Monday, August 11, 2014

Travel Journal: Orlando Nerd Fest

Guest of Honor Nobuo Uematsu

The last few days have been pretty incredible...
Though I have little idea how this festival went from concept to reality, the Orlando Nerd Fest was a great success from my perspective and marks one of the best weekends in memory. It maybe sounds a bit cliche but it's no less true and my only regret of the weekend was not being able to see more.

The Power Rangers walking into the Eyeshine set
I started the day off with work, doing whatever it is I do until it was time for dinner. Kaitlin and I caught a bite to eat at a local diner and got to the Orlando Nerd Fest (ONF) in time to catch Eyeshine's set. (also, free parking!!!) I've been performing at the same events as Eyeshine for over half a decade, and it's always nice to see Johnny and his band in action. When a group of people dressed as Power Rangers walked in, Johnny Young Bosch (the black Power Ranger, Vash the Stampede, and the frontman of Eyeshine) even busted out the Power Ranger theme in their honor. It was a pretty cool.

The mysterious yet entertaining guitarist
From there we wandered to the Jam Space, which also boasted an arcade-based game set. We played the various pinball machines that were present, that boasted various themes: Cats, Rednecks, Firemen, Star Trek, and Tron. Tron was by far the best. We also got a shot at Wreck it Ralph and a few other arcade games that were present before noticing a few familiar faces taking the Jam Space stage... We found seating and watched the performance of the UCF-based Geekapella, whom we'd talked with at Comic Con last weekend, and who I'd seen perform at Nerdapalooza two years prior. Their beat-boxing skills are still second to none, and their acapella renditions of nerdy songs were enjoyable. After them, a young man who never actually gave his name played acoustic guitar and sang songs with the audience. It was pretty endearing and based on how nervous he looked, we'd guessed it was his first performance. He did a great job though and remains one of the unexpected highlights of the weekend... Another unexpected thing was the turkey sandwiches that the hotel sold in their little cafe. They looked uninspired and overpriced, but were fresh and surprisingly tasty. We enjoyed second dinner (it was getting late and we were going to be up fairly late) while intermittently catching parts of Sci-Fried, the guys who put together ONF. Sci-Fried, made up of men who look rough but are the nicest people you will ever meet, typically performs a lot of high-hearted rock songs about Star Wars, the Evil Dead, and Star Trek, but their set at ONF had a number of newer songs that were a bit deeper. I say this as someone who enjoys songs like I Wanna be Your Jedi. Their new stuff was pretty well received and it was clear that they were having a blast.

We met up with Kaitlyn (a friend from college I will refer to here as Kat as I was also traveling with a Kaitlin), and caught up with Gerard (the Master of Ceremonies for the weekend) for awhile. Kat has a condition where it's hard for her to stand for extended periods, and we like hanging out as a group, so we sat down for awhile before catching Vivid's first US performance. For those who don't know Vivid, their music is featured in Bleach, and Mobile Suit Gundam AGE. They are also an extremely tight live band. Shortly after, the one man band: Professor Shyguy took to the stage. I've been following Shyguy for awhile now, perhaps two years, and every time I see him perform he is absolutely amazing. He does drums, vocals, guitar, chiptunes, and keyboard, sometimes all simultaneously, all while being a pretty snappy dresser and an extremely friendly guy.
He was the big act that Kat, Kaitlin, and myself wanted to see on Friday and he delivered. He had the Doubleclicks join him for a rendition of TMBG's Ana Ng, Steffeny from MPFM join him for a Lil' John cover, and Marc with a C join him for a ridiculously hilarious/awkward love song. We stood and danced for his entire set.

Throughout the evening we bumped into familiar faces, caught up with members of Those Who Fight (which I regret missing and whom I wish had more music online), and ended up sticking around for a mysterious band called Steam Powered Giraffe after we were told by a friend that Professor Shyguy was a part of this band. Though it turned out to not be true (Prof. Shyguy is not in Steam Powered Giraffe, he's in a band that sounds similar, called the Aeronauts) we stuck around anyway and found seats near the edge of the room. The next two hours were pretty incredible. It turns out that Steam Powered Giraffe used to be in a mime troupe (which I verified on wikipedia), and that their specialty is stage banter and improvised comedy. Walking out in incredible makeup, moving and talking like robots, and gifted with really great voices, they were a pleasure to watch. This was the most surprisingly fantastic act of the weekend for me, which I had pre-judged based on the name (I expected something heavy and industrial), and whom I was really happy to have seen. Though Kaitlin didn't particularly enjoy their music (which I would almost call folk rock, in a very good way), their comedy bits were top notch and kept her interested. I need to buy one of their CD's... Due for an 11:30am sound check the following morning, we turned in as things were winding down.

This was my view of the Earthbound Papas set
We got a cup of tea, bumped into Vivid on the walk downstairs, and chatted briefly with their frontman/vocalist. There was a clear language barrier but it was really neat to meet them and exchange a few words. We got a second cup of tea from the cafe downstairs, sitting a few tables from Nobuo Uematsu (we left him well alone, I just mention this because it's something we realized as he was walking out of the cafe), and passed Steam Powered Giraffe's meet and greet session. It was cool getting to see them outside of their makeup and costumes.

