Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Evolution of Regional Gaming Conventions – Interview with the Founder of Connecticut’s Gamer-Con

On April 1st and 2nd Mohegan Sun will play host to Connecticut’s first-annual Gamer Con.  The event is being produced by the self-proclaimed Johnny Appleseed of Comic Book Culture in Connecticut, Mitch Hallock, who also produces Terrificon in August.

 From PAX to E3, video game conventions are a worldwide phenomenon that brings together the camaraderie and excitement of learning about new video games and meeting their creators with the sheer joy of playing your favorite gams with fellow gamers in real-life tournaments.  

Similar to Comic-Cons, gaming conventions encompass the fun of Cosplaying, shopping at unique vendors and the indescribable milieu of being immersed in Geek Culture.  Smells like plastic.  If you have never been to a gaming convention and would like understand more about it I would highly recommend checking out this piece about the current state of E3 written by Bleeding Cool’s own Patrick Dane.

While gaming conventions on a regional level may not be as prevalent as Comic-Cons at this time, Hallock is of the opinion that will change and they may even become larger than Comic Cons in the near-future… recently, Hallock and I discussed the origin of Gamer-Con and what fans can expect from its first outing.

Shawn Perry: What made you want to start a Video Game Convention?

Mitch Hallock: When I would promote TerrifiCon I noticed a crossover of comic and gaming fans.  In many ways, gamers are more passionate than comic fans. There is this whole subculture of EA Sports of kids playing games for hundreds of thousands ofdollars. They have their own Major League Gaming just like the NHL and NBA. It’s the new thing man. You could have the next Tiger Woods sitting next to  you. The Barclays Center in Brooklyn just sold 17,000 seats for ESL One in October and in Japan gaming culture is even bigger. They’ve embraced gaming culture, they have what I call ‘extreme fandom’ and in the future I think there is going to be your typical cons and then there will be ‘extreme cons,’ a new concept of conventions where you live and breathe your passions. That’s where we’re going and that was the evolution of Gamer Con: at the last Terrificon we had a room dedicated to gaming and it was one of our most popular spots and I knew it was going to have legs. There is already ConnectiCon [a successful convention that has heavily emphasized gaming culture for years held annually in nearby Hartford] and I think there is demand for more in this market.
SP: What is it about gaming that attracts such fascination?

MH: Anybody can be a superstar at it. You didn’t have to jump the highest or run the fastest…if you could just play well enough you could be the Michael Jordan of Donkey Kong or the Wayne Gretzky of Galaga. When they brought arcades home and then made it online it brought it to another level and now some six-year-old kid could be kicking your ass in Battlefront. Everybody likes the fact they can immerse themselves into a whole other world. I played a game yesterday on the VR and it was a haunted amusement park game and I was jumping out of my skin with a creepy clown jumping out of the corner at me.  I’m screaming “Oh My God” and my kids are running downstairs to see what is going on! It’s fun!

SP: What is Gamer Con going to be like?

MH: As you walk in we have that massive ballroom and half of that is going to be devoted to a massive competition featuring Gears of War, Super Smash Brothers, Street Fighter V…you will have the option to play with your friends for no money or you can join the competition for a nominal fee and there will be cash prizes over $2000 bucks! The other half of the convention center will feature artists and vendors selling t-shirts, vintage video games, action figures and all the things you see at a ‘normal con.’ Then out in the lobby area we are going to have our giant Arcade games like DDR and if that wasn’t enough we are going to have folks that are into card games like Yugioh, Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon and they will be able to play traditional card games. Really anything that you can play I am going to have a table set-up for that.  Hopefully it’s a big event with a big turnout and we can do this maybe once a year in addition to Terrificon.

SP: How much is it going cost?

MH: It’s only $15 to get in and if you want to enter some of the tournaments you have to pay a nominal fee. Kids 8 and under are free.

SP: Do you think there’s any chance that Gamer Con could become bigger than Terrificon?

