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Weekend at Bronys: I was a musical guest at Bronycon

Posted by on July 15, 2016

I had a weird weekend. If you’re me, the trick is to always have a weird weekend – but this one was beyond the pale in every sense of the phrase.

A couple months back, I got a phone call from my old friend and musical collaborator George. We were in several bands together over the years in the Providence, RI club circuit; he’s had some success as a solo artist since moving to California back in 2012, releasing a couple records under the moniker “Tarby.” It’s industrial-tinged pop-metal with a prog bent. I liked what he was doing enough to play on his last record Everfree, and contribute songwriting to his most recent EP, The Origin Story. The final track on the record is even a song repurposed from our old Foo Fighters-y rock band. I pick up the phone. We have a gig. It’s in Baltimore, we’ll be put up in a hotel for the weekend, there’s going to be a ton of people there.

“You might say no.”

Now, I generally don’t believe in turning down gigs, especially when travel is involved. For me, 3 days of free hotel accommodations in a place I’ve never been before could justify a private concert for the Manson family as far as I’m concerned. So, what’s the problem?

“Dude, it’s…it’s fucking BronyCon.”

Oh.

Holy.

SHIT.

I knew that, to at least some degree, the “horse people” had discovered and latched onto his music a few years ago through the wonders of the internet. But BronyCon? The biggest congregation of horse people in the country? The same BronyCon featured in that Netflix documentary which was equal parts hysterically funny and squirm-in-your-seat cringeworthy? The scene where one of the dads of these adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is interviewed, expressing his total confusion about why his old-enough-to-vote son is a part of this community with the kind of dead, glazed-over shark eyes of someone who gave up a long time ago replays in my brain at this point. As is often the case with my life choices:

“This is gonna be so goofy. I think we have to do it.”

The following is what I saw that weekend.

 

DAY ZERO:

4pm – I pull into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

day 1

Oh WOW. This is just…right out there on the street, isn’t it? You have to wonder what kind of commerce money the city gets out of this weekend. For an official welcome from the city of Baltimore itself, this is probably Maryland’s version of Lollapalooza as far as economy goes. There’s already people all over the street wearing matching orange lanyards, so I’m clearly going the right way. I spot at least a dozen fedoras before getting to the hotel. We’re being housed in the Marriott near the convention center. I would’ve settled for a trucker motel, honestly; having set the bar low to avoid disappointment, this is a step up to be sure.

5pm – George isn’t here yet and the room is in his name, so I can’t check in.

horse

The bald gentleman on the right affectionately gives his plush horse a nuzzle and a peck on the head. There is a bar in the lobby. I immediately start drinking.

6pm – George arrives, I’m several drinks deep at this point. Overjoyed to see my good buddy, as I was very sad to see him depart the Beast Coast in 2012, we sit at the bar for a few. I need a few minutes to take emotional stock of the implications of what’s going on around us, and where my life is going in general. We check into the hotel. This is the key I got:

fest

At this point I’m certain I’m having a stroke, and this is just some kind of fever dream in my final moments before I finally shuffle off my corporeal form.

Day 1:

12pm – Nope. Still here.

badge
BaltiMARE. Surely this is where we’re at.

It’s taking too long to die (isn’t it always) so I rule out stroke. Maybe somebody put something in my drink. Maybe I’ve been abducted by aliens and this is some strange martian landscape that mercifully smells like Auntie Anne’s pretzels instead of sweaty neckbeards. “Dude, we’re living in a Vice article right now” definitely wins the Most-Used-Phrase-Of-The-Weekend Award.

crowd

There’s a projected 10,000 horse person attendance this weekend. There’s a remarkably cheap liquor store next door. I stock up for later.

2pm – Soundcheck time.

stage

Where the hell is all this money coming from? This room is massive!

stage2

This is as real-deal a stage production as you could ask for. There’s 2 nights of live music, plus an afterparty with DJs spinning impossibly late into the night. (one would think horse people would be all tuckered out after a long day of…whatever it is that happens here.)

3pm – I meander out into the convention center proper to really drink in all this delicious weirdness.

furries
Photo: Steve VanSickle

OH.

merch
Photo: Steve VanSickle

Are you sure nobody put anything in my drink?

merch2
Photo: Steve VanSickle

The vendor hall definitely answers the question of, “where is the money for this coming from?” I haven’t seen a single child yet, so the disposable income ceiling at this thing is no doubt pretty high. The rest of the early afternoon alternates between wandering around and just looking at stuff, and retreating to the hotel to make sure my gear is in order while engaging in some light Problem Drinking.

4pm – I head down the road to be a tourist for a bit and check out the artsy district about a mile away. I haven’t seen anyone not wearing a pastel colored shirt with a horse on it in a while, if not a full on mascot costume, so I’m feeling the whiplash stepping out of the bubble and back into reality for a couple hours.

7pm – NOW IS THE TIME. People are streaming in. There’s a couple acts on first, then us. Things are happening. The light show is actually pretty awesome. I’m terrified to think that this rig probably cost what I make in a year.

crowd

8pm – showtime.

office

I figure at this point, horsefest or not, time to put on a good show. The crowd is absolutely feeling it. As you can imagine, I didn’t expect this crowd to be particularly riled up, and my attempts to incite violence throughout the set were actually met with a pretty rowdy response.

show
Photo: Steve VanSickle

Imagine a circle pit of Bronies based on the pictures I’ve provided so far and tell me I’m being dramatic about asking if I was abducted by aliens.

crowd
Photo credit: Steve VanSickle

A crowd surfer hits the security barrier in front of the stage.

crowd2
Photo: Steve VanSickle

I have now fully left my body.

8:45pm – I step offstage and upon leaving the backstage area am immediately mobbed by people who want to talk about guitar tone. This is definitely a sect of nerdery I can understand, and I came to accept a long time ago that for people like me in music, my version of groupies were going to be dudes who want to talk about gear. I’m into it. Party time.

proposal

10pm – One of the other artists on tonight just proposed to his girlfriend onstage. There is a horse proposal happening right before my eyes, captured on the Jumbotron and ribbed for your pleasure. They met at a previous BronyCon and have been together ever since. She said yes. It was nice. Don’t judge me.

rave

1am – There’s a full-blown horse rave happening. This is too much, time to go.

scene

????am, possibly – George and I are standing outside the hotel, thoroughly wasted and discussing how the set went and how happy we are to play together. A trio of mascot-suited furries shuffle by us into the hotel. One of them is in total rags, and he’s carrying the torn-up head of his costume in his arms like the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan where that guy picks up his severed arm and keeps running up the beach. This is the most poetically tragic/hilarious thing I’ve ever seen in my life up to now and I laugh to the point of weeping deeply for the next several minutes.

furries2
Different furries, but you get the idea. Can you imagine the kind of Eldritch horror the insides of those felt-covered fart coffins smell like by the end of a 3-day weekend in 90-degree heat?

The general verdict I have for horsefest is that I (of course) don’t have a goddamn clue why people like it. It’s a subculture that goes completely over my head. That said, anyone who talked to me was nice enough and we were treated the closest to rockstars that I’ve come.

We compose ourselves, and George’s eyes suddenly bug out of his head. He points up. “Dude? LOOK.” He’s pointing upwards behind me, and unfortunately there’s no phone-camera with good enough night-vision to capture what I saw. Every. Single. Window of the Hilton across the street, 15 stories up has a plush horse in the window. I think they knew I didn’t belong.

Worse things have happened to better people.

 

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Categorised in: Bad Deals, Drinking, Drugs, Drunkest Hour, Editorials