Nerd Culture

Zombie Walk 2016 in Downtown Phoenix: A Field Guide to Saturday's Event

If you’re a fan of anything having to do with zombies, it's pretty safe to say that you hate being shocked by unexpected twists and turns by now. Like, say, when something or someone you adore is suddenly offed, leaving you absolutely stunned.

It's a familiar scenario to viewers of The Walking Dead, of course, but they ain’t the only ones. On a local level, fans of Phoenix’s annual Zombie Walk endured similar emotions after hearing back in May that this year’s event was going to be canceled.

And there were definitely plenty of people shocked by the news.

Organizers of the popular event, which has taken place annually since 2009 and features thousands of costumed zombies invading downtown Phoenix, announced they were killing off the event due to the ever-growing financial and logistical burdens involved with running it.

Thankfully, that decision was ultimately reversed over the summer, and the Zombie Walk was revived. This year’s edition will take place on Saturday, October 29, in downtown Phoenix's warehouse district. And no one’s more happier about it than RJ Price, the spokesperson for local nonprofit organization Downtown Phoenix Inc., which organized the walk.  

Price had the unfortunate duty of announcing Zombie Walk’s cancellation and was a firsthand witness to the maelstrom of shock and disappointment that developed in the wake of the news.

“It came as a big shock to a lot of people,” he says. “The news was not received well. It was confusing, understandably, because why would we step away from an event that had been seemingly so successful and had grown so rapidly for the last seven years.”

Conversely, he was ecstatic when the event wound up being revived.

Zombie Walk’s savior turned out to be the Arizona Hemophilia Association, the Phoenix-based nonprofit and charity focused on assisting residents around the state who suffer from bleeding disorders. Over the summer, AHA officials reached out to Downtown Phoenix Inc. and offered to assist with running this year's Zombie Walk and eventually take over the event for future editions.

According to Cindy Komar, AHA's executive director, it was too irresistible of an opportunity to pass up.

"Several of my staff had been to the event in the past," Komar says. "So once they got notice of the cancellation, I must've had five or six people come to me and say, 'Hey, you might want to reach out and see if there's anything we can do.'" 

And while it won't be the only yearly event that the AHA puts on (as they also run My Nana's Best Tasting Salsa Challenge every spring), Komar admits that the Zombie Walk dovetails nicely with the organization's focus. 

"It's a great opportunity for us to create awareness about bleeding disorders, which kind of goes with the concept of zombies, so we thought it was a good fit," she says. "And we're located in downtown, so it made sense since we're in the area."

The reshuffling of Zombie Walk's organizers isn't the only change that's happened to the event, however.

Organizers are now requesting a $5 suggested donation from the public, which will benefit the AHA, to participate in the walk. This year's edition will also be centered on downtown's warehouse district and involve a new route that will take participants past such historic structures as the Arizona Hardware Supply Company, the Neil B. McGinnis Equipment Co., and the now-defunct Brickhouse Theatre. 

The pre-walk events, which became something akin to a massive block party in years past, was downscaled to a certain degree and won't feature live music performances or a children's area. This year, the festivities, which will happen at Third and Jackson streets next to Chase Field, will take on a street party-like feel and feature a beer garden, vendors, and a "Zombification Zone" with makeup artists on hand to help people get into character.   

Organizers have also added a new post-walk pub crawl, dubbed the "Blood Crawl," that will include many nearby eateries and drinkeries, like Alice Cooper'stown, Hard Rock Cafe, the Rose and Crown, Gypsy Bar, and the Duce.

Even with all the changes and streamlining, the M.O. of the event remains the same: allowing Valley residents the chance to be a zombie for a day and get into the Halloween spirit.

"To the people that have been to the walk in the past, they might think, 'Oh this is pretty much exactly the same,'" Price says. 

Several of the hallmarks of the Zombie Walk, including local cosplay groups like the Department of Zombie Defense, will still be present.

"We're really happy about that, since they add such flavor to the event," Price says. "We're really glad they stuck with us through the all the changes that happened over the summer as the event came back online."

Price says that said changes will help guarantee that the Zombie Walk continues to happen every year. And, in some ways, it will help add to the atmosphere of the event, like stumbling through the warehouse district, which tends to be relatively quiet on the weekends. 

“I think that backdrop is going to make a really cool experience for people,” he says. “If you didn't know about all the revitalization and adaptive reuse projects and cool tech companies that have moved into the warehouse district, it would look a little post-apocalyptic.”

Ultimately, he expects that Zombie Walk fans will have just as much fun as in previous years.  

“We're really hopeful they're going to have a great experience,” he says.

Given all the changes that have happened, we thought it wise to give Zombie Walk fans a rundown of everything involved with this year's event. As such, we've assembled a guide with everything you'll need to know to have a bloody good time on Saturday.

When and Where: Zombie Walk 8 happens on Saturday, October 29, in downtown Phoenix. The pre-party starts at 4 p.m. and is located at Fourth and Jackson streets next to Chase Field. The walk itself will depart from Second and Jackson streets at 6 p.m.

Admission: A suggested donation of $5, which benefits the Arizona Hemophilia Association, is requested. Wristbands for the Blood Crawl are $20.

Age Limits: Would-be zombies of every age are encouraged to attend. The beer garden and Blood Crawl, however, is only open to the 21-and-over crowd.

Weather: Despite the fact we’re almost at the end of October, it's still dang hot outside. Temperatures will be around 94 degrees when the pre-party kicks off and only get slightly cooler by the beginning of the walk. Thankfully, there’s plenty of shade from buildings in that part of downtown. Regardless, dress light (even with costuming), bring water, and stay hydrated.

