Fan Festivals are like Comic Conventions, with a lesser emphasis on comic books themselves. So, I had a few expectations when I attended the 2014 Lehigh Valley Fan Festival this past weekend.
It exceeded my expectations, although I’m not sure if it was, in spite of or, because of it’s unique location in Allentown Brew Works; a multi-level brewery, restaurant, nightclub and event hall, all in one.
Obviously, Allentown Brew Works did not close their restaurant. They just opened up the High Gravity Lounge on the second floor, the Hamilton Room on the third floor and the Silk Lounge in the basement. This is unique because events like this are usually held it wide open rooms, like convention halls and arenas. But to me, this was a thoroughly perfect match. A Fan Festival in a Brewery? In Lehigh Valley, it just makes sense and it worked extremely well.
Before I get to the action inside, I have to talk about the action outside. First, across the street in the courtyard were two cars parked on the grass. But they weren’t just any two cars. One was a fully built and functional, although not time traveling functional, Delorean from Back to the Future II and right next to it, on the same plot of land, was a fully functional KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) from Knight Rider, complete with 70 different voice commands that responded to the builder’s voice.
Any inner child or actual child of the 80’s can’t help but appreciate the beauty of these two machines and there they were, fully functioning replicas, just outside Lehigh Valley Fan Festival. Then there was inside.
Inside there was artists, cosplayers, vendors and just regular old attendees, like myself, all mixed together and mingling, talking and generally having a wonderful time. And why not? We all shared a common interest; we all have a passion about something; comics, art, movies, television.
All of us have a passion for something rooted in popular culture, whether it be current or past, a huge blockbuster or a cult classic. When you put all of those like minded people together, for a fan festival or a comic convention, a good time will be had by all. (And it didn’t hurt that this was being held in a brewery, where good locally brewed beer was readily available.)
There was a large cospay contingent in attendance. A-Town Deadpool, G.I. Joe the Finest, Heroes Alliance, Imperial Klingon Forces, Long Island Batman, The Mandalorian Mercs and Victoria Cosplay, and that doesn’t count all of the attendees who showed up in costume as well. Not that a custom was necessary, I saw a guy in a Wyld Stallyns shirt and that was good enough for me!
Artists were plentiful at booths with their wares and they all had wonderful stories and were happy to tell them to you. Primo Cardinalli, is an artist, that proclaims himself as an “old dog with a new trick,” after having spent years not doing art, he fell on hard times, picked up a writing utensil and started drawing. Keir Lyles is another artist with an amazing story, having not only formed a comic studio to publish his comic, but having also created classes for drawing and writing comics.
These are just two of the amazing artists that were there, and there were celebrity appearances as well, Jeremy Ambler of The Walking Dead, Theodus Crane of many credits including The Walking Dead, Rochelle Davis from The Crow, Taimak Guariello of The Last Dragon and Amy Dumas best known as the WWE Diva Lita. And like the artists, all were willing to tell stories, sign wares and partake in photographs with fans.
Seriously, there was something for everyone and even though this was a Fan Festival and not a Comic Convention, there were still comics, collectibles and movies to be purchased from vendors, as well. I didn’t stay for the Cosplay contest or for the video game tournament, but both were well attended from the look of the signup sheets.
I went with a cash budget to limit my spending as, even with the most self control, going to one of these events with no budget makes it easy to drop more money than you should. Personally, the other reason I go with a cash budget, is because like most people, I have a home that doesn’t have infinite room, I only have so many places to put comic books and collectibles and there is only so much wall space to hang art.
That being said, I did pick up some prints and some comics, but it was talking to the talent; the artists, guests and even the vendors that was most enjoyable.
The thing people forget about these things or I should say, the thing people don’t focus on about these Fan Festivals, and even comic conventions, is the people. It could be the guests, the vendors, the artists or just the other attendees. The people are really what make these events memorable. That being said, it is still nice to walk out with some loot, but the conversations and the connections that can be made are much more fulfilling.
So, a fan festival in a brewery? Well, maybe only in Lehigh Valley, but I’m sure it could work elsewhere. There are two conclusions I’ve come away from the 2014 Lehigh Valley Fan Festival; 1, this is a chance to meet people with common interests and they’re all willing to talk to you and 2, if you’ve been to one of these, you haven’ been to them all, so keep going. There will always be new vendors and attendees to meet and old ones to reconnect with.
In my humble opinion, a fan fest in a brewery? Yeah, it works really well. I applaud the Lehigh Valley Fan Festival for what they did and I can’t wait to attend next year.