than-capable production crew. I trust them. We were a great team last year, and no doubt this year will be just as great, even better! My anxiety comes from the fear that I’m not prepared, though I’ve done my best to be.

Ladies of the night (functions) —Krystie O’Brien (of Krystie O’Brien Productions), Rachel Heitzer (OVATION) and me making shows happen in the big, honkin’ ballroom in the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center in Nashville. Just so ya know, we took this pic from far away because it was 10 p.m., after a really long day. No one should have a close up that late… Plus, you get to see the Delta Ballroom as a work in progress! Neat-o!

If you’re coming to Nashville this year and attend any of the evening functions or breakfasts, you’ll see the cumulative efforts of what goes into producing live shows. It starts with ideas from NWTF staff members. Then makes its way to the NWTF communications department where it becomes scripts, videos and background images. I collect all the elements and provide a sort of map or schedule, putting them all together in a somewhat cohesive manner.

By the sound of it, I’m not much more than an information courier, when in fact it’s a large load to bear. Every brain cell is wrapped around some detail of the next several days.

And now the day has come to pass it off to the people who give it life in video and sound, from camera operators and teleprompter operators to sound technicians and stage managers. The NWTF brings in professionals from across the country to make each show worth the price of admission.

You rarely see the production team, but that’s the point. They’re the backstage genies who made our onstage wishes a reality.

In the next few days, I will morph into a member of the production crew, not fully sure of my role, other than to be the detail Sherpa. I know that it’s Mitchell Johnston, spelled with a T, and not Johnson. That MidwayUSA is not supposed to have a space between the Y and the U. That Ashton Shepard is playing two songs per entertainment break. It’s not Bakersville, but Bakersfield, Ca.

Perhaps each of those details seem minute when standing alone, but, to me, each one is a very important detail that makes up the NWTF. And when there’s like a bazillion of them to keep up with, I start to feel pretty darn useful.

But nothing beats when those details come together in a fun night for our volunteers. I can’t help but feel proud to be part of the team that made it happen.

Lights. Camera. We so crazy.

When someone walks in my office, plops down in one of the chairs and stares at me with a grin, I know he or she is looking for a favor.

That’s exactly what Josh Fleming, the NWTF’s public relations manager, did a couple weeks ago. And the odds were high I was going to do whatever he asked, because:

A) I’m an extremely helpful individual.

B) I’m a pushover who chokes on the word “no.”

C) I’ll do just about anything, except for endangering my child, eating live bugs or swimming in an underground lake. (That’s some scary stuff.)

Josh was “casting” a couple commercials to promote the upcoming NWTF National Convention and Sport Show in the Nashville area. The ad would run Jan. 23 through Feb. 12 on several major networks, like CMT, ESPN and Fox News. He promised fame, fortune and the chance to wear camo to work. (One out of three ain’t bad.)

That’s part of the fun of working at the NWTF. You have no idea what’s going to be thrown your way on any given day. And these commercials were no different. I’m not a professionally trained actress, which will be painfully evident if you click on the second video link, the one with the people in the break room. But we had a good time, and it was a nice diversion from office work.

If you don’t live near Music City and won’t be at our convention (tisk, tisk,) check out these stellar performances on YouTube.

Then consider writing to the Screen Actor’s Guild about the untapped talent in single-species conservation groups.

So you’re in the know, the guys in the first video are Chris Piltz, NWTF special events coordinator, and NWTF TV producer Joe Mole. Chris wants everyone to know he’s actually a good turkey caller. And Joe wants everyone to know he didn’t share spit with Chris. (It was a camera trick.)

In the second video, you have NWTF graphic artist Ryan Kirby, Turkey Country Senior Editor P.J. Perea and little ol’ me. The aforementioned Josh Fleming plays the working stiff. This commercial won’t actually be on network TV for reasons unknown, but I’m not bitter…

The NWTF convention of my dreams

Most every NWTF employee has a National Convention alter ego. What I mean is what we do in Nashville for that week in February (and the weeks leading up to it) is different than our daily jobs.

Take me, for example. Everyday job: Turkey Country editor. Convention job: Live show production.

I serve as the liaison between the NWTF and the professional company we hire to produce the live stage shows. I’m tasked with gathering all the elements for the programs in the Delta Ballroom — scripts for the presenters, images and information slides that pop up on the screens, videos, stuff like that.

My favorite part is picking the music that plays while everyone is milling about or eating dinner. I’m a suppressed DJ, so this is about as close as I’m going to get to spinning rad tunes for a large group of people.

Once I get to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, I rarely leave the cavernous backstage, with its painted black floors and walls, thousands of buttons, miles of cord and a dozen or so screens that go along with the production of our events each morning and evening. I wear a trail in the ornate hotel carpet between my room and Delta Ballroom, only deviating to grab a slice of pizza or Diet Coke.