Getting There: The Third Street and Washington Street light rail station is just around the corner from the event, in case you wanna go car-free. (It's $2 for a single ride, $4 for multiple rides.) Otherwise, take Interstate 17 or Interstate 10 to Seventh Street and head either north or south until you get to Chase Field.

Parking: The Chase Field Garage is literally next door to the event and offers several hundred spaces for $5 to $10. Several other lots and structures are within walking distance and have comparable rates. If you’d like to hunt for street parking, meters are $1 to $1.50 per hour and operate until 10 p.m. on weekends.

Food and Drink: According to Zombie Walk organizers, seven or eight food trucks and vendors will be available at the event, including 5 & Diner and Cactus Corn. Booths will also sell sodas and energy drinks to patrons. For those wanting something a little harder, Four Peaks will be operating a beer garden that will fit upwards of 3,000 people and offer six of their signature brews, including Kilt Lifter (natch).

Water: You're going to be outside, you're going to be walking, and you're probably going to be in costume while doing so. Suffice it to say, you're going to want to stay hydrated, especially with the warm weather. No joke. Organizers are allowing patrons to bring one or two bottles of water with them into the street party and will also have booths set up selling H2O. Make use of both options, unless you'd like to become a zombie yourself.

Bring: Good shoes, a fully-charged smartphone, cash, sun protection, and extra makeup in case things get messy. Pets are allowed, provided they’re leashed. Oh, and also some costuming, particularly of the zombie variety. Speaking of which ...

Costumes and Makeup: A majority of people that turn out for the event will be wearing a costume of some sort, be it some tattered and ripped clothing, famous zombie characters from Resident Evil or The Walking Dead, or undead versions of characters like Batman or Luke Skywalker. All of this cosplay and costume fun is very much encouraged by organizers. “We get a lot a lot of cosplay,” Price told New Times last year. “Some people take their favorite characters or [personalities] from outside the zombie universe — superheroes, famous musicians, TV characters — and turn them into zombies.”

Various zombie-related cosplay groups from around the Valley – including the Department of Zombie Defense and the Resident Evil-inspired Umbrella Corporation Arizona Hive – will also participate in both the pre-walk festivities and the actual walk. That includes the infamous Gravedigger, who leads a cabal of minions dubbed the “Corpse Crew.”

If you’re looking to get into the spirit of the walk, local costume shops like Easley’s Fun Shop, Mardi Gras in Scottsdale, and Groovy Ghoulies in Mesa all stock a variety of makeup and zombie accessories. Or you could allow the 15 to 20 makeup artists staffing the walk’s “Zombification Zone” to help transform you into a member of the undead. (Note: unlike last year's walk, they won't be giving out torn or tattered clothing.)

Costume Contest: If your zombie getup is fantastic or fancy enough, you might score of the primo prizes being awarded to the winners of the costume contest. To wit: Taking first place will get you $300 cash and $50 gift card to the Duce. Meanwhile, the second-place finisher will win four box seats to any Arizona Diamondbacks home game in 2017 (with the exception of Opening Day) and a $50 gift card to Coach's Corner, and the third-place costume will be awarded two tickets to the Phoenix Suns/Detroit Pistons game on November 9, as well as a $50 gift card to Alice Cooper'stown.

Judging for the contest will begin shortly after the street party starts. In other words, Price says, you’ll want show up right away if you’d like to participate. “A lot of people in full costume don't necessarily get there until right before the walk starts because they don't want to melt or have their makeup run,” he says. “So we’ve missed out on including some of those folks in the past. This year, we’re announcing the prizes for the costume contest in advance, so people will be [encouraged] to be there earlier.”

Route: As we mentioned, this year's mile-long route is completely new and will wind its way through the warehouse district and areas south of downtown. Participants will mass just south of Talking Stick Resort Arena before heading west along Jackson Street and then taking a brief detour up First Avenue to just past Madison Street. They'll then double back and proceed back down First Avenue, including going through the below-ground tunnel at Jackson Street — walking down to Buchanan Street before going east and eventually working their way back to the arena. (A map of the full route can be found here.)

Blood Crawl: Close to a dozen different downtown bars, nightspots, and eateries will participate in the post-walk crawl. Each will offer food and drink specials, as well as themed cocktails, to those wearing wristbands, which can be purchased online or at the street party for $20 per person. Unlike the walk, Komar says, there isn’t a set schedule or route for the Blood Crawl, and participants can hit up any of the establishments in any order or combination they’d like. “It’s sort of a free-form, choose-your-own-route thing,” she says. And depending on the location, there may also be DJs and bands performing.

Participating spots offering specials include Lucky Strike and Gypsy Bar, Hard Rock Cafe, Copper Blues, Last Exit Live, Coach’s Corner, Alice Cooper’stown, Lustre Bar, The Kettle Black, Seamus McCaffrey’s, the Rose and Crown, Zpizza Taproom, and the Duce. A full list of specials can be found here.

Event Schedule: Zombies will begin trickling into downtown late Saturday afternoon after things get going at the street festival. After a couple of hours of revelry, participants will gather one block west of the festival before heading out on this year’s walk as the sun starts to dip below the horizon. Here’s a rundown of when everything will transpire.

4 p.m.: Zombie Walk street festival begins, and both the beer garden and Zombification Zone open to the public. Judging for the costume contest will also begin in front of the stage.  

5:15 p.m.: Lineup for the walk starts.

6 p.m.: Zombie Walk departs from Second and Jackson streets

7:30 p.m.: Costume contest winners are announced and prizes are awarded

9 p.m.: Blood Crawl begins and street festival ends

2 a.m.: Blood Crawl ends.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.