Published: Wednesday, 03 July 2013 21:08
So LibertyCon 26 is over, and now that we've slept a solid twelve hours or so things seems to be returning to normal. But boy, I can tell you that we had a great time this weekend!
In a nutshell: the convention went pretty darned smoothly. The entire volunteer staff did a wonderful job! We had a mind boggling number of great pros in attendance, and one of the best groups of 'Headliner Guests' that we could possibly have hoped for. There were quite a number of new faces in the attendee crowd this year, and hopefully we picked up quite a few new family members for future years.
All in all, it was a great time!
Now that's out of the way, I'm going to go into a bit more depth. And as a warning, I tend to get wordy. Because of that if you're planning on reading any further you might want to stretch your legs, get a drink or whatever you might like to do.
Don't worry, we'll wait.
(la dee dee dum... dum, de dum...)
Ok, so you're back... and you didn't really go get that drink, did you? Oh well, I warned you.
LibertyCon 26 was held this past weekend (June 28-30, 2013) at the 'world famous' Chattanooga Choo-Choo. Our Headliners this year were Kevin J. Anderson as Literary Guest, Vincent Di Fate as Artist Guest, Catherine Asaro as Science Guest, Michael & Paul Bielaczyc as our Special Guests, and lastly Larry Correia as Master of Ceremonies. Apart from those guys we had over fifty other pros and panelists of all kinds come in: authors, artists, scientists... and even a couple of professional musicians and comedians.
Our Programming Director, Rich Groller, managed to shoehorn more than one hundred hours of programming into forty eight hours of convention (and that's even allowing time for people to actually sleep!) covering all sorts of categories: Performances, readings, publishing, art... heck just about everything you can think of, including what's coming to be one of the most popular panels we have, "The Messiest Ways to Kill a Zombie". You know you're doing something right when at the Closing Ceremonies (AKA: 'The Bitch at Brandy Session'. Really, it's in the Schedule like that) the harshest complaints against your department can mostly be funneled down to the same sentiment, "You're putting too many good panels against what I want to see, and I can only be in one at a time!" Perfectly understandable, I have to admit, considering some of the phenomenal panels on that same Schedule.
But when you consider the guests we had, you're really going to have a hard time finding a lousy panel. I want to start talking about our guests by telling you how horrible it was for some of them to get to us. Kevin J. Anderson and his wife Rebecca Moesta sat on a runway in Denver for close to four hours while a fuel problem was resolved (how in the world do you load an extra five thousand pounds of fuel onto a plane anyway?!), after which they had to sit in Atlanta (I believe) for more equipment problems. An extra five or so hours sitting on a plane is enough to fray anyone’s nerves. Larry Correia and his wife Bridget had more 'run of the mill' delays and ended up running about three hours late, as did Catherine Asaro. But they all pale in comparison to poor Vincent DiFate and his wife. Through a series of airline errors and pure misfortune they ended up routed across a good chunk of the United States, and even had to stay the night at one of the layovers. They weren't able to get to LibertyCon until late Saturday night, a full two days after starting their trip.
Michael and Paul Bielaczyc just drove down. Really, that's all. If any of the other guests would like, we can dunk them for you in retribution later.
But regardless of all of the problems, all of the guests were incredibly friendly and upbeat. I honestly couldn't believe it, but once you spend some time with these guys, you can see why. I've met Kevin J. Anderson and his lovely wife Rebecca a couple of times before, and had been struck by how open they were to just engage with their fans. As a matter of fact, when my (then ten year old) son Alex met them at MidSouthCon a few years ago they ended up pointing him to their Crystal Doors series. They didn't just suggest it, but they actually took quite a while to chat with him about what he liked and to explain what the series was about... all the while treating this pre-teen to just as much attention as they might an adult fan looking to buy their entire Dune lineup. That really stuck with me, and I'm glad to say that impression was only reinforced by speaking with them during Liberty. These guys were incredibly generous with their time, as well as being incredibly charming and entertaining as heck to listen to. And come on, how many times do you get to talk to a Science Fiction writer about everything from Superman to genetic breeding camps to "What's it like being friends with Neil Peart of Rush?"?!
Speaking of charming, I have to hop over to Catherine Asaro. Before this weekend I had never met her. In all honesty, I've never read one of her books. (but boy, Brandy sure has!) This woman is one heck of a class act! I'm not going to go into all of her different facets, you can read about those in her Bio... but I'm going to say that I can't imagine meeting any singular woman (apart from my wife) that combines beauty, intelligence and sheer raw talent like she does. And when you top that off with an incredibly engaging personality, it's one heck of a winning combination. My one really quick example is actually a bit embarrassing, but here you go. After flying in and being delayed by several hours, Brandy and I picked her up at the airport. No problem there. However I completely forgot about some road construction on the freeway, and didn't realize it until just AFTER the last off-ramp to avoid the traffic. Needless to say I felt absolutely horrible for making her even more late, but instead of being irritated she spent a good chunk of the hour or so of bumper to bumper traffic in trying to make _ME_ feel better about the situation. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a class act.
