MAKING A SPLASH – A Q&A with Craig Samborski, Producer of Tall Ships Philadelphia Camden 2015

Craig Samborski has had a career in special events for many, many years, at first working in house for performing arts venues, then taking it on the road as an independent event producer (doing over a hundred events a year), and now organizing, planning, and producing fewer (but larger) events, with a specialty in tall ship festivals.

Tall ship festivals, at least the ones that he works on, are very family friendly, and appeal to quite a broad demographic.  The last one he put together, in Los Angeles, attracted 277,000 people to their waterfront, so I think it is safe to call them extremely popular.  Because Craig only produces a few such events per year, he spends a lot of time in the local communities in preparation, getting local government, chambers of commerce, visitors bureaus, and civic groups prepared for what to expect and how to get ready for the influx of visitors, including parking, business impact, and public safety and health.

Tall ships hold an irresistible attraction for both local folks and travelers from afar.  In 2013, he did a large event in Duluth, Minnesota (an exactingly accurate historical reenactment, 200 years after the fact, of the Battle of Lake Erie, featuring 16 tall ships with cannons, including the U.S. Brig Niagara) and they ended up with visitors from all fifty states, 86,000 people in attendance, and $15 million of outside dollars infused into the local economy.

Currently he’s working hard on Tall Ships Philadelphia Camden 2015, coming later this month.  But that is not all…he’s currently booked through 2017, bringing tall ships to other places, and is starting to think about and plan for 2018.

Each festival is unique, with different ships, from different homeports.  This time, there will be ships from France, Portugal, Brazil, and Canada, among others.  Entertainment will, of course, be on the program:  local musicians will provide some regional flavor for out of town guests, who will get to enjoy bands, singers, dancers, story tellers, and historic re-enactors, for a true taste of the Philadelphia area.  For those interested in learning about maritime and waterfront history, there will be glass blowing, blacksmithing, and all kinds of other educational experiences for guests, who will also have the opportunities to learn about the visiting ships and the ports, their historic role in commerce, what it takes to get goods across oceans, and what life aboard ship is like for the sailors.

Craig keeps pretty busy and has a rather hectic travel schedule, as event producers are wont to do.  Seeing as our paths weren’t going to cross in person in the near future, we had a nice telephone chat as an alternative.


The NewsWhistle Q&A with Craig Samborski


Date of interview:  January 20, 2015
Hometown: Growing up I split time between Chicago, IL, and Duluth, MN.
Current town: Duluth, MN (and also everywhere I do these events becomes my temporary home away from home…I’m currently constantly going back and forth to Philadelphia, PA)
Occupation: Event producer with a specialty in tall ship festivals


What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?

It is always fun to spend time with my kids.

Besides that, I’m currently at a conference in San Francisco,, which is on the cutting edge of live event ticketing.

Ticketfly is really a technology platform serving live events, and this is an opportunity for people in the event industry to see what is coming down the pike.

Ticketing is complex and important: it’s how you deliver your product to the consumer.  For this upcoming Tall Ship Festival, we have 38 different types of tickets (for various ship entries at various times, for example).

Many things are now sold online, and we’re getting out of the traditional box office model to marketing digitally, and learning how we find our customers that way, and how the word gets out about what we’re doing.

One of the important things that I’m doing is helping to make sure that what I do is family entertainment that is very affordable.  A family of four can spend $28 for this event and enjoy it all day.  You can, of course, spend more, but you don’t have to; I try to be very sensitive to the cost to the consumer.  Anyway, it’s great to be here and learn about new things and new technology.


What’s your favorite movie?

I’d have to say Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, and Ocean’s 13.  I’ve worn out all of those DVDs and have to buy new ones. I never get sick of watching them.


What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in life?

I would say purchasing an enormous rubber duck.

It was an expensive endeavor to have it built, shipped, and presented in LA.  I didn’t have any idea how it would pay off.  LA is the place to go big or go home.  The duck was going big.  Simple concept.  Some people think it is dumb.  Fortunately, a lot of people think it is cute and fun.  It cost me in excess of $200,000.  My kids don’t know what to tell their friends that I do for a living.



If you could go back in time and do one thing over, what would that be?

Absolutely nothing.  You know, for all the things I’ve done wrong, it made me who I am today and without having made those mistakes, I wouldn’t be who I am and where I’m at.


What’s something that most people don’t know about you?

A lot of people don’t know that I fly planes.  When it comes up, most people are fascinated by it.  If it something you want to do, the average time to learn is about 46 or 50 hours.   At $70 per hour for instruction and plane rental, it is well worth it.  I usually rent a Cirrus Aircraft, which are made locally to me:


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard?

That’s a tough one.  I think it is to make things in life and work as simple as possible.  In a phrase, make it simple but significant.  It is very easy, in our world with family relationships and work, to make things really complicated, and I think it is counter-intuitive to make things simple.  But the simpler we can live our lives, the better.  It is a great way to live and to think.


What’s your strangest phobia or superstition?

In spite of liking to fly airplanes, I have a fear of heights.  Looking down from the 14th floor of my hotel balcony makes me a little queasy.  Flying at 10,000 feet doesn’t bother me, though.  I’ve never been afraid in a plane.  It is different in a tall building.


What’s a book everyone should read?

I just started a book by one of the founders of PayPal.  It’s called Zero to One (by Peter Thiel) and it is about building a better future for entrepreneurs, delivering new ideas and new products to the consumer.  I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m into it.  I have my pilot’s license, and I will read anything about flying.  For people who fly, I’d recommend Rod Machado’s Private Pilot Handbook.


Last, but not least, is there anything you want to pitch, promote, or discuss?

Yes, the Tall Ships Festival, from June 25 to June 28 in Philadelphia and Camden.  It is cool to look at tall ships in a picture, but seeing them live sailing is awe-inspiring: their size, how beautiful and majestic they are, gliding through the water silently (because they go on air power).  It’s amazing.




Image Courtesy for Craig Samborski / Draw Events, unless otherwise noted.
Lead-In Image Courtesy of VectorPic /