Going to a Supernatural convention is a privilege and a joy beyond measure. It is, however, a treat that many fans know they will never be able to enjoy. Thousands of people attend conventions, but that is a relatively small number compared to the millions of people in the Supernatural worldwide fandom. Conventions are an expensive indulgence. Tickets, transportation and hotels are just the beginning. Add in photo ops, autographs, cabaret and meet and greet temptations and this one weekend uses up your vacation budget for the year…or more. Many people also do not have access to a convention in or near their home towns. There are Supernatural conventions in 16 cities in the United States alone, plus dedicated Supernatural conventions each year in Rome, England and Australia; and one past convention in Brazil. Despite the proliferation of venues, though, getting to the closest hosting city can be a daunting, and expensive, adventure. Besides the distance and expense, personal limitations, political or cultural restrictions or a number of other factors may prohibit fans from around the world from ever attending a convention.
Many of you have shared with me how much you appreciate the convention reports. You love seeing the pictures from the conventions, but it’s the narratives about convention activities and personal accounts from con-goers that really help you envision the fun. You live vicariously through our experiences, because you want to imagine what it’s really like to go to a convention. Rather than the standard convention daily reports then, I thought I would try to describe the experience to you. So from beginning to end, this is what it’s like to go to a Supernatural convention…
Before And After The Convention
Preparing for a convention is similar to preparing for a very special, extended vacation. There are logistical arrangements to be made: con tickets must be purchased (then stored in a place where they won’t be lost!); hotels must be reserved and roommates found; and plane, train and/or car travel must be arranged. Then there’s usually 6 to 9 months of agonizing waiting before the convention (Really? I’m supposed to go on with my life as if nothing unusual is going to happen?)! The time for the convention finally approaches, though, and things pick up again. Clothes must be planned (the internal panic goes something like this: “What am I going to wear? I want to look good, but I want fit in. I have to be comfortable…those new shoes will hurt after 3 full days of walking around the convention hall…OMG, what should I wear for my pic with Misha or Mark or the Js?!”). Once you’ve decided wardrobe (and bought items to fill in the gaps), you might need to follow the auctions for meet and greet tickets, premium seats, or special photo groupings. You also have to figure out how to get away from school, work, the kids…and who will take care of the dog?! You are nervous and excited and nervous and excited!
After a con, you are shattered tired. Many people are also extremely emotional. After my first convention, I was so moved with emotion that I absolutely had to channel my thoughts and feelings into words. That story started my writing role with The Winchester Family Business. There is also a “post-con depression” that hits many fans. Medically I think it might be the adrenaline ebbing and the hormones abating. Psychologically it is knowing that the most fabulous weekend ever is over. Your life is right where you left it, with all its challenges and to-do lists. It truly takes a while to get back on your feet. It is so worth it though!
Being At A Convention
It is very, very hard to put into words what it is like to be at a convention. It is pure joy. It is fun. It is validating. It is entertaining and energizing. Let me see if I can be more specific.
A Supernatural convention is…a stand-up comedy club. Richard Speight, Jr., who plays Gabriel and the Trickster on the show and is the emcee for most of the global conventions, is an amazing entertainer. He can adapt to almost every situation and make it utterly hilarious. One of the funniest bits from ChiCon14 was an impromptu “song” that Richard and Rob created on the fly called “Where’s Osric?” (Osric was late for his panel so to stall for time Richard rapped verses about where Osric could be). Richard also did an outrageously funny presentation of the convention rules, having a fan come onto stage to take a video of him saying that video recording is not allowed! Besides his hosting ad-libs, Richard’s featured panels are also non-stop comedy. A few of the other regular guests (Sebastian Roche immediately comes to mind) are equally glib and fast with improvisational comedy. During their panels your sides just ache from laughter!
The very best panels are from the entertainers who understand that they are being paid to entertain for an hour. They are UP for it. They come with high energy. If they know they are not quick on their feet with wit or humor (after all, they are not all stand-up comedians by trade), they come prepared with a story or two. Some do physical comedy or they slide in off-color one-liners that crack you up (Matt and Jared, anyone?). Some enrapt the audience with their banter and interactions with fans (Mark is the master!). Some come out singing! At ChiCon14, Julian Richings directed an audience-participation stand-up-sit-down rendition of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” (see vid at end of article!). However they are played, most panels are witty, hilarious and non-stop fun.