But that's nothing compared to how frustrated and downright angry Vincent Di Fate would have been totally justified in feeling. Error after error hit him and his wife as they slowly made their way to the convention. It was so bad that we even told them to turn around and go
back home, we felt so incredibly bad for them. After all we really wanted them there, but felt horribly guilty about the utter Hades that they were going through. And you know, they would have been completely justified in doing just that. But they didn't. They dealt with one airline disaster after another, not only because they had agreed to come to the convention... but because these guys are family. They went through all of this to be at our convention for the simple reason that they wanted to be there, and I would personally like to let them know how amazingly honored we are.
Luckily other members of our 'Family' had it easier. Michael & Paul Bielaczyc came down from Nashville to act as our Special Guests. It's really hard to say something about these two guys, because... well, it's freaking Michael & Paul! These are the guys that Brandy and Shannon refer to as "Our Boys"! These are also two incredibly talented artists who have come full tilt into the LibertyCon Family, and made themselves right at home in a way that few others have. They aren't 'Guests'... these are the cousins that you're incredibly fond of, but live out of town so you only get together a few times a year. And all I can say is that we were incredibly happy to have them as our 'Special Guests' this year, even if the power of the white ribbon did go to Paul's head.
Our final guest was someone that I can't say enough good things about. Larry Correia attended LibertyCon in 2010, but at the time I never really got a chance to meet him. (I know, it's a smaller convention... I should meet everyone. But honestly I tend to run around so much 'gophering' that I never seem to get a chance to). Anyway, when he stepped off the plane all I could think of was, "Holy crap! He really is Owen Pitt!" Then he started chatting with us, and between him and his wife Bridget we were just absolutely blown away. This guy writes about guns, monsters and blowing things up in innovative and incredibly messy ways... and he is just so incredibly NICE. That might sound like a platitude, and he might honestly get tired of hearing it, but I swear that both he and Bridget were two of the nicest people that I have ever met! We southerners tend to have a reputation for being easy going and hospitable, but these guys would definitely give us a run for our money. Also one thing you realize when you talk to them is that the conventions aren't just a 'gig' for Larry... he's a fan. He told me about trying his best not to go all 'fanboy' when he first met Tracey Hickman, which is when I found out that his wife is the same... only for her it was Eric Flint. It's always great to find out so directly that the people behind the books really are 'one of us'.
These were only our main guests... I could fill pages by talking about our other guests. Some are 'Family', like John Ringo, Toni Wiesskopf, Michael Z. Williamson, Tedd Roberts, Jason Cordova, and etc (Whom if the Bielaczycs are those cousins you like, these guys are the aunts & uncles that you try to sneak out to hang with)... man, I want to list everyone, but can't... Les Johnson, Stephanie Osborn, the ENTIRE FREAKING HOYT CLAN (Seriously, three writers in one family! How do you even do that?!), Chuck Gannon, Sara Harvey, Mark Fults, Stephen Cobb, Anita Moore, James Ward... ok, I have to stop! The 'Hellions' were in full attendance and even had a book launch for the new 'Dreamers in Hell'!
There were performances by Catherine Asaro, Chris Morris, and some 'new guys': The Painfully Funny Troupe. And of course when you talk about performances, you have to mention ARTC. Those guys have been performing at LibertyCon for almost a decade now, and I honestly can't imagine having a convention without them there. We are so incredibly fortunate that they have chosen us as one of their regular conventions, and in all seriousness would like to thank them from the bottom of our collective hearts. You guys never fail to put on a great show, and it's something that all of us look forward to every year. (Even if we do get your performance information wrong in the Program Book. /ack!)
And all that is just our guests! If you weren't there this year, you can't imagine how much fun it was with all of these people floating around the convention. Remember, we are a small Con... intentionally. Our attendance was capped at 550 paid members, after which Brandy would have been forced to turn people away at the door. We have a Programming Schedule that can rival WorldCon, but we purposely will never have that many people. After all unless you 'know someone' at a convention of thousands, how often do you get to just sit down with one of the guests and chat about whatever strikes you?
That being said, we were actually worried about just that. We missed hitting our cap by six people, and you can't imagine how relieved Brandy was that she didn't have to tell someone from Ohio, "Thanks for your interest, but I'm afraid that we're sold out." And all I can tell you is that it felt like the perfect size for our convention.
I'm going to start talking about things other than the guests now, so if you didn't listen to me earlier about that drink you might want to do it now. Or possibly go to the bathroom. Don't worry... like I said before, we'll be right here when you get back.