MH:  Yes. There comes a point where those high-priced movie star autographs are going to become beyond people’s reach. You can’t spend $400 to go to these things and get an autograph. God bless you if you can but there comes a point when people say ‘I have had enough.’ There’s always going to be Comic-Cons but I do think down the road you are going to see gaming conventions become the next big thing. I mean, you have Youtube channels of gamers that have millions of followers. I want to be the guy that brings both those things together, something for the comic fans and the gaming fans.

SP: Do you think there’s a big crossover between gaming culture and comic book culture?

MH: Yes, anything about playing the hero and escaping to another world is just using your imagination and having a little help. It is a tangible outlet for your imaginations. I deal with the comic book writers and artists who create the comic book visually and this is just another extension of that same fantasy just a different form. It’s the same with sports fandom; I was surprised a couple years ago when I first heard that people were watching video games for money and that you could watch video games on TV. My son was like ‘you watch sports with people playing how is this any different?’ These days they are just looking for that competitive spirit and passion. I think they finally came up with a way to tap in to the meat-and-potatoes sports guy. They are becoming nerds and they don’t even know it.

There are plenty of tickets still available to Gamer Con that can be purchased here.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

On The Cultural Significance of Deadpool’s Opening Weekend

What can I say about Deadpool that isn’t already being said by 200 million satisfied customers worldwide this weekend?  This film has broken every record in the book and at a 58 million is going to be one of the most profitable films of all-time.  What does it say about the state of pop-culture that a character famous for lampooning the establishment of a once marginalized medium is now going to be more famous than ever for pulling the same trick in the world of film?  
Lord knows I do not care about preamble – and neither does he – so if you want to read a structured review then consult Google but they are all going to say some variance of the same thing: this movie works…so well because 20th Century Fox (wait isn’t it 21st Century Fox yet…I feel like it is but they are just slow-rolling it out over the next fifty years) did the unthinkable and let a bunch of passionate creative types as well as God’s Perfect Idiot take an anti-establishment, irreverent character they love from the world’s preeminent media company and showcase him in a way that is palatable for mainstream audiences that are 17 or have a fake ID without sacrificing the spirit of the character in the name of positioning it in the direction of this-or-that version of some asshat’s bureaucratic view on what makes a successful film.  

You know, the people that perpetrated such crimes against the global economy and collective conscious as: Green Lantern, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the last few Transformers, I assume last year’s Fantastic Four even though I don’t know anyone who reads comics that actually sat through it, 300 #2 or whatever it was called but it really sucked balls, X-Men 3: The Last Resort, Green Lantern and Batman V. Superman…hold that thought, let’s get back to Deadpool. This film works because Deadpool works, period.  It works because Ryan Reynolds, Tim Miller & co. bring the Merc-with-a-Mouth to life and he is allowed to speak to his audience which, judging by its record-breaking opening weekend, is pretty damn large and probably filled with a lot of people that have grown tired of the stagnancy of the Hollywood system and were ready to pay to see this movie, twice.
At Least!
Do I need to tell you the plot? No! Go watch it. It’s awesome. The superhero genre has been in sore need of a revisionist take and lord knows that Watchmen got lost in translation somewhere around the…everything…but this movie more than makes up for that overly-commercialized, pandering piece of garbage (minus one actor) and gives the genre a reminder that telling the same old super-hero story is not the only thing in it’s utility belt because if there is one thing that Deadpool stands for it’s gratuitous violence, inappropriate sexual humor, being what Alan Moore probably considers emotionally sub-normal having a voice.  The voice of Deadpool is the voice of the fan and the incredible success of this film proves that empowering that voice isn’t just an ideal to live up to…but it can make you over 200 million dollars in one weekend.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

In Response to the Release of Blue Mountain State: The Rise of Thadland

Last week, Mountain Goats fans around the world rejoiced as the long-awaited follow-up film Blue Mountain State: The Rise of Thadland was released and quickly became the number one movie on iTunes. The film was directed by Lev L. Spiro (Arrested Development, Weeds, Dawson’s Creek) and co-produced by UEG and Lionsgate along with a nearly two million dollars endowment made by almost 24,000 backers during its Kickstarter campaign during the Spring of 2014.  As a reward for backing the film, fans received prizes ranging from merchandise to film credits – the names on the film’s lengthy end credits read off like a message board on bro bible -- whereas the student body at Arizona State University just received a cast party and private screening of the film for making the largest overall financial contribution among universities.  The Sun Devils legacy as the nation's number one party school seems safe.

