WICKED FAIRE THROUGH THE YEARS
JESSE PARRINO 08-MAR-2016 This year was the final Wicked Faire. The event had fallen off my radar of events for 2016 until I found out that this was the end. Having gone to nearly all of the Wicked Faires, I thought I should go to this one and close the book so to speak on what really was a large portion of my con-going life.
This was the eleventh show and I’ve been going to conventions for eleven years. While I didn’t hear much about the first few events, I started going right around 2007. At that point, it was still firmly a kink show that happened to have some Ren Faire style vendors. The first year I went, I remember being unimpressed, but it was also extremely local to me and con tickets hadn’t been what they are now. That first year I went, it was in a small convention center and I remember very little beyond looking at a few games, being surprised at what people were getting away with wearing, the amount of open kink (which in later years became more and more subdued and pushed more and more to the side), and enjoying a few performances. That first year they didn’t have many of the performers that would become staples of the show. No Platform One, no Psyche Corp. I remember that first year listening to a more folk style band called ‘The Weird (Or Wyird. It’s been quite some time and they seem to be no longer active) Sisters.
In all honesty that first year didn’t leave that much of an impression, but the next year did. It was at a hotel that was walking distance from my home if it wasn’t February. And my second year fit firmly in my early twenties of “Let’s get super drunk at a con!” attitude about cons in general. So I went in spite of very limited interest in the show itself. The kink aspect was still very much an active part of the con. I don’t remember if it had been pushed back yet. But I remember it being a bit less in your face as it had been the year before. I remember this year deciding to test the “anything goes” aspect of cosplay at this event and put on a Trek uniform. Other attendees made me feel super uncomfortable about that choice and there was a lot of mumbles behind my back. So I changed out of it. It did put a damper on my mood, but this was the first year Psyche Corp had played the event to my knowledge. It was less than halfway through day two when I was nursing a hangover and was bored, that I was deciding to leave the show when I heard her playing a set near the door and sat back down. I don’t remember much else of the event, but I stayed around to hear more of her and decided to make Wicked a yearly thing because her voice left such an impression on me.
There was another year when Wicked was having some hotel issues and couldn’t keep a venue for more then a single show or perhaps two at most due to events like fire dances (outside of the space) and the like. And these years were growing pains sort of years. I don’t remember all that much about them beyond during this time I had taken notice of Platform One. At the time their music didn’t do all that much for me. But I went to one of their sets for the sheer amusement fact of their front man cosplays a really good Snape. By the end of the set, I found myself up and dancing in spite of myself. During these years I also started to take note of specfic vendors and other acts that, while also very good, I don’t have as clear memories of them as I did of Psyche Corp and Platform One. Katie Kat, Tea and Absinthe, Mark Donnelly, among a few others came in at this time and I remember enjoying their products and performances a great deal.
After a few more years of this, the Faire eventually found the venue that would probably be the most associated with the show. The Somerset Doubletree. When the Faire moved here I was already familiar with the hotel since Anime Next had recently moved in. From an attendee’s viewpoint, it seemed like the show had finally found its home. During the early parts of this time is when the show started to play a little more heavily with the themes since the hotel let them decorate more and vendors were allowed to set up shop all over the hotel; and, there was a large tea party set up in the front of the hotel that was ongoing for the entire weekend.
During this time, I had a few friends who covered the convention for the now defunct website Vidgle. I remember a few stories from them that were always amusing. One time the show’s founder had hosted a dating game with himself as the bachelor and to frame the story better we weren’t completely sure if he was aware this was a game or not. A few women played and it was somewhat awkward and we really weren’t sure how this was amusing to anyone but maybe the founder. So I remember grabbing a few passersbys and the host (Who was playing a rural Russian) to try and save the segment. This lead to a cat (from the musical CATS) and myself offering ourselves as potential dates and it turned what had started out as awkward into a good punchline. But this goes to show the amount of improvisation that went on during the show.
