The Geneva Steam Convention Mid Winter Carnival went on March 6-8 at the Grand Geneva Resort at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
This was a first convention, so attendance was very good,official attendance figure 266 including vendors, drawing mostly from the Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago triangle, and a bit lightly programmed, but very pleasant and showing promise for the future.
The drive from Milwaukee was a pleasant one given good driving weather, and took just under an hour. We were able to get registered with the hotel and the convention with no problems, and settled in. The Grand Geneva Resort is quite a posh complex in many ways, including a golf course, ski hill, and riding stable. It’s also rather odd in some ways. The architecture is based on Frank Lloyd Wright principles, so the major structure is built to follow the terrain, in this case a ridgeline overlooking a valley that contains the golf course and a decorative lake. This means that the lodge is very strung out, and getting from a room at the far end of “Building Two,” as ours was, could be quite a hike. Getting from one point to another is less linear than expected, also, since each building unit is on a different level, and there’s no standard interface at connecting points, making it possible to choose the wrong ramp or stair and get shunted off into a dead end.
Rooms were nice enough. We had a “Lakeside Double Double” on the ground floor with a walk-out terrace (not that we used it due to the temperature--). There were some—interesting amenities, such as the television built into the bathroom mirror. I was interested to see that the room desk included USB, VGA, and composite Video ports, apparently allowing one to use the main flatscreen TV as a monitor. All of the staff we encountered were cheerful, friendly, and helpful, although I gather that all was not sweetness and light between the con committee and the resort sales team during the convention, a likely indication that if there is a second Steam Convention it may well find another venue.
The first event we attended was the 2PM Friday panel on “What is Steampunk?” A good discussion was had, focusing on Steampunk as an aesthetic movement, involving literature, music, and style.
Next, we attended the “Golden Miracle Medicine Show,” by Dr. Brady Jebediah Peters and Miss Annabel Lee, which was an amusing satire on the classical medicine show spiel and associated entertainments.
At 4:00PM, “Haberdashery,” presented by Robyn Tisch Hollister was an interesting presentation on hat styles and types. (This one was mostly women’s hats, so “Millinery” would have been a more correct title--.)
5-8PM was a “Mixer” in the lobby bar, which was a pleasant low-keyed event. I had been asked to act as a host, so made a point of meeting and greeting the attendees on behalf of the convention committee.
The other major event of the evening was the “Victorian Pajama Party.” This was a very pleasant and convivial event with many of the attendees indeed showing up in period nightwear, ranging from red long johns to lace-bedecked but modest nightgowns.
Saturday morning there was a reprise of “What is Steampunk?” with some different panel members, followed by my presentation of “Melodrama and the Music Hall,” which was well received. Also a popular draw at that hour was the presentation on “Fast Upgrades to Your Costume,” by Tracy Benton.
“19th Century Weapons Beyond the Gatling Gun” at noon was a well attended and enthusiastic presentation that could have used a bit more organization and proofreading (example: both presenters referred to a famous World War I era artillery piece as a “French 76” when it was actually a 75mm gun: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canon_de_75_mod%C3%A8le_1897
1:00PM, “Corset Lacing for Others,” was a brief but useful lesson on how to assist someone else in getting into her (or his) corset, by Henry Osier.
At 2:00 was “Fact or Fraud: Victorian Mysticism,” by Robyn Tisch Hollister, which focused on the Spiritualist phenomenon, and mainly on the famous frauds. Well done and informative, but sometime I would like to see one of these presentations give equal time to the sincere believers.
After a tour through the well-stocked dealers’ area, we attended the 4PM panel, “Meet Your Steampunk Groups,” hosted by Bridget Sharon of the Milwaukee Steampunk Society and Sam Perkins-Harbin of the Chicago Steampunk Society, which was a very good networking opportunity. (I took the occasion to plug Steampunk Chronicle--.)
At 5PM, there was “Bellydance History and Movements”, presented by Julieann Hunter and members of the Stellamani dance troupe. Yes, belly dance falls into the Steampunk milieu, since it was largely introduced to the West during the Steam era, at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia, and the 1893 World's Fair, the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Stellamani has added Steampunk costume elements to their “fusion” style of dance, which were very interesting and effective.
We had dinner at the Resort’s Ristorante Brissago, which features modern northern Italian cuisine. We both started with the Insalata Casalinga alla Brissago, which was quite good. Georgie had the Salmone con Finnocio, with wild rice and a limoncello sauce for entrée, and I had the Vitello alla Grigia, veal tenderloin with root vegetables and orzo. For dessert, we split a chocolate-caramel confection. All the food was delicious, and the service pleasant and prompt. Considering the quality of the food, I didn’t have a problem with the prices, which compare with an urban fine dining restaurant. (Our bill, with two glasses of wine, topped $100.00.)
This may be one of the Resort’s biggest drawbacks for a hobbyist convention. The resort is a long way from anywhere else, and the food is mostly pretty pricey for the fan on a tight budget. Breakfast buffet at the Grand Café was $18.00 each. Granted, this includes made-to-order omelets and fresh waffles, tea or coffee, juice, fruit, pastry, etc., all of which was excellent, but it’s a good thing there was also the “Café Gelato,” which had a variety of “grab and go” sandwiches, muffins, croissants and other pastries. This is where we got part of our Friday dinner and Sunday breakfast, and I gather they did a good business this weekend.
At 7:00PM, the doors opened for the Grand Ball, which was the major event on the “Mid Winter Carnival” theme. Entertainment was provided by the music of Milwaukee group “Dead Man’s Carnival,” interspersed with sideshow and circus acts, including a juggler, magician, acrobat, and aerialist, as well as Sir Pinkerton’s notorious “blockhead” sideshow turn. The Stellamani dancers also performed some very entertaining numbers from their repertoire. There were also carnival games presented by various local charities as which one could win raffle tickets. Con attendees turned out in their finest and had a good time, with many dancing to the band’s eclectic music.
Sunday morning, we attended the presentation on “How to Thrift for Costumes” by Mary Prince. This involved finding and re-purposing both clothing and non-clothing textiles and other bits into Steampunk garb.
At noon, we rolled home, having enjoyed a very pleasant weekend. Congratulations to the Geneva Steam Convention committee for having staged a very nice convention with few detectable glitches.