• Everfree Northwest 2012 Retrospective: Cereal Velocity

    Markarian said it best during the closing ceremonies of the convention- the weekend of Everfree Northwest 2012 was our own little slice of Equestria.

    The inevitable comparisons to Bronycon are going to come up, Everfree Northwest (EFNW) being the second-largest convention happening this year and both occurring about a month apart. In my humble opinion, the two aren’t comparable on many grounds, except for the ones that mattered. They were both whirlwinds of activity and ponies that left you with that sort of breathless joy that only exhausting yourself to see and meet everyone can give you. In that way, I can’t say that one was ‘better’ than the other or other such pigeonholing. If you’ll stick around, I’ll give you the long answer.

    Seattle is a very different beast than New York City, though that may have been due to our proximity to the airport. EFNW took up two hotels in the area to house all the events, with everyone who attended inevitably bringing up the deathly steep hill that connected the two. The events were scheduled nicely enough to split people between the two locations, and gave each their own attractiveness. Having the dealer’s hall separate from the main ballroom was a nice touch to get people to take the time to visit both. Honestly, it helped that we had several vehicles to get around our small part of the outer city. Nevertheless, it still had that cozy feeling that can only happen when the biggest events are literally happening on the floor directly above you. Thank Celestia for soundproofing. That ceiling must have been made of lead, for we heard no more than a stray wub even when Ponystock went on.

    The Holiday Inn hotel in which we stayed.

    The Equestria Daily staff all arrived on Thursday, sans Seth who arrived sometime during the early morning on Friday, much to our amusement. We met up with the Bronyville crew- Apple Cider and Chef Sandy- and helped them break in the Cider Suite, which would become our base of operations for the various interviews we had planned. We ordered pizza and beer, invited some of our friends up- John Joseco and a few of the pre-readers- and generally started to act as if we were at a convention.

    Our first hint that we were in for one hell of a weekend came in the form of a message that Lee Tockar was hanging out in the hotel bar on the first floor. In short terms, we booked it there as fast as we could. On approaching Lee and introducing PK and I, he recognized us immediately from EQD and embraced us. We spoke briefly about his appearance at the convention and his plans, and did our part to help his Twitter charity campaign. Excited that we got to meet someone from the show on our very first night, we all retired to our rooms very excited for what may lie ahead.

    Well, we tried to sleep, anyway. Seth showed up at about two in the morning, which was about four to my jet-lagged brain. All was forgiven when he produced a Comic-Con Derpy toy for me. Awesome.

    Derpy, before she got covered in autographs.

    The registration line that Friday morning did delay a little bit, pushing the events back an hour- it may have been the only misstep of the entire convention, which is impressive for its first iteration.

    Upon waking up the next morning and catching the end of the opening ceremonies, we went back to our room to plan out the rest of our day when we ran into none other than Michelle Creber and her mother. The scheduling gods had smiled down upon us and put us on the same floor as all of the CMC. Michelle offered to take a photo with us and the team from Friendship is Witchcraft- whom we had also ran into- and we all gleefully blocked the hotel hallway to do so.

    After that, we all descended upon the musician’s panel, which included Daniel Ingram and a smattering of the CMC and their singing voices, including Kasumi Evans. Stephan Andrews was also dragged on stage, much to his pretend disappointment that Daniel had seen him. It was extremely amusing to watch.

    That was all well and good, of course, but I had a very serious mission. I needed to get my Derpy toy signed by Tabitha St. Germain, who was attending the convention in her first official appearance at a FiM con. It was kind of a big deal to me, as you can imagine. Upon buying my vouchers for her and Andrea Libman and getting in line, I noticed that the vast majority of people in the room had gifts for the voice actress. I had to make due with a handshake and kind words for her, which she gladly accepted anyway. This was one of the brightest highlights of my trip, because this woman was the biggest reason I had decided to attend in the first place. If you read her writing on the web, you might get the idea that she’s every bit as bubbly as the other voice actresses but wrapped in a shell of just-a-little-bit-crazy, you’d be correct. I was immensely glad that I got to speak to her even once, because afterwards she was very hard to find. Maybe that was bad luck on my part. Regardless, I also took the opportunity to speak and express my thanks to Andrea and Cathy Wesluck, who was seated beside her.

