STEAMPUNK WORLD’S FAIR 2016

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AMBER LOVE 18-MAY-2016 This year’s STEAMPUNK WORLD’S FAIR never disappointed despite some intermittent battles with the New Jersey spring weather. My goal was to see some new entertainers this year and still have time for the comfort factor of seeing acts I already know that I love. Mission accomplished! To support coverage like this, please become a backer at Patreon.com/AmberUnmasked.

PANEL RECORDINGS

Expand for the Menu of Panel Recordings on Vodka O'Clock

THE BASICS OF SPWF 2016

It felt like I was never going to get there since my ride was stuck in typical New Jersey interstate traffic. Took him almost two hours to reach me and then another hour to get to Somerset. Alas, we made it and had an epic time.

At first it seemed like not too many people were there, but I suspect they were avoiding the drizzle and eating dinner. After a while, larger masses of attendees came out. With a steady attendance of 6,500 people, this is the best “small” shows you can possibly get to, and in my opinion, the best for costuming creativity and programming.

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First off, the scheduling app was a fantastic tool. I created an account, added the schedule home page to my phone’s screen, selected the acts I wanted to see, and was sent a daily schedule at the beginning of each day with my agenda already worked out. I even got an email alert (that unfortunately gmail sent to Promotions) about one of the panels changing time and location. It was fabulous!

Second, you can’t plan the weather. Half of the show is outdoors and that’s something vendors and performers already know when they’re booking their appearances. There were a few times when the outdoor vendors had to close up their tents. The problem then was that we were hit with forceful gusts of wind. At lunch, it took the reflexes of three of us to keep our table with umbrella from flying off through the courtyard. Despite the weather, only one act that I planned to see had a delayed start.

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Registration was fairly straight forward, although it was moved from the Radisson where it has been for years to the Embassy Suites so of course, I went to the wrong one first. My companion had his printed out receipt and got his badge right away. For press check-in, it was a little more complicated in that I needed to present photo ID; my photo ID doesn’t have my middle name on it which is what I use for publication. Fortunately I had a backup form of ID with my complete full name on it but no photo and that worked.

Registration was handled by Circuit Six, the audio and event company, not by Jeff Mach Events staff. Circuit Six does the seemingly impossible job of setting up panel audio and musician electronics and audio with only about 5-10 minutes between acts. There were some glitches with monitors for the musicians at different stages, but nothing that the audience would have noticed except for the performers having to quickly ask, “please put more mandolin over here” or things along those lines. Honestly, I don’t know how they manage in the chaos, but everyone sounded fantastic. I only saw one unmic’d event in the Embassy Suites so I’m not sure about how stage shows over there ran.

POLICIES

The SPWF official site has perhaps, the most thorough details about policies for safety, drugs, weapons, photography, and conduct. I contacted my friend ahead of time with a photo of my outfits to show the cane and staff that i wanted to bring; they’re made of wood and brass and large conventions like comic cons have policies against anything that isn’t foam or plastic. Fortunately, my props were fine especially since cane is something I need to lean on throughout the day for my back pain.

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My guest even remarked to me how well behaved people are at this show compared to comic cons and pop culture shows. For a first-timer to expressly tell me, I feel that’s worth noting. We had one issue with rudeness the entire two days and that was simply people being flat out rude and not pertaining to anything illegal or harassing. I hate that this needs to be said, but the Q&A portion of a panel is still part of said panel; it is not your time to listen to your loud voicemail and return phone calls, especially in the second row! These were two middle-aged women who should know better.

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WEAPONS POLICY; THERE WERE SEVERAL OTHERS

Bathroom policy: this was one that is normally expressly stated by Jeff Mach Events, but I couldn’t find on this year’s website. However, if you’ve been to a JME con before, you’d know that they are serious about non-discriminatory practices and being respectful of everyone. Use the bathroom you want. Last year, the Embassy Suites had a designated gender neutral bathroom, but I wasn’t in that hotel long enough this year to look for it. The JME shows have always had a mission for attendees to be who they feel they can be safely at their shows; and that is also why they specify that you should ask to take someone’s photo even if they’re in costume; just because someone is Out (identity or sexuality) at the show doesn’t mean they want to be Out all over the internet.

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This year I also saw more ethnic diversity than any other time. I saw a lot more POC (black, Asian, and Middle Eastern). There were some specific panels about steampunk from non-white dominated cultures too.

