February has gone by and so much has happened and not happened. I definitely didn’t complete any of my goals but I did experience a number of other things. Like attending my first “con”! It was a lot of fun and a good introduction to cons and other festivals of the sort. I didn’t know what to expect so for anyone thinking of going to their first con I thought this would be a helpful heads up!
Background: What the Hell is a “con”?
“Con” is short for convention. There’s a lot of cons every year. Some big (San Diego Comic Con) and some small (Tidewater Comic Con) and every size in between for anything you could probably think of. My husband and I had briefly spoken about attending a comic con in the past but never committed. So when I heard that my favorite comedy band, Ninja Sex Party, was going to be attending MAGFest in mid February I knew I was also going to be attending. It also didn’t hurt that it was only a 3 1/2 hour drive away.
First Up: Plan, Plan, Plan
Normally people plan their con trips months in advance. I did it just weeks prior. I do not recommend this. At that point the convention center (Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center), and every hotel near it, was booked.
- Hotel: I don’t know how but I somehow managed to find a hotel and a room that was only eight minutes away. Ideally being in the same hotel (or one within walking distance even) would make travel so much easier. We wouldn’t have to worry about parking and driving back and forth to the hotel. Considering the distance of the hotel we did book, it wasn’t that bad.
- Parking/Transportation: I secured a parking pass for the four days at a lot that would eventually sell out (go me!). It was really nice not having to worry about parking during the entire event. There were also buses and Uber/Lyft/taxies available for visitors as well. Figuring how you’re getting to/from the event is important and should not be neglected!
- Event rules: If you’re planning on carrying a large purse or backpack, it’s a good idea to check the event’s rules about them. I heard that last year’s MAGFest didn’t allow bags/backpacks into the concert area but this year it was different. When in doubt, ask a staff member/volunteer. That’s what they’re there for! Just don’t be rude. That’s not cool.
- Schedule/Map: I made sure to look at the schedule when it was made available as well. I wanted to know when/where NSP would be so we can plan around those events. Closer to the event I discovered MAGFest had a guide and map available through an app. I can not say how fucking awesome this guide/app was. It was super easy to use and allowed me to build my own schedule. I would mark the panels or events I was interested in and could access them without having to scroll through everything else. Not to mention the original schedule they released was fuck awful to read. For larger cons this is so incredibly necessary as some events (autograph signings) might charge a fee or it might be such a popular draw that you’ll be in line for a long ass time. You also don’t want to be caught off guard or be standing in a line and miss something you really wanted to go to. So, ya know, plan accordingly.
- Your Needs: The day may get away from you and when you realize you’re hungry you might be waiting in a line for a panel/event. You don’t want to lose your spot but you can’t wait until it’s over. That’s where snacks come in. Bring them. Or at least plan around meal times. We made sure to bring knapsacks (to free our hands), snacks/food (to keep away hangry Cher), hand sanitizer (a MUST), and comfy shoes (also a must).
Next Up: Expectations vs Reality
I’ve never been to a con before and only had a general idea of them from TV/movies. I knew even less specifically about MAGFest except what I read on their website. Knowing my limited knowledge I tried not to set expectations but that’s impossible in any situation.
- There will be costumes. I’ll be honest. With it being music and gaming focused I was not expecting a lot of cosplay (dressing up like your favorite characters). I was stupid. There were a shit ton of people dressed up and it was amazing. 90% of the cosplay I didn’t recognize but it was enjoyable to sit on a bench and just watch people walk by.
- Sometimes titles/descriptions are misleading. The panels were what I spent a lot of time attending while my husband spent a lot of time playing in the arcade and the console room (there were rooms for both and it was crazy awesome). A lot of the ones I attended were disorganized, unprepared, unfocused, and generally missed opportunities to discuss truly interesting topics. Not all of them, but it really came down to the hosts and expected audience size. A lot of the panels with more well-known guests went far better than the smaller ones. If only their panels lived up to their descriptions!
- Be prepared to wait. I knew there would be late nights and long lines but I didn’t know the lines would be THAT fucking long. For the best panels sometimes getting there two hours in advance would still put you pretty far back in the line. For the NSP/Tupperware Remix Party concert on Friday, fans arrived for 4-5 hours early. We personally waited for three (but I got second row, bitches!). The autograph signing the next day was the same (personal wait time: 2 hours) and 90% of the fans didn’t even make it it due to a line cap. This is something that MAGFest staff acknowledged they would work on it for next year.
- Do not be ashamed of your geek level. I thought I was a geek/nerd and my friends and some coworkers will agree. My knowledge and skills are albino pale compared to the crazy wisdom and expertise of many of the attendees and presenters. But that’s okay. Everyone is at their own (crazy) level and everyone was still very inclusive. It was lovely and I soaked in all their geekiness.
I would totally go again and we’re already talking about attending next year’s. We’re also talking about checking out our local con and possibly driving up to Richmond to check out Wizard World. The best thing about cons is that they are all different so no one will be the same! Next time I won’t wait until four weeks before booking a hotel.
Try something new and have fun!