    In order from left to right: Andrea, Cathy, and Tabitha, who was off-screen

    I turned around to exit the room only to find Daniel Ingram entering to get ready for his own autograph session. I approached him and shook his hand, introducing myself as part of EQD. He seemed to recognize me, and said that he had spoken to Seth earlier. This only reinforces the practice that PK, Calpain and I had adopted at Bronycon- stick to Seth and you run into famous people sooner or later. We doubled down on that policy after that.

    The rest of the first day was spent wandering the dealer’s hall and saying our hellos to our friends working there, including John Joseco and Pixelkitties (whom I still haven’t had lunch with, despite our repeated attempts to do so). That night brought the first round of Ponystock, and many unit wubs were had in its celebration. Right after Mic the Microphone’s set, Will Anderson took the stage to announce the next musician and then disappeared. I grabbed Seth and we ran off to catch him. The security staff made an attempt to dissuade us from doing so, but after a quick double-take at the media badges we made our way through and greeted him and Stephan Andrews. The amount of show staff that I had met up until that point was already staggering, and it was only the first day. Sleep was difficult with all the excitement in our systems.

    Saturday started out in an interesting way. We used our media badges to get into the main hall a little early to find good seats for the voice actress panel, and found that we had walked in on a practice session with Michelle Creber and Mandopony. They played a cover version of Wanted before they were finished, much to everyone’s delight (though, by everyone, I mean us and the EFNW staff that happened to be present setting up the stage).

    Cause I'm waaanteeeeeed! Dead or aliiiiiive!

    The voice actress panel was every bit as entertaining as it may have looked on the live streams, so I won’t rehash it for the sake of brevity. Look, a moose!

    Following that panel, Seth and I assisted Apple Cider and Chef Sandy with their live podcast panel to a modest crowd. It was a real treat to get to record with them live after doing it through Skype all this time.

    Left to right from the middle:  Seth, Apple Cider, and Chef Sandy

    After that panel was over, we had a monumental task ahead of us- getting ready for our own panel.

    Much like Bronycon, I expected there to be very few people attending, especially with the charity auction starting at the same time in the same building. The gang and I, who in total included Seth, PK, and Xyro, concluded that we should hand out treats for the panel attendees for sticking around until the end. We figured fifty cookies would be enough, and with that taken care of we set about making sure our assets were ready.

    Give Xyro a hand if you’re reading this, by the way. He was so on top of things regarding our computer setup that it was a little scary at times. He set up his own projector in place of the provided one so we could get sound for my video. He was the reason that ran so well.

    With our expectations in check, we entered the room and began setting up. Half an hour before the panel there were maybe twenty people waiting in the room, and I expected it to stay that way. Slowly, though, more and more people started to filter in. Dozens upon dozens at a time filled the seats, and eventually people had to start standing on the sides and in the back. This was a room meant to seat three hundred people, and we had managed to fill it. I was speechless. I made the joke that the charity auction was next door, just in case people had mistaken us for them.

    We opened the panel with my video, which I’ll re-embed here for the sake of completeness.

    Everyone seemed to really like it, which pleased me.

    We started in on our planned sections, which included making a post live and updating it as we went along, and talking statistics and various factoids. During the entirety of the panel, we were drawn pictures of our ponies by a very talented artist up in the front row, and we showed them off as they were completed. At one point we were also informed that someone in the audience had written a facetious shipping story with PK and I in it. Amused, I grabbed the microphone and said, “So, let me get this straight. You have actually written a piece of fiction that ships PK and I.” Upon his confirmation I slowly stood up and walked out of the event room, much to the amusement of everyone in it. Everyone in the hall was very confused.

    An impossibly cute Cereal.

    Halfway through we opened up the room for questions, and we expected the usual round of them. Much to our shock, the third person in line came up to the microphone and introduced himself as Wootie. It took us a good five seconds to realize who this person was, because it was so completely out of the blue. That’s right- James Wootton, one of the co-directors for Friendship is Magic, attended our panel and came up to ask us bits of trivia from the show (which we answered correctly, thank you very much). After he left to sit down, we were absolutely speechless, as was the crowd. The next person to approach the microphone said that he might as well sit down on the basis that ‘he wasn’t Wootie’. It was an incredible moment, and I want to thank you James, if you’re reading this, for coming down to our humble panel and hanging out with us.

    At the tail end of the panel, we addressed the most popular request that people had made for our panel. As a treat for those who attended, I won’t reveal what that was- but I’m glad you liked it.