My photos are nothing special, shot with a Canon Powershot and my cell phone. Definitely look up Babs Who Takes Pictures and Knightmare6 for the pro photo coverage. More videos and snapshots at https://www.instagram.com/amberunmasked/

MUSIC

Before the con, I checked the schedule and felt some sadness at the names which were missing from the 2016 lineup. Bands like Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band, Unwoman, and Platform One, nor any burlesque troupe like the previous year’s Smoke & Mirrors Peepshow. However, when it comes to being a convention attendee, I also love to see fresh blood in the mix so I can learn about performers that I don’t know. Something you’ll hear me say a lot is “hypnotic” because these performers were so different in sound and style yet utterly captivating.

HUMANWINE

HUMANWINE was the only band that got a late start because of rain and wind on Friday. I was surprised they took to the stage at all, but I’m glad they did. I know they are regular SPWF performers and I don’t think I’ve ever sat and listened to them before. The band is made of Holly Brewer on vocals and Mat McNiss on instrumentals. According to their site, they release all their material with creative commons license.

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HUMANWINE PHOTOS AND VIDEO

Brewer’s vocals were downright magickal and yes, hypnotic. Hearing her softer, resonating storytelling using two microphones to get an incredible effect, I wasn’t expecting her to unleash hard rock, headbanging moments. Besides the rather short clip I recorded, they have 40 songs on a video sampler on their official website, https://www.humanwine.org/

THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS

Here’s a band where I had some familiarity having seen them perform a few years in a row. The best way I can describe the neo-vaudevillian ensemble is “alternative polka.” This Way to the Egress brings out all the stops with an accordion, headbanger on tuba, trombone, keyboard, drums, guitar and banjo, and miscellaneous percussion like bells or the washboard. Egress is always fun to watch and it’s also the sort of band where the fans are part of the show. They are such a wonderful staple for SPWF, that the audience sings along and gets into the pit to dance around. Actually, dancing is something that happens a lot at SPWF concerts. At the Egress first show, it was dark, the stage lights were bright and colorful, and airship pirates started waltzing. It was pretty incredible to say the least.

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THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS PHOTOS AND VIDEO
http://thiswaytotheegress.com/

THE MEN THAT WILL NOT BE BLAMED FOR NOTHING

While chances are slim that I’ll ever get the name of this band correct without looking it up (seriously, I got it wrong three times trying to type that heading), I will definitely still recommend catching their act. Let me admit straight up, the death metal portions of the performance aren’t my cuppa tea. I draw the line at punk which they do well because they obviously see punk as the lifestyle it is not only the sound. So why would a woman who routinely listens to Lana Del Ray recommend The Men? They’re showmen. They’re cute as hell. They’re funny. They are solidly entertaining. They sing about everything Victorian from Cthulhu to myths of masturbation. They came from London to bring hilarious hardcore political punk to little ol’ New Jersey. They even mocked us Americans for our undeniably uncreative naming where we simply add “New” to European locations. They also encourage a lot of dancing and headbanging. Pretty sure I saw a man old enough to have invented music in the pit headbanging along. His impeccable top hat never wavered. Rock on, old dude.

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THE MEN PHOTOS & VIDEO

https://www.facebook.com/blamedfornothing/
http://www.blamedfornothing.com/

MANSARA

French singer Mansara was one of my personal highlights. When I went through the schedule and specifically wanted to find performers I had never seen before, her name stood out. Then I saw she was a women of color – something criticized about in steampunk circles is volume of whiteness. She was astonishing. Her voice was ethereal. Her lyrics, bizarre. She sang about the apocalypse and what being an orphan (her character) went through. Half her songs were in French, so while I don’t know what she said, I attest that everything sounds better in French. If I’m going to be dumped again, I hope it’s in French.

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MANSARA PHOTOS

http://mansara.fr/fr-FR/index.html

ELI AUGUST AND THE ABANDONED BUILDINGS

Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings was once again, my favorite band of the festival. They bring a new sound to folk music that is uplifting and reminiscent to old time calls of action like getting soldiers or union workers or oppressed people to stand up and fight for freedoms. Though Eli August himself is the founder and staple of the band, his Abandoned Buildings are an ever-changing group of compatriots from other bands that will form the ensemble.