We got to the main room just in time to catch Eight Bit Disaster, a sax-led group I'd seen earlier at last year's Escapist Expo, and while I wasn't particularly in love with the band last year, they have improved tremendously! They've become a pretty fantastic act and hit their set HARD with songs like Tank (Cowboy Bebop), Bad Dudes, and the Game of Thrones main theme. This was one of the few acts of the weekend where Kaitlin smiled and expressed interest in the music, and again, I highly recommend seeing them live if you get the opportunity. Sadly, I had to leave them to set up all of the remaining logistical nightmares for my own performance that I'd neglected. I'd forgotten to give crucial details to some of the folks who were going to be a part of our show. I also missed much of the Killer Robots set too, as started my own sound check and final preparations.

As suspected, our show went pretty well because we had a lot of fun. Victory. Personal highlights included being joined by Stemage and Lauren the Flute, and having the audience sing along to our sound check. It's still strange to me that we have fans. After we cleared off the stage and signed things for people, we caught the Returners, whom Kat and I dearly loved. Their rendition of Starcraft - Terran 2 in particular is now one of my favorite songs of all time. Kat and I immediately preordered their upcoming album ( it!), and caught the front end of the Metroid Metal concert. It was mesmerizing, hypnotic. Music that's been deeply ingrained in my subconscious for years being performed live in front of me. Then we reluctantly broke away to catch the costume contest. Shortly before the contest I had joked that I'd seen a fantastic FF VI Terra cosplayer and didn't need to see the contest to know who was going to win... I was surprisingly right, though there were a few other really great costumes I'm glad I didn't miss.

The three of us (Kaitlin, Kat, and myself) caught dinner at the diner from Friday and got back in time to catch the sound check for Critical Hit, an 8 piece VGM gypsy-rock group. Having only heard a few recordings by Critical Hit in the past I wasn't exactly sure what their live show would be and enjoyed their performance. To start, during a technical difficulty at the opening sound check the violin and the cello players rocked a half dozen bonus songs (from Zelda to Flight of the Bumble Bee) to an extremely enthusiastic audience. They played 10 songs of variety from slow folk-like RPG tracks to upbeat rock arrangements. Kaitlin, who has a very small musical pallet for VGM, said that Critical Hit was actually her favorite act of the entire weekend, and after their set we all stood next to the main stage for an hour in anticipation for the main event of the weekend, the Earthbound Papas. Nobuo Uematsu and the Papas gave one of the best performances I've seen. Being extremely familiar with their ultra-precise and extremely complex music I was wowed as they hit every note, rocked every solo, and did so while being so relaxed and happy. They premiered a new song (Kefka's theme), rocked Dancing Mad, Seymour's Fight, FF VII Battle Theme (which I'd never heard before!), Decisive Battle, Force Your Way (VIII), The Festival of the Hunt, and ended the night with the best rendition of Clash at the Big Bridge I will ever see. I was floored. We all were...

Later that night I found myself socializing with bands, attendees, and ONF staff members. I got to chat with Sara Andon from Critical Hit (who's worked with Placido, Daft Punk, and many other amazing projects), Steffeny from MPFM, elements of the Killer Robots, and a few other fine folks throughout the wee hours of the morning until I discovered it was 5am. As I generally go to sleep around 9pm or 10pm this news hit me particularly hard, and I abruptly ended my discussion on the finer points of tectonic plates with gentlemen I'm confident had too much to drink to turn in for the morning.

Sunday was a bit of a blur. Extremely exhausted by my old man sleeping cycle being thrown off, I trudged to the jam space for a noon performance with the rest of the band. Professor Shyguy joined us on bongos, Lauren joined us on flute (which she assembled in less than 10 seconds when we started playing music from Chrono Cross), and an extremely enthusiastic audience sang along. The audience told us what to play, we obliged. It was a really fun time, and in my sleep deprived state I'm told I didn't notice the next performer for a song or two longer than I should have. I'm really sorry to that guy, a chip-artist, and felt really bad about it later. Should he ever happen to read this, know that I totally didn't mean to be so much of a careless ditz and that I really apologize.

At about 1pm I got some unpleasant news and had to depart for home somewhat urgently. I rushed through a few goodbyes and departed before I could catch MPFM.
Despite only getting to experience about half of this 5 day music festival, ONF was an extremely good time. I really appreciated the opportunity to talk to everyone that I did, from birthday James to the curly haired girl with faceblindness and her husband. I lead a pretty normal life 95% of the time and often forget that people besides me actually hear the music I make. Talking with folks like that in person was extremely motivating, and the musicians I saw were also very inspiring. I got a lot of ideas and feel like the weekend had a very positive effect on me. The event organizers did a great job making everyone feel at home for the most part and putting together a really laid back convention. Sure there were a few small hiccups, there always are, but Orlando Nerd Fest was a great festival, and I really look forward to next year!


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  2. I was to the Nerd fest too. It was an incredible event. However I almost could not find a place to stay. Thanks to this website I was able to find a hotel in Orlando just in time for the event. Where did you stay? I was in Grand Bohemian hotel.