    After the panel was over, we stayed around for about half an hour signing autographs and talking with everyone who had stayed the whole time. It would be remiss of me not to mention one person in particular, though: a stallion with a heart of gold by the name of Davekenroy approached our table with four large gift bags- one for each of us. PK, Seth, and Xyro all got large plushies of Twilight Sparkle, Trixie, and Spitfire, respectively, as well as a smattering of other small items. I was given a shirt with my pony on it, a very large Comic-Con Rarity poster signed by Tabitha, and a pair of small posters signed by Tara Strong. We were absolutely floored by the generosity of these gifts, and I want to thank you again publically for them, Davekenroy. You really made our night.

    Xyro and Seth with their plushies.

    Because our panel happened to start exactly when the charity auction for the Seattle Children’s Hospital did, we were unable to attend, but the stories that came out of it were incredible- JJ’s commissioned painting selling for two thousand dollars, the story of the mis-autographed Derpy toy that was given back to the owner after the man who paid for it gave the money to the hospital, and the grand total of thirteen thousand dollars that were raised. It was a truly inspiring event to hear about, and I wish I could have seen it in person.

    The rest of the day was somewhat of a blur. Ponystock started up again, and we all went down to catch at least a few minutes of it. By sheer luck, I ran into Daniel and Stephan again during the AlexS set. I handed them each a glowstick and asked Stephan what he thought of the fan music on display. He gave a thoughtful pause over all the wubs, and said with a grin, “It’s like watching a lot of mutated children. I love it.” After that set was over, we all retired to bed.

    The next morning was home to another happy coincidence- eating breakfast with PK, we spotted Sibsy and Raven one table over. We went over and said hello, but they were on their way out. It was a better way to wake up than coffee, to be sure.

    I helped staff one last panel, which was Bronyville’s convention wrap-up panel. Amusingly, I think I signed more autographs after that one than they did. That was weird.

    I was on my way out of the Marriott when Xyro called me over, holding his DSLR. He pointed to a staff room with the majority of the voice actresses hanging out with some cosplayers. We were waved in because of our media badges, and spent the next few minutes photographing the two hanging out with the VAs. Cathy Wesluck was also there, hanging out on the sidelines, so I spoke to her about her experiences at the convention so far. She said she was having a lot of fun, and I could tell by the way she was holding her coffee that she was as tired and excited as the rest of us. After that group disbanded, we headed back to the Holiday Inn to get ready for Bronyville’s livestream event.

    From left to right: Andrea, Cathy, Tara, and Tabitha

    Throughout the entire weekend, the EQD staff and I had been handing out Bronyville business cards to the voice actresses and show staff and asking if they wouldn’t mind a small recorded interview. It was a little like tossing things to the wall until they stuck, but at that point we did have confirmation that the CMC wanted to do it. If that had been all we had gotten, we would have been thrilled. An hour before their scheduled slot, PK texts me and tells me that Andrea Libman also wants to interview. After hastily erecting our makeshift livestream equipment and microphones, we made small talk to everyone listening until she got there. In what seemed to be a trend, she looked tired but excited to be there. We chatted for about half an hour to give her time to attend to other matters, and I got to throw a question in about how she dealt with not being in the mood to play the characters she was cast as. Her answer was the one you’d expect from a professional: coffee, and the support of the other voice actresses. We shook hands and she went her separate way, but not before I got a card from her agent. Awesome.

    The Cutie Mark Crusaders- Madeline, Claire, and Michelle- were the exact opposite in terms of demeanor. All three were full of energy and very happy to be there, and they gave great answers to Apple Cider’s questions. Even Madeline admitted that she read EQD every once in a while, and I couldn’t help but give a little victory dance. It’s been said a hundred times, but those three are the most mature young adults one could ever hope to meet. In that room, though, they were like sisters. It was easy to forget that they played some of the most popular characters on the show and just get lost in their enthusiasm. Everyone who watched the stream knows there was lots of hugging involved. After we finished, I asked them if they could sign my Derpy toy, and they obliged.

    Left to right: Claire, Madeline, and Michelle.

    Art by Tetrapony, who drew this during the stream with the CMC. Upon seeing the finished piece, Claire went right up the camera and said she liked Tetra's mane.

    My Derpy after all the autographs. I have never been happier. Also, Rarity plush is photobombing.

    After that, it was all over but the closing ceremonies, which we also attended. Markarian gave a passionate speech about the convention as a whole, and how he felt that this weekend we had all brought a piece of Equestria to Seattle.

