The South is known for its good conventions and fun times. Because of the ease with which we run conventions in the South, the rest of the world tends to think we are not organized. In 1985 a group in Nashville decided it was time to hold a World Fantasy Convention, and show them what organization really is! We called and wrote a number of our favorite writers and artists who knew us and knew that we would put on a good convention. We asked for and received letters of recommendation. A booklet was made up with our plans for programming, art show, and other activities. Also each department head had a page describing prior experience and plans for that department. These were sent to each member of the Board of World Fantasy. We were fortunate to be selected at the 1985 convention in Phoenix as the 1987 site.
The ConCom consisted of Maruine Dorris, Beth Gwinn, Tim Bolgeo, Annette Carrio, Carol Donaldson, Harold Donaldson, Barbara Harmon, Rusty Hevelin, Ray Jones, G. Patrick Molloy, Dave Shockley, Janet & Kevin Ward, and Jean Yarsawich. The staff consisted of close to a hundred competent fans from the South. Many letters were received after the convention praising the organization, the friendliness, the helpfulness of all members of the staff.
Our guests were Piers Anthony (WGoH), Frank Kelly Freas (AGoH), Charles Grant (MC), Karl Edward Wagner (Special WGoH), and Ron and Val Lakey-Lindahn (Special AGoHs), with extra special Attending Guest Andre Norton. Many writers, artists and publishers attended. We enjoyed putting on this convention, and have enjoyed hearing praises about it--even years afterwards!
The World Horror Convention was begun in Nashville in 1990 by Maurine Dorris, Beth Gwinn, Janet Ward, Barbara Harmon, Joann Parsons and Dave Shockley. The convention was started because of a lack of horror programming at most science fiction conventions. It was geared towards the people who are serious about their horror. The name "World Horror Convention" was selected because no other title fit! Suspense is part of horror. Mystery is part of horror. Fear is part of horror. And as I have always said, horror is anything that scares you.
Guests for the first WHC (1991) were Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (WGoH), John Skipp (MC), Craig Spector (MC), David Schow (MC), Jill Bauman (AGOH), and Robert Bloch as Grand Master. Guests for WHC II were Richard Matheson (WGoH), Richard Christian Matheson (Special WGoH), Harry O. Morris (AGoH), Brian Lumley (MC), and Stephen King as Grand Master.
The World Horror Convention was set up to move every year. The Board accepts bids from interested parties and decides, usually on Sunday afternoon of the current convention. We have tried keeping it decided two years in advance. Any group that has held conventions and has a good reputation for organization may submit a bid for a future World Horror Convention. This convention is heavily program-oriented, with a large art show and dealers' room. The ratio of pros to fans is high. Writers, artists, publishers, and editors conduct business and are on programming. Friday night there is a mass autograph session that all published writers are requested to attend. Fans are asked to limit themselves to three books per writer, but may come back in line to have three more signed as often as time permits. There is usually an artists' reception on Saturday night. This is a time for artists and their fans to meet and chat. The convention is a serious event. There is no costuming, gaming, filking, or video room. Occasionally a film premiere or classic horror film will be shown. This chairperson would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the hundred people from the Glorious South who volunteered their time and energy to work on these first two conventions and made them such a success. Without their help, the WHC would not be the success it is today.
Filk has never had the influence in Southern fandom that it has in other parts of the country. There are few performers (and many of those are transplants from other areas), and concoms tend to be indifferent, if not downright unfriendly, to filk. Southern fandom is the last bastion of the room-filk (where someone volunteers their hotel room as a venue), the hallway-filk, and the stairwell-filk.
Xanadu tried to remedy this situation by having a Filk GoH and devoting some programming space to filking, but it didn't work out well and the later Xanadus gave up the idea of a filk emphasis. However, filk fandom was slowly penetrating into the South. Some of it came in through Star Trek fandom, since many Star Trek songs have been written (including the quintessential Trek filk, Leslie Fish's "Banned From Argo"); some was the result of filk-fen from other areas moving here and spreading the interest to their friends.
I first broached the concept of an all-filk con for Nashville to some friends in mid-1990. They were enthusiastic, and I decided to give it a try. Some people might have said I was crazy; at this point, I had never been on a concom, never even volunteered at a con. But I'd been going to cons for some 15 years, and I thought I had a pretty good idea of what worked and what didn't - and a filk-con would be much smaller and easier to manage than a general-interest con. My original core concom were: myself, Tom Billings, James Fulkerson, Andy Bateman, Vanessa Cain, Paul Wilson, Margaret Brown, and David Perry. I guessed that we would draw somewhere between 50 and 100 people, and began making plans accordingly.
