2015’s ConCarolinas was held in Concord, NC this year over the weekend of May 29th – May 31st. As I subtly hinted at above, this was not the con’s prior home. Their home in recent years has been the University Hilton in Charlotte, NC. Their new home is down the road a bit at the Embassy Suites Concord in Concord, NC. This new location has both upsides and downsides that will be addressed below.
If you’ve not been to (or even heard of) ConCarolinas so far, you need to change that in 2016. ConCarolinas is one of those nice little convention/film festivals that’s hitting that sweet spot where it’s really getting ready to take off. They outgrew their old digs, perhaps before last year’s con, but the George R. R. Martin followers who attended just for him last year certainly made it feel that they needed a bigger space, and so they moved into spacious new digs with room to grow.
They’re also growing their guest list. They’ve been drawing some nice names of late (the above writer of some book series about thrones and games obviously being one) such as Joel Hodgson, Judith O’Dea, MichaelHogan, and Doug Jones. These larger names are mixed in with indie artists and veteran do it yourselfers like makeup artist Amber Michael, costumer AngelaPritchett, sailing writer or writing sailor (he’s never sure which) Chris A.Jackson, the podcast crew from the Grind Pulp Podcast, and indie filmmakers like Brett Mullen and Jaysen Buterin to name only a very few of the guests on hand.
ConCarolinas offers a nice range of panels and activities for the average convention-goer. There are a number of panels that teach you the fine art of how-to when it comes to writing, acting, LARPing, knowing when and where you can and cannot play your professional hobby against your taxes, costuming, FX work, basic indie filmmaking, and a host of other geek interests. Other panels offer nice Q&A opportunities with major celebrities. Still more panels, whether they’re about paranormal investigation, the fine art of filk, stories of how to survive everything that could possibly go wrong on a passion project actually going wrong, are just plain fun.
And now, on to the nitty gritty of the 2015 convention.
They are having a few growing pains, but that should be expected with a growing con of their size. Some of the fan tracks had a few hiccups here and there, but others, the Film Track and the Author/Writing Track both springing immediately to mind, ran like clockwork. But even where there were hiccups, problems were addressed quickly on the fly, causing almost no real issues or delays and ensuring that things ran as smoothly as possible.
The convention staff members on hand were all as friendly and helpful as possible. Some of the hotel staff however were problematic at times, at least a few acting as if they would rather not be dealing with the geek crowd. But, while a very noticeable minority, they were very much only the minority of the hotel staff. If Embassy Suites Concord remains their new home, their staff will have to get a little more accustomed to dealing with the convention crowd.
The new digs also have a minor downside for family geeks with younger children. Their former location had a number of kid friendly activities built in all around the hotel grounds. That’s missing at the new location. The convention itself has been offering a few panels and activities for the younger set, but not enough to keep the preteen geek set occupied for the entire weekend. Long term, the solution is the one they’re already working on. They’re adding more kid friendly panels and activities. Short term the solution could be something as simple as finding a local group that has a bounce house, but that could be impractical based on having to deal with the hotel and liability issues. Barring that though, they could just start a Minecraft Track. I don’t know anyone under the age of 13 for whom Minecraft isn’t basically crack.
Oh, and they could use more cosplay. Cosplayers, if you don’t know this con already, spend the next couple of years getting to know it better.
Now, before anyone gets the wrong idea, these are issues, but they’re very minor issues. On the issues scale of 1 to 10, they probably all add together to make no more than a 3. These are bumps that need to be smoothed out, and most likely will be within a con or two, and not brick walls that the con-goer looking for fun will run into enough during the con to be a detriment to having fun. And you will have fun there.
My highlights of the year involved two people who can only ever be highlights. The first was the amazingly gracious and charming Judith O’Dea. If you’re a fan of horror, especially of zombie horror, you have to see her at your local con. She is one of the single most polite and charming guests I’ve ever encountered. Right up there with her on that score is Doug Jones. If you’ve never encountered Doug Jones at a con, well, my friend Bill Mulligan hosted a panel with Jones on it this year. His description of what it’s like outdoes what I had planned to write, so I’m quoting him from his Facebook post.
“Doug Jones. Wow. It's a cliché that some of the folks who play the creepiest monsters are, in real life, the kindest of souls and Doug Jones takes that to an amazing degree that is hard to explain unless you meet him and then no explanation is needed.”
“At one point the lovely Shana Williams (one of my favorite people), the lovely Sidra Grove (one of my favorite people) and the lovely Rebecca Larken (one of my favorite people...is it any wonder I love cons?) stopped by his table so that I could personally thank him for the kindness he displayed by joining the panel and....when you talk to Doug Jones you are touched by Doug Jones. Literally. Also metaphorically. You walk away and we're looking at each other like "Am I just being a fanboy dork here or did anyone else feel like they just had a spiritual experience?" and the answer is yes.”
Yeah, the answer really is yes. If you ever have the opportunity to see or even meet Doug Jones at a convention, you would be an absolute fool to miss the opportunity to do so. As far as meeting wonderfully kind human beings go, Doug Jones is really high up there on that level.
Other highlights included the great panels, and not simply the how-to or behind the scenes ones that I referenced above. Some of the panels looked at the films that should have been on MST3K (like The Keep) while poking fun at them MST3K style, looked at the A to Z of weird films where the films examined ranged from genuinely interesting unknown films forgotten over the decades to films that were utterly terrifying in concept, had lively discussions about superheroes on TV, looked at the unfilmable worlds of H.P. Lovecraft, and much more.
The film festival end of the conventions had some great indie talent represented as well. BombshellBloodbath, Hatchet County, What Con of Fool am I?, A Stranger Kind, Fix It InPost, The Bride, and others all played to receptive audiences. Oh, yeah, and there was this one as well.
Your dining options at the new location are a little more limited than at the old location unless you’re willing to hop into your car and cruise on down the road a bit. There’s a pretty good BBQ joint within reasonable walking distance called Sonny’s. My (very picky) wife and I enjoyed their food and found it pretty affordable compared to the Hotel restaurant, but Ruth Suehle, well traveled con-goer and talented writer at Geek Mom, warned that the franchise can be a bit hit and miss quality-wise. If you’ve stumbled across a bad location, let me assure you that this one seems to be one of the good ones. If you don’t want to take the risk, there’s a Five Guys Burgers and Fries closer to the con hotel.
There’s also a Beef Jerky Outlet in the same general area. Nice place to grab pocket sized con snacks for the weekend, but, word of warning, walking into one of these places with a lot of cash in your hand can be dangerous to your weekend’s total of spending money.
On the whole this is a great little convention; especially if you’re new to the convention scene and looking to jump in. Again, there were minor growing pains evident with this year’s convention, but every convention, even the biggest and best of them, are going to have those from time to time. The convention staff and volunteers are all first rate, all seeking to make the convention-goer’s experience as pleasant and fun as possible, the local and regional talent invited as guests help to put on an entertaining show throughout the weekend, and the cosplayers that have already found the convention put on a nice bit of pageantry. The new digs offer a lot of space to grow in, and right now that space equals less crowded walkways and less cramped rooms for the panels.
If you’re unfamiliar with ConCarolinas or have heard of the con but never gone, again, you should change that in 2016. If you’re a geek in the general region of NC and have just started thinking about starting to go to conventions, this is a great con to think about making one of your first cons. This is a great little con that’s definitely worth supporting and worth helping to grow. You’ll be supporting a lot of great people, and, more importantly, you’ll be having a lot of fun doing it.
They can be found at their home of the web here - http://www.concarolinas.org/
Jerry Chandler is a convention-going geek. Right now he’s pretty tired.