In late January 2006, Truckee resident James “Woody” Woodruff was at the Winter X Games putting on his boots. At the time, he was working as CEO of Global Event Management and embedded in the world of organizing and marketing major events, traveling more than 200 days a year.
As he laced up his footwear, getting ready for another hectic workday at the X Games, a TV blared in the background. Glancing over, Woody saw a picture of his brother flash on the screen. It stopped him in his tracks.
That one moment shifted the course of Woody’s life in a way he’d never imagined.
The month before, Bob Woodruff had been selected as an anchor for ABC World News Tonight, and was quickly assigned to the Middle East to cover the 2006 Palestinian elections. On Jan. 29, 2006, an improvised explosive device detonated along a road in Iraq, where Bob happened to be traveling. He and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, were seriously injured. Along with the world, Woody heard the news about his brother on a television newscast.
“Nobody thought he was gonna make it, including the medics and everybody that was with him,” Woody told Moonshine Ink. “He was in a coma for, I think it was 38 days. I jumped on a plane and went back to New York and for the next year pretty much, I was taking care of him and his family.”
As his brother healed (enough so that he would eventually return to ABC), Woody watched his nieces and nephews not only grieve over their father’s injury, but also lament the amount of time he spent away from them working as a war correspondent.
“That’s when I decided, okay, I’m gonna get out of Global Event Management,” he said.
Woody wanted to be closer to his own family in Truckee, where he’d lived for five or so years with his wife, 1-year-old son, and 3-year-old daughter. He also sought to grow closer to the community he’d lived in since 2001. (He’d lived in Tahoe City for 15 years prior to that.)
Though a shadow of what it would become, Crux Events was created under Woody’s guiding hand. First functioning under the name as the operational division within a media event company called 48 Straight, Crux evolved into its own event production company in 2008.
With strengths in audio, lighting, staging, video — in that order — the staff builds the foundations of events using state-of-the-art equipment that fills Crux’s Verdi warehouse. The business mostly operates in the Truckee and North Tahoe area, though some events have taken them up and down California and east to Utah.
“We had a lot of production experience,” Woodruff said of Crux’s early days, when he and partner Ryan Lindquist were starting out. “I had tried to do events in Truckee before and I had to rent everything from San Francisco because there just wasn’t the quality [event production] gear that we needed locally.”
Crux’s touch has graced signature events in and around Tahoe: the Wanderlust Festival, Spartan races, Truckee Thursdays, the Truckee Thaw Craw music festival, concerts and festivals at area ski resorts, happenings out of the High Fives Foundation and Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe, major corporate events, numerous weddings, WinterWonderGrass, and more.
And then, of course, Covid-19 happened. Events started dropping one by one. In March of 2020, Crux canceled millions of dollars’ worth of contracts.
“We were right in the crosshairs. People asked me, what do you do for a living? And I said, well, I put a lot of people in a small space,” Woodruff joked, referencing the mandates asking people to avoid such gatherings.
The event company shifted gears for survival, offering virtual and hybrid events to stay afloat: high school graduations, visits to Mr. and Mrs. Claus at the North Pole, a Google corporate retreat. Crux wasn’t thriving, Woody said, but it managed to break even.
“Before Covid we had a team of five, full-time dedicated employees,” said Dustie Eleen, controller for Crux. “After Covid, because of everything canceling, we went down to all working remotely and even through all that, Woody paid us what he could pay us to keep our bills paid, to keep us from going somewhere else.”
Eleen said that without funding options like the federal Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan, Crux would not have survived the pandemic without significant loss. As some full-time staffers departed, Eleen and Mike Miller, the technical director, broadened their skills. “We all know how to do everything at this point, basically,” Eleen said.
Alissa Niedz, a former colleague from his days on the road and a friend of Woody, moved to Truckee in June 2021, and began working as account director as Crux was reentering the world of live events.