When the Kickstarter campaign exceeded its goal and the original writers and cast announced the film had begun pre-production I wrote a short piece on Bleeding Cool calling it “another major step forward in the relationship between fans and producers.”  One of the reasons I felt compelled to write the piece was that, despite the film having received the third-largest financial contribution for a film on Kickstarter, very few media outlets were covering the story.  While the show was strictly a cult classic, having run for only three seasons during Spike TV’s short-lived flirtation with scripted television, I was surprised that the success of its campaign was not a bigger story. Although the show had never been a favorite amongst critics like Veronica Mars – which holds the all-time record for crowdfunding at 5.7 million dollars -- I always thought that the one rule of media is that where there is success there is always more coverage.  This is also true in football but, like the show, this article is not really about that.
Last week, the film became the number-one movie on iTunes in North America and numerous countries around the world last week.  It is currently the second-most watched film among college students and, even more impressive, many of the editorials I have read online are very thoughtful examinations of the varied ways in which people view the show which must come as a welcome turn-of-events to its producers when compared to the cricket theater that greeted the film’s Kickstarter campaign.  
One of the most positive things you can find on the web about the show during its original run is an short piece where it beat out It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to earn the label as the most raunchiest show on television from The New YorkTimes, but now I look at many of the same outlets which had treated the show somewhere along the spectrum of indifference to disdain when it was on-the-air and see a very different story playing out.  There are plenty of negative reviews of course, a few positive ones, but the one that I really liked looks at things from a broader perspective and comes from the A.V Club.  The AV Club is one of my de-facto internet bibles and had rarely given the show much coverage except when it labeled Blue Mountain State one of the worst shows on television in 2010, however, last week author Alex McCown wrote an in-depth editorial examining the dual nature of the series’ broad appeal, striking a dichotomy between those that look at the show as a celebration of frat culture and those who see it as a campy and over-the top evisceration of that same culture, as McCown mused: “Art that’s routinely seen by the mainstream as offensive or trashy can be understood through a very different perspective by filtering it through a subcultural lens. It’s hard to say where trash like Girls Gone Wild ends and absurdism like Blue Mountain State begins…"
 "...for all its horrific surface-level gender (and racial) politics, [the show] is also campy as hell. It acts out the concept of sexist, entitled college-age man-children with such smiling bravado and hollow soul, it goes over the top and becomes a parody of that same culture, whether the show intended that to be the case or not. Except, for a large percentage of its fan base, that’s not what’s happening at all. To many of the collegiate kids who embrace it, it’s just a rah-rah celebration of playing sports, screwing anonymous girls, and partying as hard as you can…and the question of how it can be both at once—of whether it’s even acceptable to find enjoyment in a show [like Blue Mountain State]—gets at the very heart of both the idea of camp and the question of political entertainment.” 

If you have not seen the show, Blue Mountain State does not sound like a remarkable addition to the television zeitgeist on paper.  It follows a frat house of college football players as they tackle partying, sex, drugs and almost never other football players over the course of three seasons and now a feature-length movie.  Feminist critics, as well as anyone with a brainstem, will note that the world of BMS is filled with anonymous girls and clich├ęd male fantasies, however, like South Park it follows a creed of equal-opportunity lampooning as the roles of women are written and performed with the same satirical lens as the rest of the cast.   
In particular, the spirit of the show ultimately rests on the shoulders of Alan Ritchston (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Smallville) whose incredible performance as moronic team captain Thad Castle exemplifies everything that is wrong about frat culture as well as everything that is amazing about this show. 
While good-natured protagonist Alex Moran, captured perfectly by Darin Brooks, brings much-needed balance to the show along with his best friend Sammy Cacciatore, portrayed by the series and films’ co-writer Romanski, it is Ritchtson’s performance that ultimately makes the show and this film – which he co-produced and starred in before reprising his role as Raphael in the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows   will leave a lasting impression as it brings his character face-to-face with the question that every young adult wrestles with in some way, shape or form: what happens when the party ends?   

