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Credit: Vanessa Armstrong

Going off the beaten track with fans at Dragon Con

Contributed by
Sep 4, 2019, 1:00 PM EDT

Dragon Con, an 85,000-person pop culture convention held in downtown Atlanta every Labor Day Weekend, has something for everyone. Unlike the more entertainment industry-driven cons out there (San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con, for example), Dragon Con has always been a fan-run event, with over 30 tracks that are each loaded with panels and other programming for every nerdy niche you can think of.

With so many options available, it's possible for every attendee to have their own personally catered Dragon Con experience (although cosplay, which takes place in the three main hotel lobbies, is universal, as it should be). And, while several hundred or even thousands of people go to the higher-profile panels like the David Tennant Q&A, or the interviews with cast members from The Magicians, The Expanse, and The Boys, what makes Dragon Con so special are the dozens of smaller events that cater to very specific fandoms and communities.

This year, SYFY WIRE went to many such panels, including the three we're highlighting below. Read on to get a taste of the wonderful nerdy experiences one can find in the labyrinth of conference rooms found across Dragon Con's five host hotels.


Credit: Dragon Con Filk Music Track 


So, what the heck is Filk? The short answer is that Filk is the music of fandom, and it comes in many forms, including belting out musical parodies or writing folk songs with nerdy themes. This year at Dragon Con, the Filk track not only hosted a bunch of nerd bands with names like the Blibbering Humdingers and the Brobdingnagian Bards, but also held discussion panels about the craft and business of creating Filk music. The panel, "Meet, Greet, Filk," which was held on the first full day of the convention, emphasized the music, and featured several of the bands who were there for the weekend singing songs about many nerdy topics, including their love of Hufflepuffs and the shared pain of waiting in long lines for the aforementioned high-profile panels.

The Filk track hosted 37 additional events over the weekend that varied from packed performances to low-key "Open Filks" where anyone could jump in and sing. One thing that remained constant across the track, however, was the open, welcoming environment that the track organizers and participants created; as one panelist mentioned, Filk is made by the folks who show up. And if you attended one of their events, you were automatically part of their music-loving, fandom-celebrating community.


Credit: Vanessa Armstrong


There are only three rules for participants in this steampunk-tinged, excitingly silly competition: (1) participants' remote-controlled land-bound racing vehicles must have a teapot incorporated into their design; (2) the vehicle must be able to move through the teacup-laden obstacle course in some way, shape, or form, and; (3) participants are highly encouraged to bribe the judges with food and/or drink and/or monetary compensation.

Beyond these rules, anything goes, and the participants this year were very serious in how silly they could make their racers. The approximately 10 vehicles that competed in this family-friendly event (kids got front-row priority seating!) included a large, furry sloth, a cat with a top hat poking out of a teapot, a lamp from the movie Aladdin, the car that spouted quotes from Star Trek's Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and a leviathan of a train that ran over every teacup in its path.

The competition was intense and the bribes were varied (everything from strawberry shortcake to tiny bottles of vodka), and the spectators couldn't help but scream with delight when one of the cars knocked over a teacup or fell off the stage in a failed attempt to make it through the appropriately titled "Ramp of Doom." The competition, which apparently started in New Zealand before becoming a Dragon Con mainstay, is a rousing good time for the audience, judges and participants alike.


Credit: Vanessa Armstrong


Some Dragon Con participants were competing with things that are a little more dangerous than even the most tricked-out teapot. In the Dragon's Duel, for example, competitors used old-fashioned swords (European steel weapons used from 1400-1900, to be precise) to fight each other. Hosted by the Palmetto Knights — a historic steel combat team — Dragon's Duel had a pro wrestling vibe, with a packed house cheering on the fighters as heavy metal music played in the background. Further adding to the pro wrestling feel was the caged-in area, constructed from two-by-fours and mesh netting to prevent any flying swords from flying out into the audience.

There was some commentary on the different weapons and fighting styles the competitors used during their "tournament" (it was more of a demonstration than a competition) — the most surprising technique to this novice was a move called "half swording," where the combatant puts one hand on the blade of the sword and pushes the edge toward his or her opponent (apparently the edge isn't super sharp if you hold it a certain way and/or are wearing metal gloves). At the end of the hour-long event, audience members even get a chance to hold one of the swords, which surprisingly weigh only 2.5 to 4 pounds, despite being several feet long.

For those who want even more fighting, the Palmetto Knights also host a Dragon's Cup Tournament at the con, providing an additional two and a half hours of sword-fighting excitement.


These three events aren't even the tip of the iceberg of what you can find at Dragon Con — we didn't even get into the cosplay parade, artist alley, the art show, the gaming area, or the three floors of vendors selling every nerdy thing you can think of. We didn't even mention the Late Night Puppet Slam, the after-midnight show that had amazingly creative NSFW puppetry, or the Bunny Hutch Party or Masquerade or hundreds of other things you can do.

There's so much to do and experience, in fact, that you can't cover it all in one weekend. The good news, however, is that Dragon Con will be back next year, giving fans more opportunities to explore every nook and cranny of fandom out there.