    To bookend his section of the ceremony, he told us all to stand up and look out the window of the ballroom at the white building half a mile distant. He told us that the board of directors had already signed a contract and that was going to be the future site of the Everfree Northwest 2013. The room exploded into applause.

    That was the end of the line for me. My flight the next morning left at 7:30, so I made sure I slept early. When I was putting my badge away into my suitcase next to the autographed Derpy that night, I was hit with a pang of regret that it was all over. It was only then that I really realized how much fun I had been having, and how much I was going to miss my friends when we all went our separate ways. In a way, that had been the best thing of all: getting to see everyone again, putting new faces to names that I hadn’t seen at Bronycon, and meeting the hundreds of fans that the blog had accumulated throughout its life. The convention was why we were all there, but we stayed for each other. I wouldn’t have traded that feeling for the world.

    As I closed up my bags, I thought back to what Markarian had said about bringing a piece of Equestria to earth. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind- he was right. We did. I hope we can do it again soon.

    We received a letter from Markarian, head of EFNW, shortly after this was written. I have published it here in its entirety:

    Greetings, Dear Pony Friends,

    As our event has wound to a close, the equipment has been packed up, and the two hotels we called home for three days have made way for other guests. It will take a while to process the intensity of the experience for many of us and to reflect on the sheer excitement and reverie that resounded throughout the last weekend. It is now that we wish to personally thank those of you who made this incredible time possible and to make known to the world who they are:

    -First, we would like to thank the entire editorial team at Equestria Daily, who have been such steadfast supporters of our dream since the very beginning. And thank you to Sethisto, Xyro, PK, and Cereal Velocity for their making the trek out to our Emerald City to be with us.

    -Second, we would like to thank Everfree Radio and their affiliates, Round Stable and Equestrian Inquirer for their non-stop coverage of our event and incredible advice that helped us to be successful.

    -A special thanks to Bronyville, Derpy Hooves News, and the Daily Oatmeal for helping to spread the word and to make us feel welcome.

    -Gene Armstrong and Aloha Wolf of Rainfurrest, who took us under their wings and were indispensable in our efforts to make the convention run smoothly. You have our sincerest gratitude.

    -Melissa Spengler and Keith Anderson of the SeaTac Airport Holiday Inn and Marriott hotels, respectively. Your patience and willingness to accommodate our community seemed to know no bounds.

    -Lion Kimbro and the Jigsaw Renaissance. Thank you for giving us a home, a place in which we could be a part of your creative energy and to flourish and grow. Please give back to them at http://www.jigsawrenaissance.org/donation/donation-form/

    -Big Jim Miller, Wootie, Sibsy Alberghetti, Raven Molisee, and the rest of the DHX Media crew. Your kindness, support, and enthusiasm were always a source of strength throughout this entire endeavor.

    -The voice cast of My Little Pony. The way you opened your hearts to our attendees and staff cannot be overstated. Thank you for joining us and helping to make this weekend magical. And your enthusiasm for giving helped us to realize a gift to Seattle Children's Hospital more generous than we had imagined.

    -The Musicians of Ponystock, whose limitless talent added a positive energy to our event that reverberated through more than just the 11th floor ceiling.

    -Daniel Ingram, Will Anderson, and Steffan Andrews. Your music inspires us in ways we cannot even describe. Thank you for being an audience to our own creations and to join us in celebrating this event.

    -The artists and vendors of our Dealer's Area. Thank you for coming to our event and making it a part of your business. We truly hope you did well and had a memorable time.

    -Cat Whitney, SilverTail, Dana Simpson, Thomas Smith, Tympany, Sibsy, and all the other artists who toiled for hours to help create the visuals that made our con truly unique and contributed to the cause of our event. Your talent is deeply appreciated as it is remarkable.

    -To the attendees, whose support made this entire, crazy idea possible. You mean the world to us and we hope each and every one of you can come back again and again as our event evolves and grows in the future. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

    -And last, but most importantly, to the staff of Everfree Northwest. There are simply no words, no adequate way to articulate how special you all are. You all played your part in making our event what it was, and your hard work and endless desire to help will always be remembered. Thank you, all of you.

    For every group or person we mentioned, we know there are five more who we neglected to. Please rest assured that it wasn't intentional. There are so many people that came together to make this dream come true, and we want you to know that you'll always have our thanks and our gratitude.