FaerieCon 2008 report

October 14th, 2008 by sidewinder Leave a reply »

A Faerie in Philadelphia

This past weekend I was an exhibitor at the second annual FaerieCon (wiki) at the convention center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The convention has a different feel as compared to the science-fiction & media conventions that many of us in media fandom are used to; the convention is rather more like an indoor Renaissance Fair featuring vendors of truly high quality, beautiful wares, from artwork to jewelry to clothing and costuming supplies. Attendees don wings aplenty and, for a few days at least, summon the faerie world to reveal itself in the middle of this urban city. There is a positive, uplifting atmosphere to the convention again quite unlike those events I normally otherwise attend. A parade of Green Men pass through the convention hall on Saturday morning, singing and greeting all they pass with harvest blessings. Music fills the convention throughout the day from one of the main stages as well as in the evening balls, from the complex rhythmic beats of Trillian Green to the otherworldly sounds of Qntal. Everything and everyone from palm readers to leathersmiths, good faeries to wicked goblins, can be found at FaerieCon, along with many just curious to get a peek into what this other world is all about.

Sponsored by FaerieWorlds, a group which hosts an outdoor festival on the West Coast annually, it has been my viewpoint as an exhibitor that FaerieCon has had a harder time getting quite the same foothold here in Philadelphia. Perhaps this is partly because the cavernous, poorly lit convention center does not lend itself to creating a magical, spiritually uplifting environment. This year’s convention also suffered some setbacks when planned guest of honor, Alan Lee, was unable to attend at the last minute. Brian Froud was also absent due to an illness in the family, and the popular musical act, Qntal, barely made it in time for their scheduled headlining appearance at the Bad Faeries’ Ball Saturday night.

Last year the exhibitors spaces had completely sold out a month before the convention; this year, there were empty exhibit booths which were never sold, despite promises of larger attendance numbers. I was told at one point that the attendance figures were 15,000 for this year, as compared to 8,000 last year, but quite honestly it never felt like there were that many people there (and indeed to me often felt less well-attended than 2007.) Not to cast doubt on the convention organizers but I have to wonder if that 15,000 figure included the very large number of free passes which were given to each exhibitor to distribute to get people in the door – and of those passes which I had handed out before the convention, only 1 or 2 people actually showed up and appeared to have used them.

A Faerie castle in the dark hall of the convention center.

Many of the other exhibitors I spoke to summarized their experience with the show the same way I felt: “I didn’t make a great deal of money – in fact, I lost a great deal of money, but I had a good time.” For some, that will be enough for them to give the show another try next year, in wanting to support it and hope that it will grow and get better in the future. After all, with the financial situation in the United States at the moment, it is easy to understand why many would not feel able to spend money right now, particularly on non-necessary items. But at the same time, it is hard, when you’re at a show to sell merchandise first and have a good time second, to justify the hours spent preparing for and then working an event only to come home with less money in your pocket than you had before.

But such is the life of a convention huckster! Every show is a gamble when it comes down to it; an event can be extremely lucrative one year and the next you might barely cover your expenses if you’re lucky.

  • well, my experience as performer (I opened for the balls) was that the producers did not know about brian, omnia and alan cancellation till the very last day... As a guest performance I know this is the truth, they knew about brian a couple of days ago, about Alan thursday and about Omnia the very same day (just imagine this re-schedule), i'm very sure it had its weak points and i have no reference of last year to judge, but well, in this point I can tell you it was extremely in the last moment. there was an opeing ceremony but it was not very crowdy, though my impression is taht the convention stage should have been placed in the middle of the center... this was certainly a mistake. Having such cancellations at such late time of both guests of honour had to be awful for them, so I bet they were the most dissapointed.

    i'm not sure as it's my first time in faeriecon, I had fun though performing at the balls at the balls, even if my regular band was not there, I was grateful to count with friends to support me, despite some tech flaws in it all... it's always risky when you do it that way. Either way I love singing and I was very happy to be there. To all the ones who attended to it, I really hope you enjoyed it.

  • sidewinder_FH

    I agree that the convention would be much better served by a different location, preferably a hotel where the different tracks (panels, music, exhibitors) could be hosted in separate but still connected spaces. I should also think this could cut the cost for exhibitors and make it more worth their while to try again with lowered expectations - when booth pricing starts at $750, electric costs $100, and you have to deal with union labor rules on top of all else, it becomes a very pricey gamble to make, even for a local vendor such as myself without gas, hotel, and other travel expenses to figure into the equation.

    I saw no notice made publicly, nor in the programming notes, that Alan Lee and Brian Froud would not be in attendance. My friends who came on the passes I gave them showed up at panels expecting them to be there and puzzled when they weren't. We were up in the balcony for the ball Saturday night so I didn't see the intricacies of what was going on, on stage, but would not doubt your observation.

    Sadly I think a lot of the problems with the convention come from having bitten off more than they could chew to begin with. The event could have been better served by starting much smaller and waiting for the convention to grow, instead of expecting to have the next big "thing" convention-wise without having laid the groundwork for it through smaller events first. I gave them my support for two years, which as a vendor is about my limit for new cons before I need to see some sure signs of growth and actual profit before deciding it's not in my best business interest to keep trying.

  • SK Rainsford

    Lovely photos - and I agree with most all you posted. The offerings of all the wondrous vendors was suberb, but in that cavernous industrial setting (and awful lighting) the con just lost it's magic. They had some great panels lined up with artists and writers but you could not hear anything they were saying! It was disastrous and very disappointing. One panel was interrupted by nearby musicians. In another you could not hear the people talking at all because of a band playing across the way - and they could not hear each other on stage even! What a terrible thing to have this talent offering advice and stories and folks in the audience straining to hear every few words. Why were they not curtained off at least? Or better yet put this blasted con in a hotel so we can hear our (s)heroes in a suitable setting? It is terrible for such high quality vendors to lose money. It does happen, but not across the board like FaerieCon. I agree, I am sure the attendance numbers were greatly exaggerated! Also, organizer Robert Gould knew Alan Lee and Brian Froud were not coming in advance but did not tell anyone! How unethical. Plus, no Opening Ceremony? How absurd. Where were all the book publishers I wonder? Must admit the balls were great fun, even though one band Sat. night (you guess) was mostly lip-sync with overdubbed bass pounding away and no bass player in sight...drums not miked either. ugh.

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