It is not often that I get excited about traveling. Don’t get me wrong: I love conventions and trade shows. I like seeing new stuff and old friends I only get to spend time with during these shows. The problem, for me, is the time it takes getting to the location, plus the return trip. Why teleporters have not been invented yet is beyond my reasoning. But sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet, pack a bag or two and hit the long, dusty trail.
My most recent dusty trail took me to Birmingham, Alabama, for HAuNTcon 2016. This annual event was held at the Sheraton Birmingham on January 28 through February 1. HAuNTcon travels from city to city each year, giving people from all over the opportunity to attend not only the convention, but also to see some of the haunted attractions in the host city. Some of the previous cities include Baton Rouge, Houston, Dallas and Pittsburgh.
This would be my first time, ever, attending HAuNTcon. I have been in the business for almost a decade, but the only show I have ever been to has been TransWorld in St. Louis. Before going, I started educating myself on the differences between these shows. Where Transworld is a trade show meant for haunt buyers and sellers to get together and work out major deals for the upcoming haunt season, HAuNTcon is more for haunters to interact and learn from other haunters. Having this in mind really was helpful in setting my expectations for the show.
So, when Amber (my beautiful bride to be) and I arrived, the first thing we noticed was the somewhat-empty ballroom/sellers room. There were several vendors, but nowhere near the numbers we were used to. And the booths were not overly elaborate with flashing lights, loud noises or teams of sales people running around. It reminded me of some of the comic book conventions I have worked in the past. In fact, it had a few people I know from my time with The Walking Dead, there, signing autographs, including Michael Jaegers (one purely awesome actor and friend), Kent Wagner and Stephanie Hart. I started to think we had made a mistake in driving so far, as the show just felt empty.
But then I started to realize something. The room was empty because there were seminars going on down the hall. Like I mentioned earlier, this show is all about connecting haunters with haunters. It is about sharing information, tips and news that pertains to the haunt industry, as a whole. It is not a flashy trade show with all its pomp and pageantry. It is exactly what haunters want: A show that focuses on them, not the sellers.
I started looking at the seminar list. There were some great speakers at the event, including Roy Wooley from the TV show Face Off, as well as one of the top makeup artists for Netherworld in Atlanta, GA, who was running a clinic on sculpting. There was a seminar on using the triangular-grid pattern for designing a haunted house, which allows the best use of space and actors. More seminars included “Code Compliance & Your Attraction,” “Killing the Music Monotony” and “Guerrilla Marketing Your Haunt.” On the last day, there was even a workshop on opening your first haunted attraction, something I wish I had been able to attend! These workshops share more knowledge than you get almost anywhere else. Not only do you get more business savvy, but you also make contacts with the very same people who have done what you want to do and have succeeded. On Saturday night, the Haunted Garage Sale took place, which is an amazing place to not only sell your older props, but to get new items for your show at a great price.
Amber and I only had a couple of hours of time there, which was a real bummer, as I would have loved to attend tons of the scheduled seminars and workshops. But now that we know what HAuNTcon is, we are even more stoked for 2017. Rumors are running around, now, about the host city for this upcoming event. Some have even said that my town of Nashville is in the running. I can guarantee you that should HAuNTcon call the Music City its home in 2017, I will be signing up for all the workshops I can. And, of course, I will bring you all along for the ride (in blog form, of course).
So, if you have a chance to attend HAuNTcon, be prepared for what it is and what it isn’t. If you are going for a big flashy vendor-filled expo, this is not the show for you. But if you are a haunter or a Halloween enthusiast who wants to network with some of the greats in the industry and learn from the best, HAuNTcon should be on your radar!
Until next time, enjoy the #hauntlife.