Introductory ExpositionOnce more unto the breach, dear friends, once more ... and I do mean "friends", for as the years go by, I find that the acquaintances formed at this annual gathering have matured into genuine friendships, and I treasure sharing the experience with people whom I've grown to care about. Every year we meet, along with 20,000+ other unique individuals (likely pushing 30,000 now, but officially it's just "+") to flood the hallways of Atlanta's Hyatt Regency and Marriott Marquis hotels in a celebration of the imaginative arts that defies description and is beyond comparison. Whatever your passion -- film, television, music, literature, art, gaming, comics, costuming, space travel, wrestling, robotics, law, technology -- Dragon*Con has something for you, and for many of us, it is the most exhausting yet insanely wonderful 4 days of the year.
This year's event boasted a staggering 29 separate programming tracks running concurrently throughout all hours of the day and night. For the past several years, this madness has brought the two host hotels to their knees, so a third hotel (the Hilton) was added to the mix in a very limited capacity (likely a test-run for 2006). Now, I use the term "madness", but I use it with affection and admiration. How the staff of this ginormous event maintains such control continues to mystify me with each passing year. Sure, there are some problems here and there (schedule confusion, room overflow, etc), but on the whole, this thing runs with a smoothness that is almost awe-inspiring, and I cannot applaud the staff enough for their efforts. It truly is something to behold, and behold it I did for every possible moment I could remain awake and lift my camera. Enjoy. (And if you like, check out last year's report: Dragon*Con 2004).
Note: This report is best viewed in Internet Explorer. I did everything possible to make these pages compatible with all browsers (tested extensively in IE, Firefox, and Opera), but sadly they don't all process CSS properly (or at least consistently), so some sacrifices had to be made. It should work regardless, but you will get the most features with IE. In addition, every effort was made to make it easy to view everything even if you have a terrible screen resolution; however, the site looks best at 1024x768 or above.
Also, while I hesitate to tell you the obvious, you just never know. Clicking on an individual picture will take you to its larger version in the Complete Photo Album. Apologies for the poor quality of some of the photos. Lighting was terrible and my flash was acting up. If you see yourself in a photo and want recognition, don't hesitate to contact me. CAUTION: Some of the photos are PG-13.
1:00pm - Walk of FamePerhaps the biggest key to maximizing your Dragon*Con enjoyment is time management, and as I looked over the schedule in preparation for the event, I noticed that I'd have very little opportunity to make it to the "Walk of Fame" and interact with the guests. Fortunately, there wasn't that much going on in this first timeslot of great interest to me, so I made my way deep into the Marriott where the guests are traditionally buried and waited for the doors to open. While waiting, I made two very cool new friends -- Kenny and Shavon -- who are friends with a guy who's friends with a guy who's friends with someone I met at a convention 10 years ago. That's how it goes, and it's part of the fun.
The doors opened promptly at 1:00pm, and I quickly bypassed all the dealers on my way to what would almost certainly become the most crowded area of the convention: the Serenity tables. Last year, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, and Nathan Fillion were a late addition to the event, and they stole the show. This year, there was plenty of advance warning that Jewel and Adam would return along with Ron Glass and Morena Baccarin, and fearing the madness that would surround their tables, I made sure I was one of the first in line. Talking with them was wonderful, and their enthusiasm for the upcoming film was palpable. Each one requested a donation for Katrina Relief in exchange for taking their photograph, and I was more than happy to contribute. Adam, however, took it to the next level donating every penny from his autograph sales as well. I was very impressed, but as I've learned more about him over the years, I was not surprised. Time was short, though, and I had to make my way to the Hyatt for the first of many panels.
2:30pm - "I think we need Gene's vision now more than ever." - LeVar BurtonOne of the mainstays of Dragon*Con is "TrekTrak". Run by Eric Watts, TrekTrak is almost always the most organized of all the themed programming "tracks", and this year was no exception. Trying something new for this panel, instead of simply having the guests talk with the crowd, Eric created a "talk show" style setting and more-or-less interviewed LeVar Burton and Marina Sirtis. I saw this method attempted once before when Traci Lords attended a few years back, and it was a complete disaster. This time, however, it worked pretty well, and both LeVar and Marina were receptive to the format.
They talked about many things, but drawing some of the loudest applause of anything that happened all weekend was the following exchange:
ERIC: Nemesis didn't do as well at the box office as they had ho---
LEVAR: That's because it sucked! *THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE*
MARINA: Well, it didn't suck as much as Insurrection. *THUNDEROUS LAUGHTER*
Long removed from the series and most likely the films, the two Next Generation stars were completely free to express their opinions fully, and they did not disappoint. It was a thrill to hear both of them talk intelligently about the specifics of why Nemesis was such a terrible Trek film and how disappointed everyone involved was that it will probably be the last. Placing blame squarely on the shoulders of director Stuart Baird, they talked about how he had not only never seen an episode of the series but felt it was actually important to avoid doing so. The two guests were honest and insightful on a variety of topics, and it was a great panel and the perfect way to kick off the festivities.
4:00pm - Big Damn MovieMadness, I tell you. Simply madness. Something that failed miserably a few years back was clearing the rooms between popular panels. Traditionally, if you really, REALLY want to see something, you arrive sometime during the panel before it (or the one before that), sit through something you may or may not be interested in, and keep your seat for the next timeslot. In anticipation for the huge crowds, though, the organizers decided they would completely clear the convention's largest auditorium before each of the Serenity panels. In theory this is a good idea (I'm not even sure it's good in theory), but in practice, it sure does make things difficult. As I left the Trek panel, I bore witness to what had developed while I was inside: a line stretching as far as the eye could see, outside the building, and down the block. I've seen a lot of long lines and packed rooms during my years at Dragon*Con, but I've never seen anything like this. Clearly, this Serenity thing was a tad popular.
