By Quentin H. / September 6th, 2019
The most remarkable thing about Dragon Con is that it keeps getting bigger every year (over eighty-five thousand people attended this year and the event expanded into the Peachtree Center for the first time) and yet it is still clearly a fan-centric convention where each con-goer’s voice actually matters in determining track and panel content, what guests to invite, and more. As a result of that, there is something for everyone who has a fandom, no matter how obscure or obscenely popular it is. This year, I purposefully dove into several of the lesser-known tracts at Dragon Con to see just what they were all about. While visiting panels put on by more obscure tracks such as X-Track, Skeptics Track, and more, I was surprised and excited to see that each track has its own distinctive charm and history, even if it does not necessarily have heavy-hitting guests like David Tennant or George Takei representing them at a panel.
One such event, put on by the Alternate and Historical Fiction Track, was the Sunday late-morning Annual Dragon Con Tea Duel that was put on by the American Tea Dueling Society, which is part of the The Honourable Association of Tea Duellists. The rules were simple: each duelist must pick a biscuit (a British term for a cookie) off a tray, dunk it in extremely hot tea for a count of five with two fingers, and then whoever’s biscuit breaks first or whoever eats the biscuit first loses. The prize for the ultimate tournament champion is a fez hat to wear. If this sounds absolutely ridiculous and fun, that is because it totally is. Never one to back down from a challenge, I tea duelled with COMPLETE anime-esque style and flair. As I stared down my opponent, the boiling tea having mildly burned my fingers as I held the biscuit in, I ultimately lost as I ate the biscuit in an illegal fashion. The winner was ultimately crowned, to the cheers of the audience, as part of a three-way winner-takes-all tea duel to claim that 2020 Dragon Con Tea Dueling fez.
Tea dueling is a very serious sport. Here we have two sets of duelists, an instant replay call reviewing, and the kettle that the tea is kept piping hot in for duelists to dunk their biscuits into. (Images taken by me).
If your fandom is just critical thinking and is not really any TV show or movie, then Dragon Con also has you covered. Another panel I attended was Magic & Wonder, which was part of the Skeptics Track on Saturday night. This was a magic show put on by Curt Anderson and Matt Dillahunty that blended humor and illusions with inducing the audience to exercise critical thinking about the world surrounding them. The illusions and banter were extremely well executed, and the audience was left with a clear message: think for yourselves and examine the world around them. Oh, and the audience was told to be sure to use science in their daily lives and to critically think about what they are told and what they believe, with this message being tied into the art of magic. I had never seen a magic show at Dragon Con before, and I loved every moment of it. There were different styles of magic used, including mentalism, disappearing magic, and more. I was impressed with the quality of the entertainment provided by the Skeptics Track, even though this was the first year that I ever visited any of their panels.
Until this year, I had never heard of X-Track until I made the conscious decision to attend this panel. X-Track bills itself as a Dragon Con track that focuses on the paranormal with government conspiracies and more. To find out more, I attended a panel that was titled Make the Bad Men Stop, 2019 edition, v2 as the very last panel before closing ceremonies that was put on by X-Track. This panel was hosted by Widget Walls and the NeedCoffee Crazies, and turned into a free-wheeling and incredibly deep discussion about both already released and soon-to-be-released movies. The topic of conversation ranged from Quentin Tarantino potentially directing a Star Trek film and CBS/Paramount’s rationale for staying quiet about that, the uncanny valley aspect of the upcoming Cats, and about the just-released Peanut Butter Falcon. During all this, the X-Track panel played prize bingo with the audience who can spot the panel say or do things that were listed on a bingo card. It was crazy and insane, and a panel that clearly was meant for anyone who had an interest in whatever type of genre film.
Finally, I made a visit to the Filk Track for Open Filk and also to see the Brodingnagian Bards perform. For those of you who don’t know what filking is, it is fan-made fandom music. And at Open Filk, anyone who has written a song or just wants to sing/play another person’s song can get up and sing/play to everyone else present. Open Filk is as non-judgmental and fandom-inclusive as it gets, and literally all fandoms are welcome to sing, to play, or to just listen and enjoy. During my hour with Open Filk, I heard everything from Cthulu and HP Lovecraft filk to a well-performed expansion upon Dolly Parton’s classic Jolene that takes the song to some incredibly dark depths. Then later during the Brodingnagian Bards performance, they performed both original songs, cover songs, and filk songs that reached from Star Wars to Lord of the Rings with an autoharp, vocals, a mandolin, and a recorder. I have heard them perform before, and it is always a great show that they put on to an always packed room.
All of this came to a head as I finally attended the Dragon Con closing ceremonies. Even though the ballroom room was packed, after a brief speech, the staff present took comments -both good and bad- from the audience. And this is where Dragon Con showed that they care about what the con goers have to say, and that the lesser-known tracks were just as important as the big-name tracks that recruit the big-name guests. There were positive things (the sheer amount of diversity panels and events for people of color to participate in) and negative things (panel line issues in the Marriott Atrium during Friday/Saturday/Sunday nights that choke off crossing the atrium floor space). No matter what the comments were made though, it was clear that these opinions mattered to the staff in a way that I am honestly not used to from other conventions. Dragon Con can, with over eighty-five thousand attendees, easily take the path of doing what they want without having to listen to the public and profit handsomely each year. It’s the fact that the staff actively listens, and actually appears to care about the feedback and how to best implement it, that sets this event apart from any other.
Fan-interpreted cosplay, screen-accurate cosplay, and everything in-between is more than welcome at Dragon Con from all fandoms. And this even includes Goombas from that ill-reviewed 1993 movie Super Mario Bros. Dragon Con is the place to go if you want to show off your cosplay and all the hard work you’ve put into it. (Images taken by me).
I have been attending Dragon Con both before and after I started writing for this website, and I make it a point to attend Dragon Con every year because of the amount of care and emphasis that this convention places on everyone feeling welcome no matter what that person is into. And even though Dragon Con is now just under a year away from happening again, I cannot wait to go once more. And even though I do not have an interest in the paranormal or in alternative history or other lesser-known fandoms, it is clear that they are well-represented at Dragon Con in tracks that are run by people who clearly love those genres and are organized by a staff that wants to make sure that everyone, no matter what their interest is, feels like their fandom -and the cosplay that goes with it- matters.
Tickets for Dragon Con 2020 are on sale now for eighty-five dollars for the two weeks following Dragon Con, and if you are a fan of anything, then you really should not miss out on it.
Did you go to Dragon Con 2019? What panels/tracks did you attend?
Let us know in the comments below!
CosplayDragon ConfandomFilkJarethLabor DayMagicSepticsTea DuelTea DuellingX-Track