The smile on Kitty Ratcliffe’s face stretched from ear to ear as she listened to the official attendance figures announced at the annual meeting of ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership, taking place in St. Louis from August 6-9. John Graham, CAE, president and CEO of ASAE, reported the numbers at Monday’s press conference: on-site registration was 5,400. Comparing that to the 2010 attendance in Los Angeles—5,500, including 230 online attendees—Graham said it was fair to say that St. Louis beat out LA’s live attendance. (The breakdown of St. Louis attendees included 2,649 association executives, 1,713 exhibitors and suppliers, and 970 “other.”)

Graham called the process that Ratcliffe, the president of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, her team, and the community went through to bid, land, and execute an ASAE annual meeting a “textbook case” of how it should be done. “That’s the kind of hospitality that St. Louis has put forward,” he added.

The spirit of St. Louis came through loud and clear at the event’s opening reception on Saturday night. ASAE’s members got a taste of the city’s finest barbeque and other treats from local eateries, and rocked the night away to a succession of incredible blues, rap, and rock bands, topped off by a performance by Michael McDonald of Doobie Brothers’ fame. The city roped off a huge area directly below the iconic Gateway Arch for the event, and despite a heat index of up to 110, the crowds managed the weather with hand fans and lots of the cold beverage that made St. Louis and Anheuser Busch famous.

The fireworks that followed the concert, lighting up the sky behind the arch for the entire city to enjoy, rivaled any Fourth of July display in Boston or New York, and capped an evening that most attendees will always remember. The friendly local residents and volunteers who have been preparing for the ASAE meeting for two years could only be gratified.

The meeting offered some new twists, including substituting a third keynote speaker with three “Game Changer” sessions that featured in-depth discussions with personalities such as personal finance expert Jean Chatzky.

The reactions seemed mixed to keynoter Tina Brown, editor of The Daily Beast, an online news site, who had a compelling story of her journey from magazine print icon (Vanity Fair and The New Yorker) to Web icon, but delivered her message as if she was talking to a journalism class, with little, if any, connection to her audience’s profession.

At the press conference, Graham also announced successful initiatives taken within the past year that served small associations and large associations; an all-new standards-of-conduct policy; a global outreach effort that will expand the association’s presence and partnerships in a number of countries and regions of the world; and a partnership with the Hospitality School of Cornell University, which will tackle research about the future of trade shows, including the impact of virtual trade shows in the association community.