Conventions Versus Fests – Some Personal Observations

Its Tuesday evening. I am listening to Halestorm on Shuffle/Repeat from Pixel. If I didn’t pick an artist to do this with, Pixel would be a schizophrenic mess. I could potentially go from Halestorm to a Classical concert to Black Sabbath to 45 Grave to Kenny Wayne Shepherd and even more. Just a touch too wild for me. So, I picked Lzzy and her boys to rock my headphones.

This past weekend was Austin WitchFest. It was quite an interesting event. When I got there, it was raining and somewhat cold. Others had packed for a potential change in the weather. Me? I read the “forecast” of partly sunny and low 70F temps, and came in a t-shirt and jeans. I had brought my cloak with me, but had opted to leave it at her apartment after reading the forecast. Yeah, bad on me.

There were plenty of vendors, a handful of workshops, and even some music being played by a band at one point. Figuring on the weather that greeted us on our arrival, I thought that the turnout would be fairly low. Instead it was nearly the opposite. The longer the day went, the more people it seemed came out to the event. Were they all Witches? Were they all Pagans? Well, I can saw that not all were Witches. I know of at least two Druids that were there (myself included in that count). As for the Pagan side of things…I couldn’t really say yes or no. There was no poll being conducted at the door, and frankly I don’t think anyone would have cared one way or the other. And to really be blunt, I don’t think it really matters.

The large turnout probably did the coffers of vendors and the event a lot of good, which I believe to be an awesome thing. However, the large turnout, in my opinion, showed another aspect – that Pagan-oriented events are not dying, as it has seemed with the shuttering of Pantheacon. I believe that there is still a thirst out there for Pagan-oriented events. Vendors, talks, lectures, workshops, music, dancing, and all the fun associated with it…I believe there is still a desire for all of this. I just do not see how events are coming to a close.

At Austin WitchFest, Matt Auryn held a workshop/talk around mid-day at the center of the festival. While I did not attend any of the workshops, it seemed to be fairly well attended – another point towards my belief that events like this are not dying. All of this; however, begs a different question for consideration: are regional/local events such as the Austin WitchFest more likely to survive than say a national event such as Pantheacon?

This is a good question for the larger Pagan community to consider. Holding an event on the immense scale of Pantheacon takes a lot of concentrated and coordinated effort. Now, don’t get me wrong, putting on a single day event like Austin WitchFest takes work too, but there are a lot more moving parts in a four-day convention like Pantheacon that need to be considered. I only went to Pantheacon three times. In that time, there was a lot of political in-fighting amongst groups of people that attended. There was a large amount of controversy that seemed to haunt the convention as well. And in some ways, it felt like a good number of attendees came to watch the spectacle that such confrontations created.

Let’s face some facts about larger convention-style events, folks. There is always going to be controversy and confrontation. There will always be people pissed off at one another, and willing to bring that out on a larger stage that something like Pantheacon provides. But these confrontations drive away more people than it draws. ::raising hand:: Here is one of those people that eventually feels the need to not be around such nonsense.

I can’t say that there wasn’t some level of confrontation at Austin Witchfest because there likely was. I say likely because I never saw anything of the sort. I saw a lot of people happy to see others that they had not seen in a while. I encountered a lot of friendly and helpful people. If there was any negative attitudes or encounters – these were likely quickly resolved or abandoned by the involved parties.

At Austin WitchFest, there were probably five to seven workshops. Not a whole lot for an event, but I would consider it to be the right amount. People interested in the workshops certainly attended those. There were probably somewhere between forty to fifty total vendors (not including the food vendors). Not a massive amount, but more than enough to provide plenty of options and variety. All in all, I would consider Austin WitchFest to be an awesome event that was very successful. There was plenty, but not a massive overkill of anything.

So, would I consider a national even like Pantheacon to be a dead aspect when compared to a more regional/local event such as Austin WitchFest? Personally, I find the comparison to not really be a good one. There is plenty of room for both types of events to not only survive comfortably, but also to provide to the wider Pagan community’s needs. I don’t really see an ending to the Pagan convention format with the ending of Pantheacon. Conferences such as Mystic South and Paganicon – as two singular examples – will fill the void left by Pantheacon. Or maybe something else may arise from the closing of Pantheacon, only time can really tell. But I do see a future for more local Pagan events such as Austin WitchFest, many of which will provide some stronger alternatives to the Pagan Pride events that take place each year. Just an opinion….

–T /|\

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