Ponyville Ciderfest – My Afterthoughts
When it comes to fan-related conventions, most of my memories are comprised of the likes of San Diego Comic-Con, Wizard World Chicago, and the Transformers-related, Botcon.
Botcon 2008 was my first attendance at a singular-subject convention, and it was quite an experience. My friend Eric and I quickly assimilated in with some new-found Trans-fanatics, which is one of my favorite memories. The convention also yielded some great purchases, not to mention some interesting panels regarding official Hasbro products, and the voice actors of the currently-running Transformers:Animated cartoon (where I got to meet Tara Strong!).
A few weeks ago, the fan-run TFCon extended their reach down from Toronto, CA, to Chicago, IL. While not as major as the likes of Botcon, TFCon Chicago brought out fans, voice-actors from the cartoons, and even a screen-used Saleen from the 2007 Transformers film! It had been a long time since I had gone to something so small (I think the last time was an event at AnimeIowa, back in 1999). Though this year, TFCon Chicago would be the first of two smaller conventions I’d attend.
While I do watch the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic TV series, I have not really jumped into a lot of the fan-based material within the community. I don’t read fanfiction, or get caught up in fan-pairings, or the typical “who is best pony” debates. I do dabble in reading a few of the official IDW Comics releases, but treat those moreso like Expanded Universe stories.
Unlike most fandoms, the Friendship is Magic series has spawned dozens of conventions around the world in the last few years. Some have become fixtures in the community, like Bronycon, and EverFree Northwest. Even so, a few have tried to gain ground in that most difficult of no man’s land of the United States: the Midwest.
Several have risen and fallen, struggling to make a mark in a venue area that the majority of big-name conventions have seemingly given up on (moreso willing to have people come to the coasts, and packed tightly into convention halls there). Several smaller cons have appeared in places like Kansas City and Minneapolis, but this year, Wisconsin decided to try and get in on some of the action, with their inaugural opening of Ponyville Ciderfest, on November 7-9, 2014.
Ciderfest is definitely one of the smaller-scale, more-intimate affairs there is. Being held in Milwaukee’s Hyatt Regency, the convention took over the majority of the rooms on their second floor, and a few areas on the first floor.
A friend told me that the guys who put on Ciderfest, also put on an anime convention in Milwaukee, and it seems that knowledge served them well. If anything, the guys knew that there are a lot of people here from different areas, focusing on a collective fandom. And in cases like that, there’s a great need and push for interaction.
The second floor included plenty of tables to sit back and relax at, along with a central dance floor to just let loose at (my friend’s son found this place to be his favorite area of the convention!). All manner of remixes were played on the floor.
This ability to make the most out of giving guests things to do, was definitely a high-point. There was even a game room where one could partake in Dance Dance Revolution (which included some modded ponified remixes on the board), and partake in a version of the nixed game, Fighting is Magic.
There was even a tabletop game room, which included numerous pony-associated games (like Connect4 and Chutes & Ladders). One of my favorite memories is of 3 random teenagers asking if I wanted to join them for a game of MLP-related Monopoly (sadly, I had to head on over to watch a panel). Still, the fact that they extended an invitation to a random stranger like me was really heartening.
One of the most recent additions to the FiM cast is Ingrid Nilson, who has risen to popularity voicing Pinkie Pie’s sister, Maud. One of Ingrid’s passions is yoga, and it was nice to see the convention persons squeeze in a session where she talked and demonstrated this.
As well, that interaction among guests was something that is really welcomed to me. Most of those who work within the actual show are very kind and giving of their talents and services. My friend was very eager for her son to take part in a small birdhouse-making arts and crafts session that Andrea Libman was participating in. They told me afterwards how Andrea and their son had a fun little conversation, that eventually led to their son deciding that his birdhouse would be perfect to hang on the tree as an ornament.
That I think was also a welcome sight at the convention, in that the voice-actors and other community personalities could wander around and interact well. I got to speak to the likes of fan-personalities like Dusty Katt (aka “The Manliest Brony”), and Final Draft (who is a fixture on the Everfree Network channel).
One little moment I had that was fun, involved speaking with Peter New about writer/director, Terry Gilliam. New had been in Gilliam’s film, The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, and in the 5-7 minutes conversation with him, it was easy for me to see that Peter was definitely a fan of Gilliam’s work.
Like most conventions, I was interested to attend several of the panels that were held.
The highlights naturally, were the ones that included talks with the voice-actors and guests who were attending. They included Michelle Creber (voice of Applebloom), Andrea Libman (voice of Fluttershy & Pinkie Pie), Peter New (voice of Big Mac), Ingrid Nilson (voice of Maud Pie), and Sam Vincent (voice of Flim-Flam Brother, Flim).
Their participation in the voice-actor panel was fun, and they did field many of the same questions (like, “who is your favorite pony”), but also answered some that probably hadn’t been considered before.
Several of the VA cast also attended a whose line is it anyway-style panel, as well as a fan-script reading, in which each of them did different voices for different scenarios. The reading was fun, as it gave the audience a chance to hear the VA’s do some of their other voices.
I also attended a few of the smaller panels, mostly those dealing with the likes of Youtube and reviewing videos. These were put on by several who had done different types of videos within the fandom, including reviewer ToonKritickY2K, Dusty Katt, and Saberspark. Their panels were a little more of an informative “don’t give up” take on things, with only a few questions here and there from their rather quiet audience members.
Like any convention or get-together, one can always find things to improve on, and I thought I’d list a few things that stuck in my mind:
– The Vendors Room: regarding Pony-related merchandise, I was seriously expecting a larger assortment of wares on sale. However, the amount of choices and tables was a little disappointing to me. My friend and I were in and out in under 15 minutes, and I think we made more purchases outside of the vendor room than in it.
I had brought some funds in hopes to find a vendor selling pony-related t-shirts (I don’t have any of my own). I think this was the first convention I’ve attended, where aside from the official con-shirts, there wasn’t a single shirt-vendor on the floor! I was hoping to come across something really impressive in those respects. There was some great fanmade stuff on display, but I still tend to be very choosy with opening the purse-strings at conventions.
– Fan-videos: I’ve been doing several pony-related mashups and movie-trailer bits on my Youtube channel, and have often wanted to display some of those to a larger audience (Youtube is a big place, but rarely does anyone see my stuff).
The Botcon conventions I’ve attended, have always had a video panel where fans could submit all sorts of fan-related Transformers videos, which often run the gamut from live-action, to stop-motion. While Ciderfest did have a contest for fan art, I still feel that digital material could be something to consider for next year. Heck, I was hoping they would have announced something for this years, as I have a few ideas that I could have jumped on as entry pieces for videos.
– A complimentary cider room for the attendees was a great idea, and while there was one room open for this, I almost wish there had been a couple others, just so there could maybe have been a little more variety, TV-wise, and maybe game-wise. I could see it as an extension of the tabletop game room on the second floor, and help push some more interaction among fans.
At the end of the day, word through Twitter is the event was a big success, attendance-wise, and even charity-wise for the convention. The organizers have also announced a second convention next year right around Thanksgiving time. As it stands now, my friends and I are going to see where the rest of the year goes, but it may not be beyond the possibility of us going back to Milwaukee (and hopefully, the pollen count won’t be as intense).