A Convention Out of This World

As I stepped off the plane, I had no idea what to expect, and I wasn’t the only one. As confused as we all were, the best course of action was to just go with the flow. That same idea is what made this adventure fun– no real planning.

I had met a lovely, older couple from Texas who were introduced to Steampunk through friends. Their friends drove, versus flying in. The overwhelming consensus was to drive, if you can. Flights may be quicker, but, as any con-goer can attest, you can pack so much more, as well as have a car handy. This would have been especially helpful at Wild Wild West Con (WWW), in Tucson, AZ.

Thursday was badge day for early arrivals, as well as any last-minute troubleshooting (which is the norm, as far as convention schedules go). For most there, it was a reunion, with hugs, tons of laughing, catching up.

Friday was the big day! The whole event takes place at Old Tucson. Old Tucson is an historic film studio/park, opened in 1939, where nearly every popular western was filmed, Including Tombstone and The Three Amigos.  The first western filmed here was called Arizona, in 1940. The title could not have been a better choice for this perfectly appointed film studio, about to hit its stride in the big business of western cinema. There are, of course, small museums set up throughout the park. The park also has shows running constantly for guests to enjoy, in the form of can-can girls in the saloon, or a high-noon style shoot-out in the streets. With WWW being held at Old Tucson, it gave the “normal” folks some extra fun. Some even requested to volunteer, due to how much fun everyone was having.

A fair warning, Old Tucson is about 20-30 minutes from the main hotel, which was the Double Tree by the Tucson airport. Due to this long distance from the main hotel to the convention, I highly recommend finding a friend who has a car, making friends to those who have a car, or renting a car. I cannot stress this enough. Luckily, I was able to use the VIP shuttle service, an underutilized, but wholly appreciated service, specifically for entertainers of the convention, which means that I met more friends on this shuttle, which should be no surprise to anyone who has ever met me. I’m friendly, and not even the tiniest but shy. This con shuttle’s drivers were also entertainers, and fantastic ones at that. My primary driver was a tiny powerhouse, who went by the name “Mama.” She was entertaining, educational, and determined to give excellent and timely service to those she drove. She was applauded by the head of VIP transportation, who impressed that she and her fellow drivers took their jobs seriously, and got everyone to and from their venues safely.

An amazing group to know is the Tea Scouts. What I’ve learned is that you can count on the Tea Scouts for just about anything. They’re fascinating for tea conversation, but if you need help with anything else, they are quite useful. I got a ride from one named Charity one night because I was still learning the ropes of the VIP shuttle services. We never met before that day, but she was willing to drive me to my hotel (as were my Texas friends, who gave me a ride another night). Tea Scouts are now international, and can be found on Facebook, in both local and main chapters.

The first day of the convention, Friday, was overwhelming, with the size of the venue, the convention covers, and the fabulous costumes. I attempted, admittedly poorly, to figure out all the panel sites. I was distracted by intricate costumes, shows, belly dancers, talking to wonderful people, and so much shopping. There was one panel I, regrettably, missed on Saturday, featured a special effects person from Star Trek: The Next Generation© but I was drawn in by another, equally fun activity.

Throughout the convention, different people have small ribbons or buttons, the size of your badge, to collect.

One activity I would recommend to other convention organizers is organizing a scavenger hunt for ribbons or buttons. I’ve seen this at other conventions, but this was much more colorful than any I’ve seen in the past.  Throughout the convention, different people have small ribbons or buttons, the size of your badge, to collect. The ribbons I saw had a saying or quote or image that went with the theme, or reflected the person/vendor distributing them. People loved collecting these! I saw a woman whose impressive collection was as long as her skirt.

The vendor halls are, in a word, amazeballs. The halls consisted of one large tent, a few small tents in between, and a barn. There was also an artist/ vending area at the “city hall” location. Personally, I really enjoyed the larger of the vendor halls. WWW even had a vendor from Japan, who will be featured in a later issue, comparing the vastly different Steampunk scenes of America and Japan. What made the layout more epic was that there was a space between the large vendor tent and the barn, used exclusively for belly dancing performances. The sound of the music being played in that area made me want to shimmy while I shopped. It was reminiscent of sci-fi wastelands, or a trading planet from a certain, fictitious landscape (heavily- copywritten, possibly rhyming with “far snores”). The atmosphere  was so welcoming, and the people doubly so. The music ranged from Beats Antique to Wumpscutt (gypsy music to industrial music).

The after-hours entertainment for any night is an extra fee that is highly suggested to buy in conjunction with the convention passes, while being bought online. That threw me off a bit, due to the conventions we have covered prior to this one. Paying for the big entertainment is a regular occurrence at the cons we’ve attended. Fees for events, such as an after-hours tea duel (alcohol or not) or an absinthe tasting panel has been a pretty cheap, sometimes nonexistent, price (with unlimited drinks) when going to the Wisconsin Steampunk conventions. To make it worth the attendee’s money, WWW’s absinthe panel came with a complimentary, gold-plated absinthe sugar spoon/holder. The swag was fun, but, I’ve genuinely been spoiled by Wisconsin convention hotel parties.

The main Saturday event was absolutely worth every cent of admission. Professor Elemental graced the stage as the main performance. The opening performance, however, was Tommy Spase and the Alchemists. They lit up the stage with the energy needed to start the night after a very long day (most attendees never leave Old Tucson to change or to freshen up, since it is so far away from the hotels.).  They were great, and I highly recommend checking them out, I won’t get into much detail (I plan to interview them soon), but I will say they were high-energy. A 4-year-old, little girl, by the name of Gypsy, ended up becoming the center of the show, dancing & loving the band with all her little heart. It was freaking adorable to see a little girl, dancing to her own beat, which absolutely captured the spirit of her namesake.  

When Elemental was introduced on stage, the energy of the crowd swelled. As a long-time fan, I have to ask: Who doesn’t need Elemental in their life? He makes sure everyone has a great time, no matter what. Towards the end of his performance, he invited everyone to the stage. If you haven’t seen Professor Elemental live by now, why not? You can watch an old video of the Professor at TeslaCon on our Facebook page to get an idea of how much fun it is to experience his show.

What I can say about the Arizona Steampunk community is they will welcome anyone with open arms and helping hands. A few conventions ago, the community helped gather money for a gentleman who needed a lung transplant. They arrived on Thursday to thank everyone for the support and to report the transplant’s success. He was still recovering at this point, so he and his wife showed up, in brief increments, to enjoy their community.

A big shout-out, and major kudos, go to Deena, Jason, and their amazing team, for their continuous work on getting their convention up and running. Every person was essential to the smooth operation of the convention and knew their shows inside and out. The rumor is that they broke records for the largest steampunk convention, as well as record-setting attendance for Old Tucson itself. Considering the venue is approximately 320 acres, it’s not hard to pack people in there, but impressive nonetheless.If you love history and entertainment I highly suggest Old Tucson. If you want to experience one of the best steampunk conventions out there, with the wildest, most imaginative costumes, and some of the nicest people you will meet, check out in Tucson Arizona.

Entire photos & videos of WWW8 taken by Sarah Harris (even the super bad ones of herself) are here if you click.