A Supernatural convention is…a rock concert. The house band at all U.S. Supernatural conventions is The Elastic Waste Band, aka Louden Swain, the band led by Rob Benedict (who plays Chuck on the show). Besides playing rock music to open the convention and bring us back from breaks, they also provide background instrumentation for guests such as Gil McKinney, Jensen and even Curtis Armstrong who frequently surprise the audience with an unexpected serenade or verse or two! Curtis Armstrong bounced onto the stage with “Old Time Rock and Roll” (see vid at end of article)! From “Eye of the Tiger” to “Lose Your Love”, you just never know when Jensen might start singing and dancing! He delivered 10 seconds of “Under Pressure” as a surprise at ChiCon14 (see vid at end of article)!
Louden Swain also showcases their own material at the Saturday night Cabaret, when they perform a complete set of the music from their past and present albums. This is a full-out rock concert with loud bass, banging drums and jumping lead singer. They take their music very seriously and the audience soaks up the performance!
A Supernatural convention is …a mega-party. Imagine being invited to the best party in the city! The party is filled with 500 dancing, singing, screaming friends, many of whom are in elaborate costumes. The music is all your favorite rock/pop/rap, sung live with recorded background bands. THIS is Karaoke. It’s free and it’s a blast! It runs from 10 p.m. to around 2 a.m. every Friday night at the convention. Count on losing your voice singing “Carry On Wayward Son” with a room full of people who get it! The Winchester Family Business has started to post short snippets of Karaoke (after all, video recording is not allowed at the conventions – wink, wink) on our video page (along with other gems of con magic).
A Supernatural convention is …a coffee-house jam just between friends. Saturday night’s Cabaret is so much more personal than a concert. It is a time when actors who have amazing musical talent test their new material with their best friends, and when actors who are shy around music find the courage to share a talent they usually hide from the public. Many of these people have confided that the trust and support the fans show them is giving them the courage to expose their vulnerability and share their insecurity with their musical performances. In Vancouver, Osric took a chance and played a guitar for the first time in front of an audience. The songs he has been singing at cons since then are so cathartic there isn’t a dry eye in the house. In Chicago, Vancouver and Toronto, Osric broke down in tears himself because the songs conveyed deeply personal messages for him.
Osric, so nervous he couldn’t catch his breath. VanCon14 Cabaret
Other performers, like Gil, Mark, Richard and Chris (Schmelke, the con photographer), had to set aside their personal or secondary passions in order to devote time to their careers. Gil was a voice and music major in college yet had given up on his vocal career until the NJ con. He has since told fans that singing in front of an audience again made him realize that he had lost something that had been precious to him (video of his Vancouver 14 Cabaret performance at the end of the article). Mark has been taking over on drums and Chris just recently took on bass guitar to join Louden Swain for sets. Everyone is finding a way to get into the act!
Besides the touching solo performances, the cabaret also includes group jam sessions. At the past few conventions, Richard got the guys together (Rob, the band and eventually Jensen) to sing the Eagles’ largely a cappella song “Seven Bridges Road” (priceless vid from their encore panel performance at the end of the article!).
Outside of the Cabaret, very personal musical interludes have started to happen unexpectedly. Late one evening in Toronto, Jensen picked up a guitar and sang a lullaby on stage for the few stragglers who had not yet left the convention. He was so nervous he asked everyone to be quiet so he could pretend they weren’t there. Supernatural conventions are a place of trust, and the actors use that trust to expand their talents and reach outside their comfort zones for the fans. The music is great, the talent is obvious, and the evening is a stirring expression of affection between the people who make Supernatural and their fans.
A Supernatural convention is … therapy. I already mentioned that Osric has performed songs that express and channel the struggles in his life. More than those singular moments, though, Supernatural conventions give both the actors and the fans a place to belong, and a place to be accepted. Curtis Armstrong, who has been an accomplished actor for over 30 years, said he got tongue-tied when he asked Richard if it would be possible to be invited to a con. He said he had heard how very special they were, and wondered if he had enough support from the fans to be welcome. Many of the repeat convention performers have expressed how the cons have given them confidence and self-assuredness, life-long friendships, and unconditional acceptance from the fans. Fans too have this same experience. People who have always been painfully shy or felt out-of-place find the courage to venture out to their first con, then another and another. They make friends, have fun and find a whole new side of themselves. In Vancouver, Jared told a nervous fan who apologized for crying during her photo op, “You don’t have to apologize. We’re family here…this is where we come to be ourselves and be accepted, not to apologize.” In New Jersey he said “This is the safest place in the world” (quoted in the report from Fangasm). Many cons have included the actors doing an emotional rendition of “With a Little Help From My Friends”. Tears were again flowing in Toronto and Chicago when Rob said that just a year ago he couldn’t even talk because of his stroke, and that he knew for a fact that the love and support of fans helped him heal. In Jared’s meet and greet session in Chicago, Jared said that he would not have been able to last 10 years on the show if it weren’t for the support and love he receives from the cons (more M&G memories coming soon). My prior convention reports described the tender moments shared by DJ Qualls, Jim Beaver, Rachel Miner and so many others. Conventions heal and help everyone present.