Very few national conventions come with their own cave, unless you’re a bat or vampire … or work backstage. This year, the turkey folks get one, thanks to the BLM. Don’t miss out on the fun — above or below ground. Register for the NWTF National Convention and Sport Show at

But being backstage is kinda fun. A lot of action takes place once the shows are in full swing. You watch the bands up close, see the sweat beading up on the presenters’ foreheads, listen in on the stream of talking from the production staff as they cue lights, video, cameras.

My only regret is that I rarely see the rest of the convention, since I’m holed up Boo Radley-style for most of the week.

Every year, I have the best intentions of dropping in on a calling contest, auction or a seminar, but it never seems to work out. I finally made it to the exhibit hall on Sunday afternoon last year, only to grab a t-shirt from Turkey Shoppe, then I was on the road back to Edgefield.

I often daydream as to what I’d do if I ever attended convention as a participant getting my turkey on with other volunteers from across the country.

Here’s what I’d do this year …

I’d rock the Roost. I’m a big kid, so I gravitate to anything hands-on. For those who don’t know, the Roost is an area of the exhibit hall that’s geared toward kids and families, with a ton of activities for the youngster in all of us. This year, the Bureau of Land Management is bringing its indoor cave all the way from New Mexico. I hear it’s massive, like 43-feet-long, 12-feet-high and with three chambers complete with dripping water and cool breezes. You can explore underground wildlife and rock formations without the creepy feeling the earth is going to close in on you. I’m down with that.

I’d be a marathon seminar goer. I’d run the gauntlet of women’s classes on Friday — make a survival bracelet, do a few feather crafts, learn a little more about outdoor photography. Then I’d hang with the hunting experts on Saturday and harvest a few tricks and tips from Michael Waddell, Eddie Salter and Brenda Valentine.

I’d catch the fun vibe at the Ladies’ Luncheon and Auction. If I had a dime to my name, I’d bid on stuff, but what really draws me in is the girls-just-wanna-have-fun atmosphere. I saw pictures of the regional directors from last year’s hoorah, many of them dressed as has-been rockstars and washed-up hippies. Who knows what they’ll do with the theme: Pioneer Women — Trailblazers of Conservation? Any bets on who’ll wear a bonnet?

I wouldn’t miss the Winchester Veteran’s Breakfast. Even backstage last year I teared up at the moving series of speakers, videos and parade of vets recognized for their service. And I even KNEW what was coming next! I’d probably be a blubbering mess if I watched from the audience. No napkin or tablecloth would be safe from the waterworks.

I’d mosey through the exhibit hall. I would take my time and see what’s new, cool and waiting to grace my turkey vest. I’d catch up with friends in the industry and snag a bag of those cinnamon pecans that just smell so darn good.

I’d have a pedicure at Relache Spa at the Gaylord, because my feet would be exhausted from taking it all in. A girl can dream, you know…


Jump on the train or watch the train wreck…you’re invited

Sorry I didn’t post last week. Did ya miss me?

Time just got away from me. It seems as if all the parts of my job right now keep stacking up on this imaginary shelf above my head, and it all came crashing down on me at the first of the year — the March-April edition of Turkey Country (the biggest issue of the year), filling my dance card for SHOT Show (the biggest industry trade show of the year) and preparing for the NWTF National Convention (our biggest event of the year).

None of it’s a surprise. Each one happens annually. Just the immediacy of it all at the turn of a new year seems to catch me off guard every time.

As I sit at my desk, staring at various piles of paper, listening to my inbox ding with new items for my multiple to-do lists, I console myself that it will all be over with before I know it. Then I freak out again, because, well, that means it will all be over with before I know it. I just hope I’ll be ready.

It’s that same feeling you get at the beginning of a school year when a teacher hands you a syllabus. You read the long, detailed list in front of you and wonder how you’ll ever get all of it done (and still, like, have time for a life). But the reality is you will, taking it one task, one day at a time.

The next few weeks are gonna be crazy, but I promise not to forget you. I hope you won’t forget to keep up with me, because it’s going to be action packed, including trips to Las Vegas for SHOT, Nashville for NWTF Convention, new outdoor product reveals, giveaways, a possible meltdown by me. You don’t want to miss it.

Get the full experience by following me on Twitter (@Karen_Lee_NWTF) or friending me on Facebook. Search for Karen Lee and look for the same picture that’s smiling at you at the top of this page.

You can even ask the Internet spirits to magically let you know I’ve made a post by subscribing to this blog. It’s super easy. Just move your head a quarter-inch to the right. OK, now up a smidge. Type your email address into the little box and hit the subscribe button. You’ll get a message in you inbox to verify you want to take this earth-shattering step, but you’ll just coolly say, “It’s OK. I’m ready.”

And if you’re a real rock star, you’ll do all three.

Alright, people, we’re in this together. Buckle your chinstraps. ‘Cause here we go!