My first step was to ask Steve Francis for a copy of the standard RiverCon hotel contract. RiverCon had been around long enough, and been through enough hotel woes, that I thought his contract would cover most of the situations we might encounter. My next step was to recruit Dan Caldwell onto the concom, thinking that his experience with Xanadu would be invaluable to an otherwise inexperienced committee. This turned out to give mixed results; Dan had trouble scaling his ideas down from a 500-person con to the 50-person level, and I kept having to say, "It's a small con, that won't work!" I was also determined not to get into the quagmire of serving alcohol, and Dan insisted that it wasn't a consuite without beer. I won that round by pointing out that it was my con and my money, and my lawsuit if we had alcohol problems! But Dan was also the source of many helpful hints as time went by. Another good source of advice was John Railing, who was at that time the conchair of ConFabulation, a small relaxacon based in Bloomington, IN. This con actually had a panel entitled "So You Want To Run Your Own Convention" the year before we were targeting our initial con. Needless to say, the panel was well-attended by Musicon committee members!
Our date was chosen by process of elimination. I wanted to stay in the Opryland off-season because we would get better hotel rates that way; I also had to avoid two other major filk-cons in the fall, several Midwest regionals with filk emphasis, and any major Southern cons. It turned out that the only suitable date was the first weekend in January. This meant that we would be risking bad weather every year, but it also gave us a nice niche as the first con of the year.
Musicon 1 was held at the Days Inn Briley Parkway, January 3-5, 1992. The GOH was Naomi Pardue from Bloomington; the TM was Murray Porath from Louisville. We also had Phil Cooper and Margaret Nelson, professional folksingers from Chicago, as special guests. A total of 60 people attended. The hotel was not really large enough; its main attraction had been that it was cheap. There was no space for a huckster room, so we put the hucksters on the 2nd floor. Our one function room was normally the lounge, which the hotel was kind enough to close for our exclusive use. It was cramped (especially once Joe Ellis showed up with all his synthesizer equipment!) and the temperature control was poor. But everyone said they had a good time, and my experiment had worked. It was time to start looking for a better location.
We added a key player to the concom at this point. Kathy Horning had come down from Chicago and promptly pitched in to fight fires as they occurred. After the con, she said that if she was going to be fighting fires she wanted a shot at fire prevention, too! Kathy is a strong detail person, something that up to that time had been lacking on the committee. Bryan Porter was also shanghaied onto the concom for his ability to get cheap drinks (he works for Beaman Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company). David was no longer with us due to having left for college the year before; Margaret chose to leave due to some committee conflicts. We picked up another friend with organizational skills, Clark Wierda from Little Rock, to try to fill the gap.
Musicon 2 moved to the Shoney's Inn Opryland on January 1-3, 1993. GOH was Renee Alper from Cincinnati; TM was Alisa Cohen from Indianapolis. We also had Dr. Joe Waldbaum, a contemporary folksinger from Columbus, OH, as a special guest. Total attendance was 66. This con went much more smoothly than the first one. We had a small but nice huckster room, and the Saturday night filk split out into a virtual smorgasbord, with regular filk in the program room, traditional folk by the elevator, pop & rock in the smoking consuite, and Jewish camp songs at the end of the hall! Since the Shoney's Inn had no restaurant on site, they didn't mind us bringing in takeout Chinese for a banquet. This con also marked the beginning of the outstanding consuite which has come to be one of Musicon's trademarks, with regular and flavored coffees, regular and herbal teas, a wide variety of unusual soft drinks, and real food ranging from beef sticks, cheese and crackers to fresh fruit, home-baked bread, and pots of chili. Our biggest problem was that with a refrigerator, microwave, crock-pots, and 3 coffee pots in the consuite, we kept blowing the breaker. This was promptly dubbed "the New Romantic Lighting in the consuite"! The hotel provided a long extension cord to move some of the load onto another circuit, but we still had to be careful.
Musicon 3 remained at the Shoney's Inn, on January 7-9, 1994. GoH/TM were Bill & Brenda Sutton, in no particular order (although Bill wound up performing most of the TM's duties). As special guests, we had the Allen Street String Band, Bill Rintz's contra-dance band from Springfield, IL, and Kristoph Klover from Los Angeles was our first Interfilk guest. Total attendance was 70, which included enough walk-ins to counter-balance the 15 pre-registrations who were no-shows due to threatening weather. After two years in which the Interfilk benefit auction had been little more than an afterthought, we put some serious effort into acquiring auction items this year and it paid off. The auction set a record, not for total money taken in, but for dollar amount per capita; no Interfilk auction had broken the $9 per attendee mark before.