A Supernatural convention is …a family reunion….with family you love and actually are excited to see! Cons allow people who know each other only from on-line interactions to finally meet face-to-face. These new friends then introduce you to other people at the con. Before you know it, you are in the middle of a clique of a dozen people who can’t wait to see each other. You really do gain a Supernatural family! I met one of my best friends at my first convention in Chicago. She now comes into town a day early before every Chicago con just so we can spend time catching up with other. She introduced me to two of her friends who also quickly became cherished friends of mine. I also met Alice at my first con, which led to my incredible affiliation with The Winchester Family Business!
Besides the fan reunions, the actors repeatedly say that being with the fans and being with each other is a miracle for them. The core con group has become so close that they have made life-long friendships. The lives of Richard, Rob and Matt;
The Three Musketeers at their panel in ChiCon14
Osric and Mark; Osric and Lauren; Gil and Alaina and so many others have become intertwined both inside and outside of the cons. These events are truly something special.
A Supernatural convention is …an educational seminar. When good questions are asked of panels, the actors have an opportunity to give insightful, interesting answers. For example, the stars routinely share their thinking on the choices they’ve made for their characters. Jared and Jensen explain Sam and Dean’s motivations; Jared explains what Sam thought of being possessed by Gadreel, and Jensen explains how he perceived and played Demon!Dean. Beyond the show, though, these stars give acting and directing advice at almost every con. In my con reports, I’ve tried to highlight what they’ve shared about their experiences and wisdom gained from years on set and in the entertainment industry. They also share life lessons with the fans. In Vancouver, Mark was particularly philosophical. Jared also seems to find encouraging words to offer to people who are struggling with life’s challenges. He has frequently talked about strategies to combat depression or suicide (e.g. shift your focus to how you can help others). In Chicago this year, Mark suggested you “fake it until you make it” and to “hang out with people who make you feel good”. If you’re listening and paying attention, cons can teach you a lot not only about the show and the industry, but about life in general.
A Supernatural convention is …just like “finals week”. During finals week in college, you get no sleep, are nervous beyond description for the events of each day, and need to be at your very best every minute you are awake. Cons are the same way, except that you’re having fun! There are so many activities that are SOOOO much fun, you never want it to stop! On Friday, you stay at Karaoke until 1am (at least) then you get up early because you want to go to the vendor’s room before the first panel. On Saturday, the Cabaret goes until 12:30 a.m. When it’s over, you know you need to go to bed but you stay up anyway talking to friends you only see once a year, or tweeting updates, or downloading pics from your camera/phone to your PC so there’s enough memory left for the next day. Then you have to get up early Sunday morning for the J Gold panel or a “meet and greet” or a photo op. It really doesn’t matter how long you are in bed, though, because you are much too excited for J Day to fall asleep (or the bed is too hard and you can’t sleep in hotels anyway!) When you are awake, you want to be alert, because, well, a con! The whole weekend is one big adrenaline fest!
A Supernatural convention is …a convention. For all their glory and the good that they do, conventions are still, well, conventions. Photo ops and autographs run concurrently, sometimes overlapping with the end of panels. Vancouver’s boat trip with Misha overlapped with Karaoke. It is a logistical puzzle to figure out where to be each moment of the day. You need to constantly refer to the schedule. Do you want to watch the costume contest or eat lunch? Should you do Jared’s autograph first, or get in line for the Misha and Mark photo? Meals are squeezed between panels and autographs and usually consist of overpriced sandwiches, pizza or hot dogs. The convention room is usually ice cold (aren’t all ballrooms too cold?) or broiling hot and unbelievably dehydrating. It also takes a while to feel “at home” at a con. I won’t deny that my first con held many uncomfortable minutes when I felt awkwardly alone because I didn’t know anyone, and I felt just plain silly for participating. I was nervous about being in the right places and the right times and was generally self-conscious.
