While the 2017 Steampunk World’s Fair felt scaled back in size, it once again feels like the best experience I could expect for this year’s convention tour. It continued to be divided between the Radisson and Embassy Suites hotels in Piscataway, New Jersey. Music and panels weren’t as abundant on the schedule, yet they are consistently high caliber content. From what I could see at a visual glance of people watching, it looked liked the attendees were more diverse on the color spectrum though there appeared to be less in terms of QUILTBAG (queer/NB) event options.
I hated to see the see apparent downscaling in attendees because the show is worth the cover price of $65 (update: According to JME the attendance was up but they lowered vendor applications by 10% in order to give accepted vendors a better chance at sales rather than spreading consumer spending thin). There were more add-ons for extra fees this year. Normally there are add-ons for catered events (like high tea service or tastings or meeting special guests); this year an entire set of vendors and concerts were offered to VIPs only in the room designated as the Goblin Market. And though the extra fee was only $15, I felt that it would have been better the way it was in the past with a higher ticket fee and being able to see all the bands and vendors. The show was also competing with Free Comic Book Day, an event I missed for the first time in eleven years. Even though there was a designated overflow hotel, the Radisson still had rooms available — another sign that attendance was probably down (less vendors = less rooms needed). Worth mentioning is that parking is free; if the hotel spaces filled up, SPWF is allowed to use the neighboring lots also for free.
I did see a number of small children which looked to be having the time of their lives. There were even dogs in fancy dress. If you do plan to attend next year and bring along the kids, it’s best to research beforehand; there are going to be scantily clad fashionistas and vulgar singers; specific events like workshops are designed for all ages so you would definitely have enough to stay busy.
The rules of the con are posted clearly online and in the old timey newspaper program. It includes anti-harassment, codes of conduct, pool use rules, and an “ask first” camera policy though one should expect to be filmed because cameras are everywhere.
ACCESSIBILITY & HOTELS:
Less vendors and performers also meant less tables — which is not a bad thing. Normally the spaces are cramped and this year, I felt like I could move through the hallways much better, especially at the Radisson where it used to be claustrophobic and difficult to navigate. I noticed only a couple of attendees in wheelchairs this year. The hotels were spotless including the restrooms. I swear the Radisson cleaning crew was always outside the restroom door keeping on top of things.
SARAH DONNER AND JAY BUCHANAN performed nerdtastic songs at the Courtyard Stage to an almost packed to capacity audience. It was the first time I saw Buchanan with Donner; normally I catch her solo. He added a spark to the show allowing her to banter with someone. The standup bass created additional harmony. Together they were fun even during rather emotional songs.
After the show, Sarah and her kitten-rescuing partner Michael showed how their new batch of foster babies are bottle fed. People got to pass around the little purrito bundles and have kitten therapy time. Much of Sarah’s Patreon goes towards kitten care and vet bills.
MANY KITTEN PHOTOS UNDER THE CUT:
SHARON KNIGHT & WINTER performed in a couple of locations over the weekend. I caught them at the Embassy Suites atrium which is a rotund area normally for seating but faced by one of the pathways that crosses through lush foliage and next to the beautiful water fall. Melodies about magic and monsters in this setting embraced an intimacy that would be missed on the main Midway Stage. Knight also offered mermaid theme merchandise like trinket boxes and candles next to their CDs.
THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS was a must-see because they are always one of the best bands. They’re creative, lively, and engaging. It’s an energy one doesn’t often get to see in live performance. I don’t think I’ve seen them where the audience didn’t get up and form a train of frolicking dancers. Lyrics of circuses and whiskey were accompanied by the tuba, piano, accordion, trombone, guitar, and percussion. I missed their ensemble performance with Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band (trust me, I wish I hadn’t, but I had to get home).
ELI AUGUST without all the Abandon Buildings band performed as a trio on the Midway’s main stage while it was still daylight. The late night shows usually feature members from other bands to create a massive ensemble. The passionate sounds of Eli’s vocals backed by guitar, cello, and mandolin transported the audience back to early days of immigrants landing at Ellis Island trying to make their way after hardships in the old country. Maybe it’s just me. They sing of love and heartbreak, difficult lives, and sailing the high seas. Popular tracks like “The War” and “Waves” were on the afternoon set list.
MANY ELI AUGUST PHOTOS UNDER CUT:
O, GOTHIC NOVEL, HOW WE LOVE THEE
Both panels I caught were top notch. I was able to record LEANNA RENEE HIEBER enthusiastically discuss the history of the Gothic novel from the 18th century to present. It was a lot to fit in the hour, but she managed.
Hieber is the author of The Strangely Beautiful saga and the Magic Most Foul saga. She lovingly told about her real life convincing her parents that Goth is more than a phase and she can in fact make a living from it. She called out unhealthy famous literary relationships; and she didn’t sugarcoat problematic content that includes Lovecraft’s racism or Penny Dreadful’s tokenism. Her lecture will be featured on Vodka O’Clock Podcast.
