Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Report from DragonCon

Hello all! I'm back from DragonCon (over Labor Day weekend, in Atlanta) with sore feet, a lot of contact addresses for other filkers, and a lot of convention stories.

First off, I rode two days on a bus (and you don't realize just how big this country is until you've crossed it on a Greyhound bus) to get there. On the way, I ran into another conventioneer, named Jennifer C., and we happily struck up a deal that she'd help as my roadie. This turned out to be helpful when we finally arrived (two hours late) at the Atlanta bus station and found no ride waiting. Jennifer helped haul my gear (three bags and my guitar) while I phoned contact number after contact number, and finally got a ride -- which served for both of us. Jennifer likewise helped with my gear on the return trip, which was just as long.

Second, the con was *huge*. It spread across five hotels, three of which (the Hyatt, the Marriott and the Hilton) were fortunately linked by sky-ways. The official number of members -- as the con-com had claimed to the Atlanta Fire Marshall, anyway -- was 40,000, but the actual number was closer to 70,000. There were no less than 30 separate programming tracks, all very well attended. The dealers' room, the one time I managed to get there, was jam-packed. So were the hotel corridors, to all hours. It's quite an experience to ride down a crowded escalator with fans dressed in jeans and T-shirts and multiple buttons, as dragons, werewolves, Klingons and Anime characters -- and a bit of a problem when they're wearing large wings. I ran into another three fans there who also volunteered to be my roadies, so nobody got burdened with the job full-time.

Third, the hotel complex's architecture was weird enough to inspire songs about Hotel by Escher; even with a map and guide, I got lost more than once. Matt Leger, who I ran into at one of the filksings, claimed that the "LunaCon Hotel" -- which he wrote a song about -- was still worse, but I'd have to see it to believe it.

Fourth, the convention participants' Green Room served excellent free food and free beer to all hours (which was lucky for me, since I didn't receive any per diem payment for food and the Hyatt's food prices were incredible: $40 for two tuna-salad sandwiches, if ya please). I heard, though I didn't get there to confirm it, that the Hospitality Suite was much the same -- minus the free beer. Most of the convention members ate at the hotels' joint Food Court, which I likewise didn't get to see, since I spent almost all my time inside the Hyatt.

Fifth, despite the enormous size of the convention (the con-staff boasted that only ComiCon and World Fantasy Con are bigger), the number of filkers was dismayingly small. Perhaps 100 fans showed up for the concerts, not enough showed up at the filksings to carry a single all-night filk, and only a very few brought any kind of instruments. I later learned (from Mike Leibmann, founder of GAfilk and the sffilk website) that this was because DragonCon had gone through some severe changes since the last time I attended, 7 years ago. Back then, the con-chair was very filk-friendly -- but he'd gone to prison for taking indecent liberties with a 16-year-old, and the subsequent con-com had tried to distance themselves from him by reversing nearly all of his policies. This meant that DragonCon was quite filk-unfriendly until 2009, when Robby Hilliard took over the filk-track and started repairing the damage. Alas, he hadn't yet managed to spread the word of the changed policy very far; at the con's end he asked me if I could think of any way to encourage more filkers to attend, and all I could think of was to suggest he discuss it with Mike Leibmann.

I wish I'd also thought to suggest that DragonCon increase the number of dealers' rooms to three, and lower the price of the tables. Depending on when one signed up, a single space in the dealers' room could cost anywhere from $200 to $1500, which put them way out of the finances of most filkmusic dealers. Even Tales of the White Hart didn't show up there. Nobody was selling any of my albums at the con, so what I did was hand out cards for the sffilk website at every concert. I hope they did some good. Aside from the fun of the con itself, most of the profit that I got from it was contact numbers and e-dresses of assorted fans.

Altogether, I'd say that despite its various problems -- mostly related to its sheer size -- DragonCon is something that no fan should miss. Go there at least once in a lifetime; it's the SF-fandom equivalent of Burning Man.

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(


Aya Katz said...

Hi, Leslie. Thanks for the detailed report. Were there any other well known filkers there besides you? What songs were most requested?

I would like to one day take my daughter, who is now eleven, to a really decent filksing. Which is the best con for that, do you think?

Oh, and was there any political activity at the con?

Mark Horning said...

Aya, best con for a filksing would probably be BayCon (West Coast) or Boskone (east coast). Give us an area and we can nail it down better.

While you were at Dragon*Con I was the Filk guest at CopperCon. Seriously small con. I think around 12 people showed up for my concert, and the best attended panel probbly only had 20 people.

ravenclaw-eric said...

Actually, Aya, if you want to expose your daughter to filking, trying to find a filk con is probably your best bet. Get a one-day membership for Ohio Valley Filk Fest, GAFilk, or something like that, and see what she thinks of it all.

Aya Katz said...

Hi, Mark and Eric. I'm currently in the Ozarks, and I can't leave for any period of time at all because I'm responsible for a Bow, a chimpanzee who needs twelve hours a day of intensive companionship. The only times I do get to leave is when I am ransomed -- when I have enough money to pay for Bow's day care in my absence. But I'm not sure my daughter is quite ready to appreciate a filksing in all its glory yet, so if I were planning on taking her to a filk con three years hence, what's your best recommendation?

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Aya. Yes, Matt Leger and Tom Smith were there. I'd recommend any of the big west-coast cons for filking, and especially ConChord and ConSonance, which are all-filk.

Hi, Mark. I'm sorry to hear that CopperCon has shrunk so badly. I'm sure its the economy, not a lack of interest.

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(

ravenclaw-eric said...

Cons in general aren't doing as well as they were---as Leslie says, it's the economy. Between higher-than-they-were gas prices, some fen being in financial straits, and other factors, the numbers we've been getting at cons around here aren't as high as they once were. But Dragon Con sounds wonderful.

Aya Katz said...

I'm wondering if the plight of filk cons and filking in general might not have a generational component, rather than being due to the economy alone.

Are there enough new fans and enough new filkers to replace those who die out? Are filkers growing in the population at large?

Leslie Fish said...

From what I've seen, I'd say that filk-fans are replaced with youngsters at about the same rate that other SciFi fans are. Of course, such replacement is irregular, and depends heavily on what's happening with print, video and other media; the new *Star Trek* movie brought in a lot of new fans to that genre. I expect that any filker who makes it big in the folkmusic or pop-music circles will bring more fans into filking, too. Heh! For a lot of our population, we have Weird Al Yankovic to thank!

--Leslie <;)))><