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ELI AUGUST PHOTOS

 

http://eliaugustmusic.com/

STEAMPOWERED GIRAFFE

This year, Steampowered Giraffe returned as the headlining musical act. It’s no wonder they are invited when the throngs of fans to see them is in a word, ridiculous. The special events like dinner with the band, sell out quickly. Their stage performance was scheduled for 10PM on Saturday; the VIP ticket holders were lining up by 8PM. There were other bands playing so if you wanted to go through the gate for those, you were allowed without any problem, but then it was quickly cleared out.

SPG is a spectacle that I think everyone should see once, at least a little bit of, in order to see the effort that goes into their show. Even if it’s not your kind of music, you could appreciate the hours of makeup, elaborate costuming, mixed media additions to the act, and the sheer joy of their die hard fans. It’s a teens/tween group of fans that is zealous as you can tell by their cosplay of the band’s characters, immaculate to the very stitch with perfect special effects clockwork makeup. Trust me, there I times when I can feel the teen spirit though I keep it to myself that The Spine is my favorite. However, I do not have posters on my wall.

My only goal was to hear Honeybee. As soon as I did, I felt a few raindrops and called it a night because the drive was long and ended up being dangerously foggy with sporadic deer to dodge. While I swayed along to Honeybee, the punk rockers from The Men Who… were right next me and swayed along, smiling and vaping their night away. It was a sweet moment.

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STEAMPOWERED GIRAFFE PHOTOS



http://steampoweredgiraffe.com/

The bands I wanted to see but missed because of conflicts were Matt DeBlass, Scott Helland, Frenchy & the Punk, and The Nathaniel Johnstone Band. And that’s only about half the main musical guests.

FOOD & VENDING

I knew from my past interviews with Jeff Mach that there would be some kind of consideration for vegetarians. I checked out the Fusions restaurant (the pub inside the Radisson) and found they had a veggie lasagne on their menu, but I’m cheese-free also. I went outside to the buffet line where you convert your USD for JeffBucks. I was overjoyed to find samosas on the menu for $3 and a veggie burger (a rice and grain patty) for $4. I normally live on kashi bars or vegan cookies that I have to pack myself when I go to a con. This show, I ate better than I ever have for the least amount of money and I didn’t have to leave the hotel, travel a mile or more and quest for a restaurant! Last year what I did was stop on the way and pack a bagel and egg sandwich in my backpack which isn’t the worst alternative, but having something that wasn’t stinking up my bag and was served hot was a nice change of pace for me.

I was also sober the entire weekend. I know, shocking. It’s not like it’s the first time, but I figure it is worth mentioning since readers might think all I do is party my way through cons and that’s why I have a great time. In fact, I strongly missed having absinthe, but I had an incredible time despite some rather severe body pain issues I had both days.

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This was the first time I saw the hair extension booth. They were located in the main vendor room of the Radission, displaying a huge rack of colorful wig extensions and flower blossom clips; unfortunately, I can’t find the name of the vendor.

My only personal goal for vending was to see if Dr. Pennskin & Filthy Farmgirl NYC. Thankfully, they were back! I got to stock up on the soap that gave my skin the best relief for my itchy hives and allergies. http://www.drpennskin.com/Default.asp

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FILTHY FARMGIRL SOAP

Saturday was the only time I had a break specifically scheduled and I needed it. I needed the rest so bad. The sacrifice in resting was that I didn’t go into any of the darling little boutiques set up in the hotel rooms where vendors convert a room into a shop. It’s really cute, however, it’s claustrophobic and damn near impossible to move. You can’t fit more than one or two people in a room that’s converted to a boutique, and only one if the person has a mobility device (see more notes on that below).

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THE STRANGER WHO TOLD ME ABOUT MY HELMET

During that break, an exceptionally cool thing happened. A stranger came up to me and said he liked my “liner.” I didn’t know what he meant other than my helmet which was on the table. All this time, I believed it was some random curiosity my grandfather picked up somewhere and was like a safari type helmet but not exactly a pith helmet. This man educated the hell out of me on this helmet. It’s the inner lining made of polymer plastic and fabric that would go inside a steel helmet for mining. The designs in it aren’t painted; they’re the actual texture and creases of real fabric used to make the shape and strengthen the lining. He showed me the patent numbers inside on the label and said the Pittsburgh manufacturer of it still exists. Pretty cool!

