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Correspondent M. Gabriel Colbaugh gives an overview of the first Salt City Steamfest!
By mgcolbaugh on Aug 14 2012 Category:Events, Conventions


What do you do when you throw a party for 200 people and 800 show up? If you’re a first year Steampunk convention, then you consider it a very good problem to have, and hope the air conditioning holds up.

Salt City Steamfest was the first of what will hopefully be many Steampunk conventions in Salt Lake City, Utah. Born of a lament by Michelle of Damsel in this Dress, it was put on by Nivi Hicks and her local crew of hard working Steampunks. Steamfest was intended to be a small, intimate gathering of enthusiasts. What it turned into was far beyond what any of them had imagined as so many more people than anticipated showed up to revel in celebration of this wonderful sub-culture of ours.

The first thing that stood out with Steamfest was the energy and dedication that management and the volunteers had. They obviously were not expecting as many people to show up, but they dealt with it with aplomb and a steady hand. Events largely ran on time, which is something you don’t see at some established cons let alone first years. Unfortunately, the numbers caused there to be some issues with actually getting into the panels. Demand was greater than what had been prepared and the size of the hotel limited how many could get into each room.

The event list was fairly standard for a small, local con.  Panels, book readings, and a ball at the end of the convention were all present.  Panels ranged from the typical talking about persona creation and basic leather working to some more interesting ones such as Dance Throughout the Ages and Magic in Steampunk. The improv comedy sections lead by Mr. Saturday of Saturday and Sixpence fame were a laugh riot with raucous crowds.

The guest list was largely local though by no means full of unknowns.  Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary fame and writer/filmmaker Bryan Young were onsite and even gave a wonderful talk about creative writing.  Author Paul Genesse provided a crash course in the history of Steampunk literature.  A special nod should be given to Mr. Saturday who, as mentioned before, kept folks entertained with his comedy. He also had to deal with one of the rowdiest crowds I have ever seen at an improv show, but he handled it very well.

Really, the only complaints to have about the convention include space limitations and a few of the panel presenters. There’s not much to be done about the size given that is more of a hotel issue. There’s already talk of moving it to a larger hotel in hopes of going beyond the excellent turnout they did have.  As far as for the panel presenters, that’s something that’s run into at any convention. I spent a lot of time talking from the audience at one panel because I had more information than the person at the front of the room. Some of the speakers almost seemed overwhelmed at having an audience.

The ball also fell a bit out of sorts given that whenever I looked in, it was largely one giant music lesson. It was an interesting concept, and the band TLC Trio had a very wonderful sound, but it felt limiting. I’d gone in hoping to do some waltzing with my wife and instead the room was filled up with people tripping over each other hoping to learn the community dances of the time period. Again, great in theory but it would’ve been nice to have some open dance time in order to allow people to go out and do what they wished. Perhaps also have some lessons before the ball itself so folks could feel more comfortable later on.

While Steamfest had the typical stumbling blocks of any convention, especially a first year con, I was still very impressed with how smoothly things ran and how friendly everyone was. There was a genuine buzz of excitement throughout the gathering as people came from all over Utah, and even some other states, to mingle with their fellow Steampunks. I sincerely hope that Nivi and her crew can wrangle that left over energy and enthusiasm and make next year’s Con bigger and better than this one. Perhaps a few more events, a few more guests from further a-field, and of course more people.  It’d be good to see this event expand grow larger to become a destination convention out West.


Correspondent M. Gabriel Colbaugh spends most of his time serving as a technical writer for a waste-water treatment firm, but otherwise spends time writing about steampunk and enjoying fine haberdashery. He lives in Las Vegas with his wife and two furry children, River and Isabela. He also works to maintain the Las Vegas Steampunk Tea Society with a host of others.


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