I also remember another year where Nigel (the Snape mentioned earlier) had managed to corral a bunch of Harry Potter fans and cosplayers into singing a song about Snape and how he was a hero which was also amusing and highly memorable. One of the other things about Wicked that was very memorable was their anti-harassment policy. It might have something to do with how they started out so kink heavy so they needed a strict set of rules in place. But in an era before these things were really being spoken about as they are now, Wicked was one of the forerunners in building as safe a space as possible.
That being said, not everyone liked the show. I’m personal friends with a few vendors who would do a year or two and get completely screwed by the con. Things like being consistently put in the bad spots. Rumors that if you weren’t a long time vendor it was nearly impossible to get in. I’d like to readily admit this is all hearsay and I have no proof beyond the fact that I’ve heard it multiple times from unrelated people whom, for the sake of their businesses, want to remain anonymous. Also near the end of the show’s time at the Somerset there were a few other issues that I remember that eventually started to dull my interest in Wicked as a whole.
The show started to run the exact same things the exact same way which can work depending on the show. But given Wicked really had a focus on bands and bringing in new entertainers, I really had started to feel it was getting a bit stagnant. Ticket prices started to rise and I really wasn’t feeling the show in and of itself as much. The last year I went on my own dime, I decided to Volunteer because I was out of work but still wanted to go see friends and it was local. There was a charge to volunteer, at least the year I did it. You had to pay $10 to work and weren’t given a hotel room for it. I remember paying for a room that year because I was an “on call” staffer so I couldn’t be off site. Now to be fair I was never called to work. So for all intents and purposes, I got an all access badge and a Volunteer T-Shirt for $10 which worked out for me, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth for the other volunteers who weren’t as lucky as I had been.
The last year I had gone was also the last year it was in the Doubletree, if memory serves. I had some friends vending and they offered me a free badge if I helped them with their booth. I of course said yes. But this was the year that really made me rethink the convention. It had done a split between two hotels which in and of itself was not a bad thing. What made it bad was you needed a unique badge for each hotel. It called one the normal Wicked Faire and the other NecroComicCon and, to me, it seemed like it was the same general vendors and shows as usual just split up between two hotels and needing two badges. It just felt like a cheap cash grab to me.
As such, I didn’t bother to attend the first year it moved to Princeton. The show had been watering itself down and badge costs were going up. I just didn’t feel compelled to go. I spoke to a few of my friends who did go and weren’t staff and they all told me the same general thing: that it wasn’t the same and it felt like the show was being phoned in. So with that in mind I had no intention of doing the con this past year. To the point where I had asked Amber for a press pass to Dreamation (See my recent Dreamation con review). But then it came out that this was the last Wicked Faire and to be blunt I felt I should go despite my misgivings.
To be fair, for the final year they put on a good show. It was nice to see Psyche Corp, Platform One, and others for the last time at a Wicked Faire show. I went on Friday night with my own Friday evening pass I decided last minute to get. Then I did Sunday since I really wanted to commit Saturday to giving Dreamation a full and thorough review. I found myself feeling nostalgic for the early days. While the show was still “more of the same,” as I mentioned earlier, it was a send off show and there was a good mix of everything the show had ever done, even if the kink stuff that started this whole show was still sort of shoved in one room of vendors and otherwise not mentioned.
But the ending of Wicked Faire did feel like a bit of a bait and switch where there’s going to be a new show in the same general time next year. It felt like they dangled the end of Wicked Faire to get people in then said “Here’s a NEW show we’re running. Same time as the old show….”
All-in-all. I feel sad Wicked Faire is gone even if I think the show had lost most of its luster in its last few years. I made a lot of lifelong friends because of the Faire and I discovered a lot of music that I wouldn’t have otherwise been interested in. I’ll miss it and it had a good run. I wish the new show all the success in the world, even if I won’t be attending.
The following is a gallery of photos I’ve taken threw the years. However the oldest of these photos only date back to 2011. I have no photos of the events earlier then that. And these photos are all from the author’s personal camera.