If the show never returns for another season this film is a great send-off to both of their characters as well as a strong addition to the legacy of Blue Mountain State, however, I have to believe that success is indicative of success and the best is yet to come for Mountain Goats’ fans, or as series co-writer Eric Falconer recently put it:

“We’ve got amazing momentum going for BMS right now. Let’s keep it going all the way to a season 4!”

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Hype.rlocal Media Spotlight on Art.Lab, Black Eyed Sally's and Eight-Sixty Custom

Welcome to another trip through to the Hyperlocal Media Stream, Hypstas!  As always, I am your host Shawn Perry and this blog is all about celebrating the artists, entrepreneurs and venues that call Hartford County home.  It is also about inspiring in our collective community of people passionate about Hartford an strong sense of PRIDE:

R- Reporting
I- Inspiration
D- Development
E- Entrepreneurship

In short, I talk about what’s been going on in town and color it up with some bright yellow journalism and any of you hypstas read something that sounds interesting and end up trying something new then I encourage you to share your experience with the community by sending it to my email and I will make it a part of this blog or help you to start your own.

Now with all that preamble out of the way we can jump-start this edition of HMS with a spotlight on the newly-opened Art.Lab in Downtown Manchester. Conveniently located next to my favorite local comic book shop Art.Lab is run by a brilliant homegrown artist named Bri Dilla whose work had been featured in a number of art galleries before she opened her studio this past February.  

In addition to hosting events Art.Lab provides instructional art classes both in the studio and at unique venues ranging from local bars like Grady’s Tavern to New Britain Stadium as part of the New Britain Rock Cat’s first-ever Art.Night coming up on Tuesday, July 21st at 6 o’clock.  Passes to Art.Night are still available and include access to a private picnic area as well as complimentary drink.  If interested in Art.Night you can reserve your space by contacting me via email

Prior to the event at New Britain Stadium Art.Lab is hosting their first-ever Silk City Soiree on July 17th featuring complimentary appetizers, live music performances from local artists and beverages provided by what is in my opinion the best new brewery in Connecticut: Top Shelf Brewing Company.  This event will also feature a special appearance by Rocky the Rock Cat who will be there to promote Art.Night as well as Manchester Community Day on Sunday August 16th at 12 o’clock which will promote the local business community and support MACC Charities

One of my favorite local venues in Downtown Hartford is Black Eyed Sally’s and it isn’t just because of their delicious Cajun-style food, relaxed atmosphere and consistent line-up of jazz, rock and blues throughout the year…oh wait, yes it is. Recently, Sally’s regulars Spiritual Rez played one of the best performances I have seen all summer and if you are not familiar Spiritual Rez (then you are missing out) they are a rock-reggae group headed by front man Toft Willingham along with Jesse Shateernick on bass, Quinn Carson on the trombone, Julian Dessler on trumpet, Mohammed Araki on keyboards & keytar, Rob O’Block on lead guitar and Ian “Meat” Miller on drums.  Willingham has a great stage presence and reminds me a little of the late Bradley Nowell...and Jason Mewes.

While the entire ensemble works great together it is not possible for me to write about this group without taking a moment to note the brilliance of Araki on keytar/keyboard who brings an air of unique rhythmic authenticity that, for me, always supports and extenuates the rest of the ensemble’s output.  Oh and the energy these guys bring to the house is off the chain - as you can see from this footage - one literally can’t not have a good time at one of their shows. 

