GeekyCon 2016

It’s hard to believe that another GeekyCon has come and gone, even though I was there and saw it all. The time always goes so quickly, and it’s as if you’ve just met up with your out-of-state or out-of-country friends, and suddenly you’re saying goodbye again.

I flew down to Orlando on Thursday afternoon with my sister, Alicia, and my boyfriend, Jeremy, and we met up with our friend Maddy, who had flown down separately. A few of our friends had driven from Ohio a few days previously, and Adam very kindly came to the airport to pick us up, so we didn’t have to pay for an Uber or other shuttle. Our first adventure came when we tried to fit five adults, four large suitcases, and four carry-on bags into Adam and his fiancee Ashley’s little sedan. Fortunately Maddy has young joints, because she ended up having to sit cross-legged in the backseat with her suitcase standing up on the floor in front of her.

We checked in at the hotel and met up with Alicia’s boyfriend, Caleb, and Ashley and Beanie, who had just gotten out of pep band rehearsal. After a bit of a fiasco with Chase bank and my sister’s debit card (which I will discuss in another post), we had a pretty chill, enjoyable evening, with dinner at the nearby IHOP and swimming in the hotel’s great pool, which included catching up with pep band friends from the last two years. I always like to have a quiet evening before the start of a con if I can, because I know I’m going to be running myself ragged for the next few days (but I wouldn’t have it any other way!).

GeekyCon was significantly smaller this year, which was an advantage in some ways, because there were usually only one or two programs I wanted to go to during a single time slot, rather than the usual three-plus. Because the cost of registration was so much lower than usual, I sprang for a Lit + General pass, and I really enjoyed the three Lit Track programs I went to: Avoiding the Manic Pixie Nightmare, A Whole New World (about the process of world-building in literature), and Don’t I Know You? (about drawing inspiration from real-life people and events). I was only familiar with one of the authors prior to the con (no John Green, Maureen Johnson, or Stephanie Perkins this year), but I was really impressed with the diversity on the panels. Each Lit program I attended had five people on the panel, consisting of one man of color, one or two white women, and two or three women of color. I definitely came away with a list of new authors and books to check out.

Despite the smaller size of the con, there were still a whole bunch of really great programs this year. I really enjoyed The Merchandise Awakens, about the lack of merchandise featuring Rey, Black Widow, and other female characters in major franchises and the public’s response to the merchandise companies’ lame excuses; Babette Ate Oatmeal: The Gilmore Girls Community of Stars Hollow, my friend Ayana’s hilarious and really well-organized exploration of what makes the small town on Gilmore Girls so special; and the launch party for Wizards in Space, the literary magazine started by Olivia Dolphin, who is also the fearless leader of the GeekyCon Pep Band.

And let’s talk about pep band for a minute: for the third year in a row, playing with this group of amazing, talented, dedicated, enthusiastic, flexible people was most definitely the highlight of my con experience. We get the music (most of which is arranged specifically for us by the fabulous Abby Ritter) somewhere between one and two weeks before the con; we bring our instruments with us on airplanes and long car trips; we have one or two organized rehearsals (and never with everyone there); we get asked to play here, there, and everywhere; and then we kill it. Even when a piece starts to fizzle and maybe has to be cut off a little early, we have a little laugh at ourselves and the other con-goers cheer us on. This year we got to play onstage during the Harry and the Potters set, and we also played for their final Snitch by Snitchwich event with a huge crowd. (Rumor has it they got a C&D from the original SxSW, but I would guess they’ve got a fighting chance under fair use laws.) This year several of my pep band friends got to hang out with a bunch of my non-pep band, mostly from-home friends, which was super special for me. I love seeing people from one part of my life becoming friends with people from another part of my life!

As usual, the wizard rock at this year’s con was top-notch. It was great to see Kirstyn Hippe back on stage, and I loved that her younger sisters helped her out on vocals and violin. One of the best moments was when Matt Maggiacomo (the vessel for the Whomping Willow) got so excited over Steph Anderson rocking out so hard she broke a bass string. Steph, as usual, killed it with her own band, Tonks and the Aurors. I was so excited that she played “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet.” I’ve always loved that song, but now that I’m about halfway through The West Wing, it means so much more. I managed not to cry during any of Lauren Fairweather’s songs, and I laughed to see Jeremy so freaking excited for Draco and the Malfoys, who are his favorite. The whole crowd formed a huge circle when Harry and the Potters played “The Weapon,” and then we did it again when they played “Dumbledore” as their encore. One thing that I didn’t like, though, was how short everyone’s sets had to be, since the con only lasted two nights and all the music was squished into Friday.

All through GeekyCon this year, I kept reminding myself that I wouldn’t be coming back next year (I’m going on another trip that’s going to cost a bundle), and I also kept thinking about how that might actually be a good thing. I had several conversations with various people about the state of the con and how at that very moment, it seemed like the con was either going to peter out or go through another major evolution like it did in 2013, and it could totally go either way. I love the Leaky/Geeky community that continues throughout the year and the ideals of inclusion and representation that the community and the staff are committed too, but I (and many other people) think they seriously hurt the brand during the whole split/name change process. I still think the split wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, although I’m not sure it was handled very well, but I also still hate the name “GeekyCon” and how close it is to “LeakyCon.” Attendance was down last year for Geeky, although I can’t say it really felt that different, but as I said above, attendance was noticeably down this year. The vendor room felt tiny, probably because a lot of vendors didn’t make enough money last year to warrant a return trip. It definitely feels like the con has lost its focus and doesn’t know who its target audience is anymore: this year I don’t think I heard or saw a single reference to Nerdfighteria other than on people’s T-shirts; hardly anyone seemed to know the words to “Be My Witch Tonight” by the Mudbloods and “Book 8” by Hank Green when they played at the ball; and most people I talked to were only interested in a couple of the special guests, if they were interested in any at all. The closing ceremonies felt very much like they were slapped together at the last second.

So I’m totally in support of the announcement that GeekyCon will not happen in 2017, since the staff recognizes that they need to figure out and re-energize their brand. They’re also talking about changing locations every year like they used to, and I think that will help keep attendance up and keep things feeling fresh. (COME TO COLUMBUS, OHIO! IT’S CHEAP, EASY TO GET TO, HAS A HUGE NERD POPULATION, AND HAS A FANTASTIC CONVENTION CENTER!!!!!!!!!) Apparently Mischief Management is going to be working with someone who helped lead Verizon’s re-branding campaign, so that sounds promising. The current plan is to have GeekyCon return in 2018, and I can’t guarantee at this point that I’ll be there, but I definitely hope I can make it. I have yet to find another con that I love so much.

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