There were tons of things going on at the convention, but the first one that I want to mention was something that Brandy and I were extremely honored to be witness to: Patrick Vanner and his wife Heather recently had their first child, Corbin Thomas Vanner. They decided to use LibertyCon 26 as the location to have him christened. John & Miriam Ringo were the Godparents, and the service was performed by Miriam's brother (whom I unfortunately didn't get his name). It was a beautiful ceremony in the central garden, and incredibly touching that they would have it at our convention. We've had weddings at Liberty before, but this was the first Baptism that I've ever heard of! Congrats to the entire Vanner clan, and especially to little Corbin!
There were also several humorous things that happened, but one of the best involved Jason Cordova. You may have heard that he is currently engaged to (the really too good for him) Melanie Boyd… and… well, some people had decided to turn the last part of one of his panels into a 'Roast/Beat on the Bachelor' session to celebrate. Unfortunately no one told him, and he missed the panel. He still got the wine later, but missed out on the party. Not to worry though, they still had a good time roasting him (just without the chance to defend himself)
One particular department of note was the Art Show. It was expanded again to an even larger space than last year, and was an absolutely great setup. As sometimes happens at conventions, the Art Show got off to a rocky start during check in, but Shannon and her staff were able to streamline checkout by Sunday to get everyone home on time. We will be working on this during the year and have a different process that will allow the artists more flexibility in how they check in. The Iron Artist 'panel' was one of the best art events I have ever seen at any convention. Eight separate artists created unique pieces for the Charity Auction as we watched, all the while just chatting away with the people watching over their shoulders. Which leads me straight to the Art & Charity Auction. As of this writing I don't have exact numbers (and I probably won't until our business meeting in September) but I know that the Charity Auction _ALONE_ brought in more than thirty five hundred dollars for the Chattanooga Area food Bank! That's easily the most we have ever gotten for charity from the Auction. The Baen Barflies contributed over $300, and Joe McKeel chipped in a chunk of change from running the Patriot Games... when all is said and done we should have raised a little under four thousand dollars, and that's before any of our notorious 'bad math' while writing the check to charity!
Speaking of the Barflies, a really huge 'Thank you!' goes out to all of them for helping out in the ConSuite. Between the normal staff and those guys, Michael ended up running a Hospitality Department that has gotten nothing but raves and kudos from everyone in attendance. There was always something to nosh on, which I know _I_ was really thankful for considering that we had five kids with us. If you ever want to have the chance to meet everyone at a con, work a few shifts in the ConSuite! After all, at some point everyone passes through for a soda, beer or something to eat.
Also, I want to give a huge thanks to our Security staff. What, you didn’t know that we had security teams roaming the buildings at all hours of the day and night?? Well, that just shows that they are great at their job! Andy and crew, always consummate professionals, make a big job look easy.
Ironically, the last area in here is Registration… you know that area that most attendees see first? This is one area where no news is good news. Making sure that registrations for 544 paid attendees and over 50 professional guest passes are done in a speedy (and accurate) manner is not a trivial task. But Matt and his team are always up to the task! Even at our busiest times the line was pretty short, and most people were through it in just a few minutes.
Hopefully all of that can give you a sense of what we saw at the convention this year. It was an absolutely wonderful time, even though I kept telling people how much I was looking forward to getting back to work so I could rest up from the weekend!
But I would like to point out something to you guys, and if you’re on staff at a convention you probably already know this… we don’t see the same things that the attendees see. If I might be allowed a really clumsy metaphor: We’re constantly on the move trying to make sure the trains are running on time, and sometimes we don’t notice that the actual seats _IN_ the train might be a bit dirty. For example, my main problem with what I said earlier about the panels is that it's all second hand. That comes from the feedback we got from attendees (through our App, through feedback on the webpage, and from comments in the Bitch Session). I personally didn't attend a single panel, and I'm pretty sure that most of the staff is in the same boat. We admittedly had several issues that came up over the weekend, like there will be at any convention, and probably quite a few that we don’t know anything about.
That's why it's really so important for you guys to let us know what you did and didn't like, what worked and worked a little less… without those comments (good or bad) we honestly might not have any idea of things that we can do to keep tweaking the convention in a positive way. Your feedback is VERY important to us, so please take a minute to tell us what you liked, and what we can do better. (We already have a laundry list of changes you can expect to see, in everything from the website on down!)
Again, thank you to all of the people who spent their time and energy putting on the convention. As Brandy likes to remind people, all of the staff members are volunteers. We don’t give price breaks to our staff because we are a small convention and a 501(c) non-profit, and instead try to give every penny that we can to our yearly charity.
We can’t wait to see you next year!
PS. Ok, since you ignored me before… NOW go take that bathroom break!
PPS. If there are any of the Science Panels that you missed and have an interest in, keep an eye out for upcoming episodes of Stephen Cobb's 'The Future & You' podcast. He recorded quite a few of them over the convention, and I imagine they'll be popping up in the coming weeks.