Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Con Report: Aetherfest 2012

I spent the weekend in San Antonio at Aetherfest 2012.  This is a second year event, held at the utterly gorgeous Victorian-era St. Anthony Hotel.  The first Aetherfest, which I attended, was really the event where the Texas steampunk community came together and got to really know each other, so I was interested to see how the second year would go.

Some of my wares.
I have to say it's difficult for me to evaluate the con as a whole.  I was vending this time around, so most of my time was spent behind a table in the vendors' room.  It was a very successful vending experience, and I had a blast talking with people as they wandered by and making friends among my fellow vendors.

Overall I would say the con was well-organized and seemed to run smoothly.  The schedule set a relaxed pace, both by having built-in meal breaks and by only have one track of panels.  The meal breaks are a fantastic idea (one that I first saw at Clockwork Con), but I don't really like having only one panel going on at a time.  I understand some of the reasoning: not to overload the staff and attendees with running around from location to location.  It also allowed almost all of the con events to be held on  the ground floor.  But I think there should be two panels at a time, to allow people to find things they are most interested in.  The panels at Aetherfest this year focused on ideas, discussions, and community building.  Which is great, but I think a second track focused on practical making panels would be awesome.  One philosophical track, one practical maker track?  Sounds like heaven to me.

I only was able to attend one panel all weekend and that was the Regional Steampunk panel.  It involved all the out-of-state guests talking about regional trends in steampunk and how things differ from place to place.  It was interesting and entertaining.  My favorite moment was when one panelist commented on the "Tex-Mex" feel of our Texas steampunk outfits.  The audience responded by asking what they were talking about.  I'm still really curious about an outsider perspective of Texas steampunks, because obviously we don't see that kind of thing in ourselves.    My husband made it to the steampunk music panel and the "State of Texas Steampunk" panel on Sunday and said they were both interesting.

The highlight of the programming for me, as it was last year, was the parade through the streets to the Alamo for a group photo.  It's too bad the park ranger chased us off and told us it's not allowed to take pictures in front of the Alamo (really? since exactly when?) so we didn't have as much time to linger as we did last year.  But there are some nice photos.

Steampunk Boba Fett with some young fans at the Alamo.
The evening entertainment, to the extent I experienced it, was very good.  Friday night included a catered dinner and entertainment for people with upgraded tickets.  I didn't spring for those this year, so I can't comment.  I was busy laying down after a day of car travel and all-day vending.  There was alternate musical entertainment going on in the hotel pub.  I didn't get to see much of that, but I did see a bit of Unwoman's set, and even over all the noise of a crowded bar, I was impressed.  I couldn't make it to the Burlesque show later that evening, but my husband reported it was really good.  I'm sad I missed it, especially since there was apparently a really talented male burlesque performer.

Saturday evening's concert was fantastic, and a step up from last year's.  It was held in the gorgeous hotel ballroom, rather than on the roof, and the sound was excellent.  (Something I couldn't say for the sound the year before.)  Marquis of Vaudeville, a staple of Texas steampunk events, put on a really excellent set.  I've seen them 4 times or so, and can confidently say this was the best performance of theirs I have seen.   Plus they covered David Bowie's "Within You" from the movie Labyrinth (my favorite movie EVER) and The Cure's "Burn" from The Crow, and they were both excellent covers.
Steampunks on Parade

Unwoman was headlining, and she was awesome.  I had never heard of her prior to the con, but I have a new performer who I would attend a con just to see.  She plays electric cello, using a sampler delay to layer different cello parts on top of each other.  And she has an amazing voice.  She did a mixture of original songs and covers and both were impressive.  In particular, her covers of Placebo's "Running up that Hill" and the Firefly theme song were especially memorable.  Seriously, everyone needs to check her out.  I bought her cd of covers, "Uncovered", and the covers of "Billie Jean" and "Shout" in particular are awesome.  I'll be buying her original albums soon as well.

My husband in I in our
unintentionally matching outfits.
One other thing of note from the weekend.  Due to some awesome organizing from some spectacular people (who I won't name cause I don't want to leave anyone out) there was a great silent auction to benefit Autism Speaks.  There was a ton of items donated by vendors and other performers.  I won a fantastic lamp made out of some books by my new friends at Oddbird's Boutique.  The auction was very successful and it's great to see a community support such a great cause.

Overall, it seems to have been a really great time for everyone.  I'm not sure how financially successful  it was.  It seems that within the Texas steampunk community there are about 300-400 people who are guaranteed to show up. I'm not sure what the numbers actually were, but I think we need to find ways to hold events that are guaranteed profitable with that minimum number of attendees.  I'm obviously not a con organizer, so I don't know how that would work, it's just something I'm thinking about.  I'm not criticizing, but I do worry about the financial side of events because I want them to be able to continue, which won't happen if they are not financially sound.

I got to chat with a bunch of people who were either first-time con attendees or new to steampunk and they all were very positive about both the con and steampunk itself.  It's always fantastic to see the gleam in someone's eyes when they say, "This steampunk stuff is SO AWESOME."  It's the kind of thing those of us who have been doing this longer sometimes forget about.  Look how cool this all is!  If you can't get excited about a group of steampunks coming together to show off all their cool stuff and build community, well, something just ain't right.  ;)


  1. You ask for what an out of state person see's from texas steampunks... well having the great pleasure of meeting several of the Airship Issabella crew along with others in the Texas Steampunk Scene when they invaded the Florida East Coast Steampunk Convention my observation is this:
    I see a very distinct Weird West / Western vibe out of the Texas people... which I find very cool as here in Florida we have a mixture of Carribean / East Coast / Spanish / German and the like... its actually very cool the differences and how we all mesh together into this genre...

    Professor Christoph Von Ahrent

    1. Yeah, as we were talking about in the Regional panel, it's a lot easier to get Western style stuff here, so that does tend to be part of the flavor. All the infinite variety within steampunk is definitely one of the reasons I love it. Carribean/Spanish steampunk etc sounds really interesting.

  2. We saw Unwoman at NJ's WickedFaire...never heard of her, and our entire group were instant converts. Amazing singer/musician, and adorable to boot! My husband and I bought her USB with all her stuff -- and it's all GREAT!

    1. I would have bought the USB with all her stuff, as it was a great deal, but we only had $15 on us, so could just get the one cd. Good to know it was worth it.

  3. !! i REALLY depseratly wanted to go, but unfortunatly, the price was WAY too high for my family and I to go...Honestly...I was and still am very extremely bummed about this whole thing. I wanted to go SO bad!! I had saved over $200 for the fair becasue I had a specifically selected budget for it. I couldn't spend that on tcikets!! Why the heck were the tickets $30 per person!! It doesn't even make ssense...*sigh*...