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ACCESSIBILITY AND ACCOMMODATIONS

While eating a big lunch in the Radisson courtyard on Saturday, I shared a table with a large group of people. One woman was in a motorized Rascal scooter who struck up conversation with me. Since the ice was broken, I asked her about her accessibility because even as a walking person, the Radisson set up is dangerously tight. If there were ever a fire, no doubt people would be trapped in the hallways that were lined with tabling vendors who constrict the paths to barely single-file width.

She and her companions told me that it was perilous circumstances. One of her male companions said he took on the role of being her yelling linebacker of sorts — he would walk in front of her and yell over the din of noise for people to move out of her way. She said that she’d been attending the show forever and after the experiences of it, she’d never get a room at the Radisson because it’s not feasible for her to move around.

One positive thing she did tell me was that this year’s plywood ramp leading from the Midway (Radisson parking lot) to the Embassy Suites was the best version they’ve ever set up.

I’ll note here that the set up with having vendors occupying the hallways is not the norm for the hotel. If you were traveling any other day without a festival taking place there, you’d most likely be fine with a wheelchair or other device in this Radisson.

THE MAD HATRESS
THE MAD HATTRESS

Throughout the weekend I saw a variety of mobility aides: wheelchairs, scooters/motorized, canes, and walkers. There were also aerial silk lessons taking place and one of the students had from the elbow down missing from one arm and the instructor, the Mad Hattress, made whatever adjustments necessary to get him on the silks and from where I was sitting, he looked pretty comfortable at it.

OTHER PERFORMERS

Overly Dramatic readings from Star Wars

This was the only event I saw at the Embassy Suites and it was held right in the bustling atrium in a rotunda style seating area. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough seating for all the people of the audience. It was fun and definitely a good attempt at more intimate style of performing, but it missed a few marks.

The only woman of the group seemed to be the sole person who wanted to follow their previously prepared plans. I felt bad for her because the men seemed to be largely ignoring her and at one point she had to demand a speaking role; then she said she would not play Princess Leia and took the role of Luke Skywalker. The group was lead by the character Professor McClendon who is someone I’ve often seen leading LARPs and is a personable guy. I think in this case, there was too much imbalance between the men wanting more like an improv while their only woman was made to look like she wasn’t getting her way.

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The reason why it was fun was because of the concept. The actors stood and read from script books like old time radio performers. It would take them ten minutes to decide on a scene though which would only take two minutes to perform. This is obviously where some frustrations could have been avoided. There’s no reason why they didn’t work out ahead of time which scenes to do especially since the casting was merely a matter of each person saying what they wanted to do.

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The readings themselves were comical and endearing if you are a lover of Star Wars. It was presented as Star Wars as if Shakespeare had written it. My favorite scene was the Han Solo vs. Greedo where Greedo’s part was indeed spoken in Rodian.

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The Embassy Suites also had a serious issue with the air being stuffy and no air conditioning felt.

HVBRIS fire performers

I love to catch the HVBRIS performers every year simply because it’s not the sort of thing you can experience every day or even at every convention. Fire dancing is definitely one of the most unique things you’ll see at Steampunk World’s Fair. This year the group had plenty of Marvel Civil War jokes to introduce their fire dancing and fire sword fighting. As I expected, it was spectacular as always.

The best way to capture HVBRIS was on video and I have those clips at Instagram. The few stills I have are blurry from the low light and fast action, but you get the idea. Again, Babs Who Takes Pictures was there and that’s the best way to see the stills.

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PANELS

The panels were well organized. There were some typical issues with some speakers going over their time which I witnessed from other speakers waiting impatiently for rooms to clear. That 15 minutes in between is not buffer in case the lecture goes over; it’s supposed to be for tear down and set up. They need to test their projectors and slide shows and do other things. The only problem that posed for me as an audience member was that the Salon hallway of the Radisson is terribly cramped — and I mean terribly as noted in my section about accessibility. A few of us also complained to the front desk that there was no air conditioning back there; it got better eventually, but was still on the stuffy side.

My coverage for each panel I attended will be written up separately and if the audio came out all right, they will be released as Vodka O’Clock episodes:

Next year’s dates are scheduled for May 5-7, 2017 at the same location, the Embassay Suites and Radisson of Piscataway. Already booked is notable author Gail Carriger.

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