“I look at my role as a few different things,” Niedz said. “One, to alleviate some of the pressure from [Woody] so that he can focus on the higher-level business and get back to the roots of Crux. Number two, working closely with him so that I can learn more from him, be more creative and solutions-oriented. And number three, I really love going out and either [performing] client retention (doing repeat business) or attracting business development or attracting new clients because I’m educating people on what we do.”
What sets Crux apart, beyond having highly experienced staff, is its determination to build a vision, Niedz said. “At the end of the day, the client really appreciates the fact that we are not a checklist. Like, I need a stage, I need lighting, I need tables and chairs. We ask the why. What are you doing? What’s the theme? What are you trying to accomplish?”
That’s not to say Crux has only glowing reviews — Niedz did say there have been instances where a client has been disappointed, but the company does seek out the root of the problem to move forward with lessons learned.
In 2021, as events emerged back into the offline world and the largest Covid-19 concerns grew smaller in the world’s rearview mirror, another barrier sprang to life: wildfire. Crux events had been canceled before by wildfire presence, but nothing like the cancellations staff saw last summer — about 22 during August and September.
Niedz, only a couple months into her time living in Truckee, said the smoke from multiple fires and the threat of the Caldor Fire weighed heavy on the Crux staff shoulders.
“Everybody was so excited that we had all this business back on the books,” she continued. “And then it was like, literally crushing. One day there were 10 calls: We’ve gotta move this, or this is canceled. Clients asking again, ‘Can we move this to 2022? Can we move this?’”
This year, those interested in utilizing Crux’s services are mostly booking in June and July to beat the ticking clock of seemingly inevitable wildfire seasons. “People that are booking in August,” Woody said. “I mean, I’m not gonna bring it up.”
Similar to other businesses across the country, Crux Events is short-staffed, having lost key positions during its Covid dormancy. Now, the company finds itself having to say no to certain events.
“When you’re this busy and you’re still down staff, you have to evaluate what are good pieces of business to take on and where the [return on investment] is going to be,” Niedz said.
A major local event Crux did commit to in 2021 was the Rotary Club of Truckee’s main annual fundraiser: the Cadillac Ball. Kelly Gove is a director with the rotary and chaired the ball last November. For years up until 2021, the fundraiser had been held at the Ritz-Carlton. To save money on the venue, the rotary decided to hold the ball at the Truckee Community Recreation Center in 2021 with the theme of Cirque du Truckee.
“We knew we’d have to transform the rec center in order to make it feel fancy and feel like something people would want to go to and didn’t feel like your step class,” Gove said. That’s where Crux came in along with a Reno-based business called Celadon Events, which provided décor.
Woody had an amazing vision, Gove continued, and was able to rally his troops despite being short-staffed. “There were so many things that happened as we were, the couple days before the event, spontaneously throwing things in,” she said. “… Things that we hadn’t thought of because it was the first time we were having it at the rec center, we hadn’t really anticipated. [Woody] was really generous with his creativity and all the lighting options and sound options and his staff. People were really blown away. I’m still getting emails and comments from people, the best party they’d been to in years.”
The rotary will continue to work with Crux for the Cadillac Ball — “100%,” Gove added.
Woody was candid about his struggles in owning an events-focused business over the past two years.
“I’ve definitely been questioning it,” he said. “I was very close to throwing in the towel, but because of a few really amazing employees that I have, they’re the ones that brought me back up and helped me get to where we are today.”
Eleen said she’s extremely proud of the company’s ability stay afloat during extremely trying times: “I think we made it through not because of money but the love we have for each other and our community.”
Burdens as they were, the coronavirus pandemic and wildfire impacts have taught Woody not only that his company can pivot and survive, but that gatherings unite a community in a critical way.
“Events are so important to everybody and you’re seeing that right now,” Woody said. “Everybody’s so excited and stoked to get back to doing what we were doing in 2019. And nobody’s more stoked than us because it is my livelihood.”