THE DISORDER OF DEATH AND THE RISE OF THE VAMPIRE
The second panel I attended was academic guest speaker NICOLE SALOMONE who educated a packed room on some of the quirkier stories of burial and declarations of death in England, Scotland, and Ireland. She took us on a journey from the 18th century when medical schools didn’t have much in terms of resources. Studies on the dead intersected with religious beliefs. Fear for the soul was just as much a worry as whether or not the body was decomposing.
There was a time when people were accidentally buried on a regular basis. Definitions of death weren’t standard. Someone could be “apparently dead” but not “actually dead” so bodies were given a three-day grace period in England which was sometimes enough for them wake up. Salomone included the history of the wake and how it involved moving the deceased body around a room to avoid the Devil’s clutches. Because of the frequency of allegedly dead people rising, the lore of vampires began. To make sure vampires weren’t going to pop up, more rigorous standards were developed for declaring bodies actually dead. Tests included checking for circulation, respiration, pricking toes for a response, listening for heartbeats, and even smelling to see if it’s begun to rot. A hypodermic solution could also be injected which would either have no effect if the body was dead or give harmless and temporary reactions if still alive.
Salomone had a lot of anecdotes to keep the death discussion anything but morbid or dry. She loves her work and it’s clear that she loves talking about the history of funerary rites. The audience laughed, gasped, moaned, and happily participated. She has plans to continue investigating subject matter that leaves other people grossed out or saddened as she works on her graduate thesis.
I missed the fire shows this year by HVBRIS and Steampunk Xena, but saw Babs’ gorgeous photos. It looks like they managed to have good shows despite the on-again-off-again rain. Aerialist silk performer The Mad Hattress entertained the crowds in the courtyard and all of her tips were part of a fundraiser.
Unfortunately, for health reasons, I missed a lot. I wanted to see the Numerologist in particular, but missed her. She was also giving limited readings on Saturday.
My only shopping goal was to pick up more lavender soap, but the Filthy Farmgirl dealer wasn’t there this year. However, I was able to nab some great mementos for bargain prices. Most vendors were even open to haggling if you made multiple purchases. If you’ve ever been curious about how to begin in the world of steampunk, it’s easy to take your time (if you can restrain yourself). Many items of clothing or accessories are over a hundred or two hundred dollars. If you work with off-the-rack wardrobe pieces and get less expensive baubles and one big purchase like the perfect hat or set of wings, you will have quickly assimilated.
I kept missing the specific herbal vendor I wanted to see, but came across a different one in a convenient though congested location by the doors of the Radisson leading to the Courtyard. Auntie Arwen’s Spices had more varieties of salts than I’ve ever seen in my life. I picked up a Russian black salt and some PMS tea and then talked about cats with the purveyor of the fine goods.
I got a couple pieces of absinthe flavored chocolate shaped like top hats and named Absinthe Minded Professor from Sweet Steam. I was able to replace my broken parasol (only the tip is busted) so now I have one fit for going out and one for staying at home and actually using to keep the sun off of my skin.
Though I did not bring my pet companion Gus along as other people did, he was in my thoughts. There was a vendor named Doctor Gus with an array of jewelry and baubles, probably half fashioned out of upcycled spoons, knives, and forks. I bought one of his hat pins.
Then at Mrs. Pettigrew’s encapsulated shop, I was able to get a small handbag with a steampunk black cat much like how I photoshop Gus. Mrs. P’s also had great prices on canes. They always have the coolest looking booth at SPWF. I will caution that if you are using a mobility device, it could be difficult to navigate. However, the merchants are lovely, friendly people more than happy to help.
My favorite little purchase of the weekend was adopting a Pandora’s Pet from author Leanna Renee Hieber and artist Thom Truelove. They offer one-of-a-kind palm sized sculptures of arcane demon pals whose sole purpose is take away worry. It’s like an upgraded pet rock or worry stone but with a facial expression, horns, and personality. Once they started telling me about the little critters, I could not look away. I kept ogling them and asking more questions. Inevitably, I adopted a small pet for $15. Then there’s a delightful naming ceremony. I had to shake the mysterious box of dice. Leanna decoded the numbers and translated them into segments of names from ancient cities. My little worry pet companion was named Ishtramon of the Frost clan. The team is working on making stories and a website for Pandora’s Pets; in the meantime, you can adopt one from their etsy store.
EVOLVE & EARTHLY LEATHER offered everything needed for that barbaric/post-apocalyptic wardrobe. Definitely not for the vegan steampunk.
LITHIA’S CREATIONS featured upcycled China and teacups — some maintaining the original use, but redecorated; others transformed into jewelry. I bought another skeleton key for my collection.
MADETCHA is an artist who freehands etchings on all sorts of glass bottles and containers. None of her work is from a stencil or sandblasted.
A STEAMPUNKED LIFE had a large spacious tent outdoors. That’s where I got my new parasol. They also had items all through the con for people to enjoy photographing like the steampunk Tardis. This atmosphere was also beefed up with the mechanical works of DAVE LEE from HATTEN CROSS STEAMPUNK who provided the steampunk fantasy vehicles under the Midway tent.
Wendy Allen of MissFitt.com hand felted hats and accessories
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of AmberUnmasked.com and Vodka O'Clock Podcast. Author of The Farrah Wethers Mysteries, comic book short stories, prose, and non-fiction. Cosplayer and figure model.