A Supernatural convention is …an exhilarating, nerve-wracking, exciting, one-of-a kind experience. Every person I have talked to about going to their first con tells almost the same story. The first time they attended a convention they were a catatonic bundle of nerves. As described above, there is the very practical matter of navigating yourself around the convention. They are usually held in very large venues, like ballrooms at hotels or convention centers. The convention schedule is printed in a font so small it can only be read a few inches from your face while you are standing in bright light using reading glasses! Okay, maybe 20-somethings don’t have that hard of a time reading it, but without exaggerating, it is printed in 5 point font. So you worry and reread and worry. You highlight and underline and reread it again. Again, the internal dialogue goes something like this: “Will I be able to find everything? I don’t know anyone else here so what if I miss something? The autographs for Richard are at 1pm but the photos for Jensen (or Jared or Misha) are at 1:30 so I’ll never make it through the autograph line in time to get to my photo op! It doesn’t even say where I am supposed to go for the photos! Am I reading this wrong? Am I the only one that doesn’t know where to go? I haven’t even decided what I want Richard to sign and now they tell me I have to tell Jensen/Jared/Misha which pose I want for my picture. I don’t know!! What poses do people usually use? How am I going to breathe when I see (insert impossibly gorgeous, totally buff, to-die-for actor name here), let alone talk to him? My knees are weak even thinking about it! My eyes are always closed for pictures so what if I take a bad picture? I know I only get one shot at this and I paid so much for it, I don’t want to ruin the picture, and Oh My Chuck I will be standing next to Jared/Jensen/Misha (Sebastian/Mark/Alaina). What if I make a fool out of myself?”
Why would anyone get nervous standing next to this guy?! VanCon14
All these nerves just add to the overwhelming excitement that permeates a convention. Some fans come dressed as their favorite character. Some bring their art. Some fans wait breathlessly to see if the videos they worked on for weeks will win the video contest. The best videos are shown throughout the days to set the mood for the guest stars. Can you imagine seeing your video on twin giant screens, with sound pumped through several sets of massive speakers? A Supernatural con is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
A Supernatural convention is …a fantasy. A dream come true. Cons allow you to listen to and get close to people you love. If you purchase autographs, you can talk directly and personally to these actors (even if it’s only for 15 seconds!).They make eye contact with you! If you purchase photographs, you can stand next to them, hug them and have one of the most thrilling moments of your life captured for all time.
Who wouldn’t want to hug these guys? VanCon14
You really just can’t believe it is happening. The actors feel the exact same way about interacting with fans, feeling our love and support, and being treated like mega-stars on top of the world, even if it is just within one convention hall at a time. At the end of Mark’s panel in Chicago, he became very serious because he wanted to convey how much the conventions mean to him. “This is the reason we come. This interaction is what it’s all about.”
Characters usually only seen on screens or posters (background) come to cons to talk to fans in person. ChiCon14
I’ve been asked about the atmosphere at a Supernatural convention. Each of the past two years there has been some sort of unfortunate misunderstanding that has played itself out either before or during the Chicago con. After last year’s convention, I wrote this reflection on this question:
Saturday evening, after a long, tiring, wonderful day at ChiCon, I read a tweet someone had sent to Osric asking about the “atmosphere” at the convention. She asked if the mood felt “heavy” there “after the craziness of this wk on twitter”. Fandom nearly pulled itself apart in the week preceding ChiCon13, and many, many people on line were depressed, angry, worried, frustrated, fed-up…name the negative emotion and it was felt throughout fandom. The tweet wasn’t directed to me, but I had to answer because the atmosphere at a con is as far from “heavy” as you can get. It is euphoric. It is electric. It is happy and joyful and nervous. The Chicago13 convention was filled with 1000 strangers, who had all come together for love. Love for a show, love for the show’s actors, love for how they feel inside when they think about Supernatural. Some fans meet other fans they had talked to in chat rooms or through the comments on The Winchester Family Business. Some come with a friend or relative who shares their passion, while others come with a companion who doesn’t really follow the show but came so the fan wouldn’t have to be alone. The conventions are about support and creative expression and fun. They are about being able to see and talk to the person who plays your absolutely favorite character on TV. Conventions are about asking deeper questions about the plot, and getting to know the motivations, preparations, thoughts, concerns, triumphs, failures and pranks of the actors that give us Sam or Dean or Castiel or, well, everyone in Supernatural. It’s about being with people who feel the same unexplainable passion that you feel when you watch the show, so that maybe you can understand your own reactions a little better. It about being with so many other people who feel the same feelings as you, even if your parents, spouse or best friends pull away or even criticize or chastise you for caring so much about fictional characters. Conventions are about getting closer to the “magic” that is Supernatural.