But I digress, if you are looking for a great place to get your fixins of BBQ chicken, collard greens, deviled eggs with a cold locally-brewed beer to wash it down as you enjoy live music Black Eyed Sally’s has Jazz Night every Monday, Blues Jams every Wednesday and a smattering of shows on the weekends featuring great artists like Spiritual Rez so the next time you’re thinking of going out to Sally’s make like Shia Labeouf and just DO IT!!!

The next place I am going to discuss is so awesome that it will appeal to anyone with a fun bone in their body so get stoked because your new favorite place to hang out is Eight-SixtyCustom Skate Shop.  The shop reopened last month after relocating from their original location on Park Street to their massive new location across from the Fast Track at 41 Francis Avenue in Hartford…and it is sick.  

Eight-Sixty Custom Skate Shop features a spacious storefront with local brands on-display like Hoodlum Skateboards as well as a full skating area featuring half-pipes and rails.  There are a number of couches and rest areas to enjoy a concert that are worth exploring as well as an outdoor patio. The grand opening featured performances from a number of local artists...Joey BattsAbnormal Area and Political Animals all took the stage just to name just a few...but I digress, it was both an powerful and uplifting experience to see such an awesome oasis for the community sprout up right in the heart of Hartford and I know that I was not the only who felt that way so check it out!

Until next time: Stay classy Hartford Hypstas!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

HYPErlocal Media Spotlight: Hello Concert Season!

Greetings Hypstas!

The Greater Hartford Region is home to many gifted young professionals and artists who make it a great place to explore our collective passions and develop skills while having new experiences amongst like-minded folk. The sole purpose of this blog is to inspire the HYPE Generation to empower the local art scene by carving a meaningful legacy in this community centered on PRIDE.

R- Reporting
I- Inspiration
D- Development
E- Entrepreneurship

In short, I talk about what’s been going on in town and color it up with some of my own bright yellow journalism and if you read something that sounds interesting or get inspired to try something new I encourage you to do it and share your experience by sending it to my email and I will make it a part of this blog or help you to start your own. Get it? Good then let's get to it!

Concert season is here and over the past month I have seen a number of outdoor concerts played in unique venues ranging from the parking lot of Real Art Ways to the picnic area at New Britain Stadium at a Rock Cats game. 

James MacPherson of Bonsai Trees gave attendees of Young Professionals Night at the Rock Cats game on May 14th the kind of performance that has made his band one of the most sought-after new alt-rock acts in New England.  The talented trio from South Windsor features MacPherson on vocals/guitar along with Nick Sokol on drums and James Cryan on bass.  The band is fresh off recent performances at iconic venues like Toad’s Place in New Haven and House of Blues in Boston and even with two members missing from their stripped-down performance at New Britain Stadium it is clear that the core foundation of this botany-themed outfit is positively bursting with talent.  

Their first release Minimalist has a nice mixture of lo-fi punk and synth pop that I liken to an early Surfer Blood or a less-English and more South-Windsorian-version of The Cribs.  For a less wordy idea of what their music sounds like I recommend checking out the official video for my favorite track off of their album  Who knows, Who knows” or you can always throw me some more of your SEO by watching this time-lapsed sample from their performance at New Britain Stadium.

Last week Real Art Ways held their monthly Creative Cocktail Hour outdoors and set-up a stage for one of the best groups to come out of Hartford’s music scene since I have been paying attention: West End Blend.  If you have never attended one of RAW’s monthly Creative Cocktail Hours then you are sorely missing out as they are the de-facto centerpiece of Hartford’s burgeoning social scene for the arts.  In addition to a great spread of local food and spirits these events feature medium-spanning activities ranging from live music and art galleries to international film festivals and cultural dance exhibitions.  