Before the stars arrived, and as people were still piling into this massive space, we were treated to a clip from the upcoming film, an exhilarating chase sequence that got everyone's hearts racing. The guests of honor then took the stage amidst a roar of applause, and the first of 4 -- that's right, 4 -- Serenity panels was underway. The crew was incredibly gracious and took extra time to thank all the fans for the love and support they had received. The panel was pretty informal, and they joked around about a great many things. Because so many of us had seen the film already, yet countless others had not, it made it difficult to ask questions, and it became a running joke throughout the event that any time it seemed Ron Glass was about to give something away, Adam Baldwin would cover his mouth or take away his microphone. It was a very positive atmosphere for both the fans and the guests, and you could tell that they were genuinely proud to be a part of this phenomenon and happy to be at Dragon*Con. The hour flew by, but they would be back ...
7:00pm - Costumes: First Wave
During this timeslot, and in a room buried deep within the basement of the Hyatt, was a fan discussion about the breakout television hit Lost. I briefly considered attending, but since I had spent the better part of a month thinking and writing and obsessing over the show, I was due for a break, so I began my favorite Dragon*Con tradition ... wandering. Costuming is such a huge part of the Dragon*Con experience, and 2005 brought out more participants than ever before, so much so that they were flooding the hallways earlier than usual on Friday night. As I wandered around, I saw all kinds of interesting photo opportunities, and photo I did.
8:30pm - If You Smeeeeell ... What the Con is Cookin'!It's Friday night, and at Dragon*Con, Friday night equals some good ol' fashioned Southern rasslin'. And all the big stars were here: The Nerd vs. Chicken Man. Rouge vs. Chuck Justice. STD (with Veronica) vs Lightning. The Triple Xtreme Champ Iceman vs. the SGWA Champ Palm Beach Scottie. As JR would say, it was a slobber-knocker. OK, no it wasn't, but they did try hard to entertain the crowd even though no one knew (or cared) who they were. The penultimate match was a "falls count anywhere" no-disqualification event that ended with a catfight and a spanking. Nice. The "main event" pitted Murder One and David Young against Slim J and Azreal. A classic tag team script, Slim J got caught in the ring all by his lonesome for most of the match while Azreal stood in the corner Hulking up and preparing to make his rested and ballyhooed entrance into the ring. Credit to Slim J, for while these guys were far from the best of the best, he took one hell of a beating and treated the crowd to a worthy performance. It was all for naught, though, as his opponent proved victorious. After the event, some of the performers came out and mingled with the crowd. Wrestling is what it is, and if you can appreciate the spectacle, you can have a good time. I certainly did.
10:30pm - Costumes: Second Wave
Some of the better costumers were starting to show up now, so I took a good hour and a half to talk with them and take numerous photographs. One of my favorite artists had a costume so good I didn't even recognize it was her until I had taken her photo and started to walk away. She enjoyed laughing at me. While taking photos and hanging out with friends, I was keeping an eye on Regency V where the annual Babylon 5 music video show would be held. Sadly, John Hudgens did not show. Perhaps it was for the best, as I didn't have to explain to others why my eyes were so puffy after watching his beautiful and touching tribute to the late Richard Biggs.
12:00am - It's a Shindig!Looking for something new to do, I decided to make my way to the Serenity "shindig". I figured it would be a bunch of fans hanging out and talking about the show. Wow, was I wrong. Many kudos to Aaron Dunne and his staff for organizing one hell of a party. The line to get into this thing wrapped all through the corridors of the Hyatt, and there was a bouncer at the door ensuring they didn't overflow capacity. Fortunately, I met up with some friends and stood in line with them, making the experience not only bearable but fun. Once we got inside, we had a blast. There was a DJ, a bar, fancy lights, and terrible dancing. It was just like a real party, and true to Dragon*Con form, everyone was having a great time. Then the stars began to show up: Gigi Edgley, Jewel Staite, Dean Haglund. It was fun for all. When I arrived the DJ was playing predominantly suburban '80s music, and the crowd was insane. Once Jewel showed up, however, he was encouraged to play more current hip-hop tunes, and the enthusiasm died out a bit. No G-n-R remix, no sale! Time to move on ...
2:30am - Room PartiesDuring the evenings, many of the lower floors on the Hyatt and Marriott are dedicated to room parties, and I felt compelled to check a few of them out. Last year I ended up in a blacklit casino with a balcony kiddie pool. Hard to top that. But I did have a lot of fun in a rather interesting room. After completing a deeply philosophical debate about humanity's role in this vast and mysterious universe, some woman flashed me, concluding that because she had breasts, her argument was superior. Such logic was irrefutable, and I departed in shame.
4:30am - Lose a Free Button or Poster!Making my way back to the main areas, I saw that the crowds had thinned quite a bit, but there were still some interesting photo opportunities. I took some time to observe a drum circle and hang out with some friends when I was challenged to a duel by one of the members of Bella Morte. OK, not like a real duel, a Dragon*Con duel: thumb vs. thumb in an epic mano a mano battle of early '90s console wrestling. Two men enter, one man leaves. I was Sid Justice. Andy from Bella Morte was the Undertaker. And before a crowd of at least 2.5 people, we battled ... until sadly, yours truly was forced to turn in his Geek Card and walk away defeated. I vow to return stronger next year.
6:00am - Not Even a MouseFriday is the tamest of the three nights, and by this time the party had slowed to the point where I could take this picture. Surely it was a sign from above that I could get some sleep.
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