So, as indicated previously, I spent the weekend at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, playing bass for my friends The Blibbering Humdingers throughout the weekend as part of the filk track. This is the space where I chronicle my experiences on this adventure.
The executive summary/tl;dr version? It was great fun, though more than a little intimidating, at least in terms of scale. I met a bunch of interesting new friends, saw a few old ones, played a bunch of great shows, holding my own with folks a heck of a lot more professional and high profile than I, saw some really neat costumes. A wholly unique experience I would happily be part of again if anybody asks me to.
If you’re looking for some more details, read on…
Transit to and from the event was relatively uneventful – I packed up my stuff at home and arrived at the rally point at Humdinger Central in NC in the early afternoon. We packed up, collected the rest of our party (Cerine, who ran merchandise for us), and hit the road, stopping off for lodgings somewhere in the wilds of SC (where it was determined that I’m a noisy sleeper – sorry gang), hitting the road early Friday morning and arriving in Atlanta before lunch.
Dragon*Con is spread across half a dozen hotels and exhibition spaces in Downtown Atlanta, so upon arrival, we split the party to more quickly get checked in with the hotel and gain our con credentials. This went relatively smoothly, though if I haven’t said so enough, this Con is HUGE. Like amazingly huge. Later, we’d learn that semi-official estimates had total attendance for the weekend at something like 80k people. That’s a lot of people, and well over half of them were wearing at least some sort of costume. I took many pictures, but it’s really impossible to document the con effectively if you’re trying to do anything else.
After getting settled in, gear stowed, and merch table up and running, I wandered a bit to get the lay of the land (and find out where the hell our shows were throughout the week). I also did a run through of the dealer’s area (which has it’s own multi-story building), which contained lots of interesting stuff, though not the copy of the vastly underprinted Marvel Dicemasters Avengers vs. X-Men starter set, which we’ve been looking for at a decent price for a while now. I inquired with all the game vendors: No Dice (ha!). I did, however, get accosted by a (possibly drunk) stripper wearing a Hogwarts robe over a bikini offering to show me magical things in a peepshow booth set up in the vendor area (I declined). Otherwise, lots of neat stuff (especially if you like swords), but nothing I had to have. I never made it back there the whole weekend – lines were too long.
Our first show was on the Concourse II stage, an outdoor venue in the Hilton on Friday afternoon. It was a little out of the way, though there was a bit of foot traffic, as it was adjacent to a popular photo venue. For our first show of the con, it was pretty great – the sound folks were awesome, we sounded great, and had a lot of fun. We were able to play for almost double our alotted time, giving us a pretty decent “live” rehearsal. Our audience more than doubled in size from the beginning of our set to the end, which was nice to see.
Having knocked that first show out of the park, we settled into con rhythm. We played the “big room” in the Hyatt each night of the con, along with most of the other acts on the filk track (most of whom had their merch tables in the same general area of the Marriott as us), so we all spent a bunch of time together and became good friends over the course of the Con. While all of our big shows went rather well, we had trouble getting a feeling for the room – it was hard to tap into the energy, we felt a little disconnected from the audience, though they all seemed to have a very good time, laughing in all right places and having nice things to say to us. So, call the official shows successful, all at least B+ material (that’s a highly personal assessment, largely because I’ve got a bit of imposter syndrome going and I remember each and every one of my bum notes; I’m working on getting over that, but it’s a process. Really, we sounded pretty great).
We played one final “ninja gig” on Sunday night as well. Our merch table was set up just outside the main big ballroom in the Marriott, which played host to the Yule Ball run by the YA Lit track, and, being a Wizard Rock band (who played the Yule Ball the previous year), we figured these were our people, so we set up by the merch table and played for the folks waiting in line to get in. It was a lot of fun, and, at least in my opinion, easier to latch onto the energy of the audience and my band cohorts…a nice way to end our slate of performances.
Anyway, those were the shows. We all did our best to cover each other at the merch table so we could venture out and enjoy the convention a bit, or hit a panel. I got to sit in on Amy Acker’s Q&A panel, which was nice, because I’m a fan. She’s very charming, and surprisingly tall. Others of us collected autographs and interactions from/with Patrick Stewart and Billy Boyd, and we all wandered around enjoying the costumes, sights, and sounds (so many costumes – I took pictures, but didn’t manage to capture even the tiniest bit of the neat stuff I saw every day). The rest of the time, we hung around at the merchandise table, interacting with fans, playing music with the band and with the other performers nearby, and people watching.
I imagine it’s probably easier to do a con of this magnitude if you’ve got a home base like a merch table to cling to. Were I attending simply to attend, I’d probably be totally overwhelmed – there’s so much to see and do, and so many people around all the time. It was nice having a secure place to crash and still remain engaged.
“Big Name” encounters were modest. I peed next to Battlestar Galactica’s Richard Hatch, and had minor encounters with Adam Baldwin and Grant Imahara. Otherwise, my “celebrity” sightings were limited to wandering the “walk of fame” room and catching glimpses of folks like Evanna “Luna Lovegood” Lynch (absolutely gorgeous), John Ratzenberger (by all appearances jovial), and Peter Weller (surpringly corpselike) and several others. I sadly did not encounter Molly Lewis (though my bandmates did…and didn’t immediately come get me!), and was occasionally inconvenienced by the Diva-like aura of Cary Elwes (or, possibly his management or handlers), which involved lots of obscuring curtains, hallway clearing, and other things seemingly designed to keep the fan riff-raff at arm’s length, unless they were ponying up 50 bucks for an autograph.
I did, however, get to meet and become acquainted with filk legend Tom Smith, which was a personal hightlight. He operates on a different level than I do at these things, but was gracious and friendly, and lots of fun to have around at our nightly shows and when he was in the merch area, despite not feeling particularly well (His “dueling filk” show with Mikey Mason was one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve seen all year); he’s a tremendous boon to the community, and it was a privilege hanging out with and becoming sort of friends with him.
Also nearby by was the aforementioned Mikey Mason, a friend of many years who totally owned his first Dragon*Con, is an enjoyably terrible influence on all of us, but always brings the fun, and totally indulged my unabashed fandom of his more obscure and sentimental tunes. Much time was also spent with The Brobdingnagian Bards (and their charming merch person/author Jessica Brawner – buy her book!), our neighbors to the other side, from whom issued much pleasant music and lots of lessons on how to successfully market one’s art (yes, I was paying attention!).
I also became an unabashed fan of Pandora Celtica, an amazing acapella group who we had the honor to share the stage with, and who made the room much more fun just by being in it. Seriously, check them out. And finally, I also got to meet and talk with Beth Patterson, whose folk music is impressive, and whose work I’ve trumpeted in this space before. Sadly, her shows were scheduled such that I couldn’t get to one.
So, that’s most of the name drops. However, I have to drop some more, in thanks to Scott and Kirsten for letting me come and play at being a wrock star for the weekend, Cerine, who helped make the merch table and photo hunting experiences fun and enjoyable (and all three of you for putting up with my snoring and whatnot for most of a week and still being friends with me), Eddie and Christie of Hawthorn and Holly for playing along with us, new friends Amber, Pat, Grace, and the rest of the filk track volunteers who made our experience as performers go so smoothly, Michelle, Gray, Erik, and all the other friends who came by to say hello and listen to our tunes, and all those other people whose names I’m so bad at remembering who made the weekend so entertaining.
So, that was Dragon*Con. Quite the place to crack the barrier between fan and guest/performer (and it was an honor to be welcomed into that aspect of the community so warmly). Let’s do it again sometime!