The early word is that next month’s edition of Creative Cocktail Hour will once again feature an outdoor performance, however, whoever has the task of following last week’s performance by West End Blend will have one helluva tough act to follow…you know what why don’t you let me set the scene: as the setting sun fell over the distant Hartford skyline beyond Real Art Ways this hip-hop/funk/soul unit of genre-mystifying artists slayed conventions and expectations with a rousing performance before a massive crowd of all ages and demos.  While I could sing the praises of everyone in this group for the sake of your attention span I will just say that the lyrical prowess of Tangsauce mixes perfectly with the unbelievable pipes of Erica Bryan amidst the beautiful cacophony that is West End Blend.  Check out the video from their RAW performance for a taste of what you missed and check out their website for tour dates cause...nuff said!

After all those months of being stuck indoors over this long Winter it is pretty sweet to finally hear music being played outdoors in the Hartford area again.  That being said, we are fortunate to also have some great indoor venues like The Half Door to showcase local talent like Hartford’s own Wise Old Moon. This classic venue is a well-known hot bed for local talent with a great staff, delicious late-night menu and a very well endowed tap list.  Check out this video for a taste of what you missed from Wise Old Moon’s recent performance featuring excellent vocals by Guitarist Connor Millican along with Dan Liparini, Greg Perault and Alex Heaton.  Keep an eye out for when this band returns to CT later this summer but first check out their crispy and mellow debut album The Patterns.

Peace Out Hypstas!

Monday, February 9, 2015

HYPErLOCAL Media Blog: The Local Music Scene

                        HYPERLOCAL MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON: The Local Music Scene

By Shawn Perry

Sup Hypsters,

This is not news…but it’s not uncommon to hear transplants and natives alike lament the lack of local venues to listen to music in the Greater Hartford area.  Fortunately, it reflects a lack of information and perhaps a touch of the winter blues as I have been consistently impressed by the range of talented artists that perform in the Hartford area particularly in recent months.  

If anyone is to blame for the growth and quality of the local music scene it is the impressive body of talent that calls the area home as well as the management behind great venues like Infinity Hall and The AngryBull Saloon.

Balkun Brothers released their new album, Redrova, with a special cd release party at Infinity Hall on Wednesday, January 8th along with local favorites West End Blend.  In my opinion, Infinity Hall possess everything you want in a concert hall and these two took full-advantage of its many structural and acoustic endowments with a non-stop show that captured the essence of garage rock revival with blues-infused hard rock and an endless supply of great hooks, shredding solos and catchy refrains off their new record.  Incidentally, Redrova is an impressive follow-up to the duo’s 2013 debut God Bless Our Fallout Shelter that features some stand-out and stand-up tracks in Got My Boots On, Oh Yeah! (Last Jam) and the titular Redrova. Speaking for myself, the raw talent and energy of the performance made it next to impossible for me not to stomp along whereas the funky grooves of soulful hip-hop ensemble West End Blend provided the perfect opening set to the event. The Balkun Brothers returned to the area at The Main Pub in Manchester on February 6th and along with West End Blend will hopefully perform in the area again very soon. 

Over the last month anyone privy to the Radio 104 HomeBrew Battle of the Bands taking place at the Angry Bull Saloon has been treated to some pretty damn good music on Friday nights courtesy of some of Connecticut’s finest young artists.  There is no cover charge for the event, they have great drink specials and it continues through the end of the month until the finals on Friday, February 27th.

So if you’re looking for to do on Friday night around 9ish you should stop in for some great local music.... but don’t take my word for it, check out some of the great performances by recent acts Tragically Said, Fight the Fear, Uncle Sonny, Soul Ascension and Big Moon below!

Uncle Sonny

Soul Ascension

Big Moon

That’s its from me for now but be on the lookout for future posts about the local music scene as well as the general art scene in Hartford county.  My next piece will focus on venues that specialize in showcasing an eclectic range of artistic mediums – such as; art studios, cinemas, geek havens, theaters and everything in-between – but in the meantime, consider checking out upcoming events at Real Art Ways, A Heroes Legacy and Art.Lab if you’re looking for places that provide a platform for the many talented artists that call the area home.
Peace Out Hypnodes!