It may be luck or it may be the nature of the con, but when fans are together at Supernatural conventions they are united by their love of the show. It is rare that anything penetrates, or ruins, the euphoria (partially because we are almost completely cut off from the internet!). Maybe one day this ideal world will expand to encompass the entire fandom.
Are Supernatural conventions unique? It seems that, yes, they are. I’ve talked with several fans who have attended other genre gatherings and without exception, they have said that Supernatural conventions are different somehow. The closeness, the bond, the love and the trust that permeates the room is unique. Several actors have said the same thing. Mark, Tahmoh, Alaina, Curtis and others are all con veterans, yet several of them have said that Supernatural cons are different. The conventions photographer, Chris Schmelke, described it like this:
“… the energy here is unlike anything else. At the first Supernatural convention in Chicago, you could feel it in the air, there was just something. I’d say of all the groups I’ve worked with, the Supernatural fans are probably the most down to earth, grounded and intelligent” – Page 170, Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls
What do the fans think, though? Here are excerpts from two emails I receive after asking friends to compare conventions:
I have to agree that SPN is something special. [Another show] comes close in feeling inclusive with the actors & creators…but while the actor bonding is legendary with [that other show], there isn’t that same friendship between folks who hadn’t worked together, unlike SPN. Just look at those Karaoke Kings! How many times did we hear over the weekend how they’ve become friends after they’ve stopped appearing on the show? And good gosh….Osric!
I’ve been to 5 Supernatural cons now, as well as 2 other Creation cons & 7 consecutive DragonCons, plus a fan-organized premiere party [out of the country for another show]. I’ve enjoyed all of them, & I think the fans & actors/guests alike enjoyed them too. Cast members came to the premiere party of their own accord & stayed for hours, signing & posing for pics when they were under no obligation to do so. They are definitely fans of the fans! So while I’ve felt the warmth of respect & support from other fandoms too, I do think there is something special about the Supernatural cons. I’m certainly a bit biased, but Jensen & Jared & the rest of the SPN cast & crew have my heart completely. I can’t imagine they would do these cons, especially so many of them, if they didn’t truly enjoy it. They give up so much of their limited free time. I was just thinking that neither of them probably saw their wives & kids this weekend. Granted they are awesome actors & could “fake it” with their enthusiasm, but the smiles I got during photo ops seemed very genuine. I especially also loved Osric’s involvement with the entire con experience. That guy is adorable!
In short, a Supernatural con is a miracle of love, goodness and what can be the very best in this world. They are, quite simply, joy. Major life events almost always come with mixed emotions. A child graduating means they will soon be moving away. Graduating yourself means starting a new school, or worrying about finding a job and wondering if you will succeed in your chosen field. A child being born brings fear of how good a parent you will be. I’m not trying to put any of life’s real triumphs or joys anywhere near the same level as a convention. Just the opposite. A convention is an escape from reality. Cosplay, parties, concerts, listening to actors you idolize, taking pictures with your heroes… You can’t help but forget all your troubles, even if it’s just for a few days.
So that is what it’s like to go to a Supernatural convention. For me, they are pure fun. No expectations, no responsibility. Nonstop entertainment infused with joy. It’s all very surreal. If you’ll indulge me, I can put it another way. They are simply… supernatural.
For those of you who have attended a convention, how does my experience compare to yours? For those who have not attended a convention, are there any questions I haven’t answered, or aspects you’ve wondered about that I didn’t cover? Most of the staff of The WFB have attended Supernatural cons, so I’m sure one of us will have an answer for you!
I also promised several quick video clips! (These may take a few minutes to load, so please be patient.)
Here is the video of Julian Richings leading “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”, ChiCon14.
Here is Curtis Armstrong singing “Old Time Rock and Roll”, ChiCon14.
Here is Jensen rapping a few lines of “Under Pressure” at ChiCon14. Notice how Jared “encourages” Jensen to sing by repeatedly pointing his mic at him!
Here is the gang singing “Seven Bridges Road” at ChiCon14. I realize that there is a better view of this available on YouTube, but this view is a more realistic presentation of what fans at the convention would see. I was in row 13, and there were about 58 rows in the hall, so can you imagine the view from farther back? I also kept a wide view to keep Jared in the frame.
Here is Gil’s Cabaret performance VanCon14.
For Vancouver Karaoke videos, and other short video clips, visit our video page!