We lost the Shoney's Inn for Musicon 4; I thought 14 months in advance was plenty of time to reserve our date, but I was wrong. We were bumped by a Shriners' convention! I chose to keep the date and look for another venue. This decision was helped by the fact that Shoney's was rapidly pricing themselves out of the market; while $65 room rates are not unusual for a larger hotel, we all felt that price was out of line for this facility. Andy, Vanessa, and Dan also left the concom at this point; we had inaugurated a recognition level called "Friends of Musicon" for people who helped with aspects of preparation but were not on the committee, and they felt more comfortable moving back to this level. We picked up Jan Berndtson from Bloomington, who volunteered to take charge of the consuite if she could be recognized in the program book as "Consuite Ghoddess"!
Musicon 4 was held at the Quality Inn Executive Plaza on January 6-8, 1995. GOH was Margaret Middleton from Little Rock; TM was Michael "Moonwulf" Longcor from West Lafayette, IN. We also had Todd Alan, a pagan folksinger from Columbus, OH, as a special guest. Total attendance was 79. While we would have been very happy to stay with this hotel, we weren't given the option; six weeks before the con, Opryland bought the facility to use for employee dormitories! We were lucky that our contract was honored; Kubla Khan was sent scrambling for a new hotel at 5 months' notice. On the good side, the hotel employees, who were no happier about this turn of affairs than we were, leaned over backwards to give us outstanding service all weekend long. The con was notable for the first appearance of a group called Timelines, who proved to be extremely popular. This was also the first Musicon that didn't lose money; we actually showed about a $10 profit. Or, as Bryan put it, "We're in the black! Let's order a pizza! Whoops--there goes the profit!"
We added Tamara Roberson to the concom; as a smoker, she felt that the con leaned too far in favor of non-smokers and volunteered to weight the balance on the other side. And we were hotel-shopping again...
Musicon 5 was held at the Ramada Inn Governor's House on January 5-7, 1996. GoH was Mark Bernstein from Ann Arbor; TM was Tom Smith, also from Ann Arbor. Rennie Levine was our Interfilk guest, and delighted all with several concerts, including a bawdy-theme "Adults Only" set. We invited all previous GOH's, TM's, and special guests back for a joint concert, with about a 50% acceptance rate. Total attendance was 92. This con was noted for turning into Extend-a-Con; we were hit with some 8" of snow on Saturday, and Nashville had its usual bad-weather panic. By Sunday evening our airport was open, but no one who was flying east could leave because the entire east coast was snowed in; the roads were drivable, but no one who had to drive north could leave because Kentucky had closed all interstates. We retitled the dead dog party the "Sled Dog Party," moved the filk to the smoking consuite and a vacated guest room, and kept going! The con was also plagued with hotel troubles--far more than we had expected from a hotel which had hosted several previous Kublas. Fortunately, with one or two glaring exceptions, the problems were mainly confined to the committee and not obvious to the attendees. The eventual outcome, after Murray Porath agreed to sit in on the hotel debrief in a legal capacity, was that we got a substantial reduction on our hotel costs and we started looking again.
As of this writing, the venue for Musicon 6 has not yet been decided. Our GoHs will be the filk-rock group Timelines from South Carolina, and TM will be Juanita Coulson from Hartford City, IN. I believe that the success of Musicon has made other cons in the South sit up and take some notice of filking; Magic Carpet Con routinely has a filk GoH and a filk track, and several other regional cons have begun to provide space for filk in their programming. We are beginning to develop some indigenous Southern filk talent, and while there's a long road still ahead, I think we're on our way.
More Nashville clubs and cons:
Nashville: The Nashville Science Fiction Club, aka BEMS, meets on the 1st Tuesday of each month at the Cumberland Science Museum and has other social functions during the month. Contact: Dan Caldwell, 3522 Kings Lane, Nashville, TN 37218. Newsletter editor: Debra Hussey.
Nashville: The Middle Tennessee Speculative Fiction Association meets the 3rd Thursday of every month at 7:30 PM at the Cumberland Science Museum Address: P.O. Box 68203, Nashville, TN 37206. Officer: President Anita Williams.