Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Attend the World Steam Expo

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Last year I was in attendance as a panelist at the World Steam Expo (being held this year on May 27th-30th) in Dearborn, Michigan for its maiden voyage and now the convention planners are hard at work trying to top themselves. I personally think they'll succeed, but I'm dismayed at how many people either refuse to come to WSE or just haven't heard about it. Which is why if you're on the fence, I'd like to bring you over with my Top Ten Reasons You Should Attend!

Why should you believe me? Because I'm a native Michigander, poor as a dustmite, and I've been to a variety of steampunk conventions over the last couple of years and believe World Steam is really the hidden jewel in the bunch. Here are my reasons why:

10. I'll be there!

When I'm not extolling the virtues of multiculturalism I'm gutting airship pirates as a Prussian Imperialist- irony much? Photo by Lex Machina Photography, who will be attending the expo as well!

Admittedly I was going to put this further up the list (kidding) but for fans of the blog I would like to note that WSE is my home convention and I'm a fairly active participant in their programming. Not only will I be conducting a panel on Multicultural Steampunk but my interactive theatre group, The Imperial Anti-Piracy Squadron will be running panels, events, contests, and late-night shindigs (including our infamous "Evening of Recollection and Ribaldry"!) in our very own programming room. So stop by, turn in any airship pirates you might know, and say hello!

9. Food, Glorious Food

Praise be to carnivores! A view of the dishes available at Slow's BBQ in Detroit: Liezlwashere

WSE sadly does not have a consuite or hospitality suite, however due to the nature of Dearborn and greater Detroit, there is no shortage of dining options within short walking or driving distance to the hotel! If you're looking for international flavor, Dearborn has some of the largest populations of Middle Eastern peoples overseas, so there's plenty of family-run restaurants with homemade specials. Buddy's Pizza, a local place within five minutes of the convention, has some of the best pizza in Southeast Michigan- though I mainly go their for their thick, overloaded minestrone soup. Both are reasonably priced.

If you're willing to make the fifteen minute drive into Detroit (yes, I said Detroit) you'll find an even larger array of grastronomical delights. For internationally-inspired fare I recommend tourist-friendly Greektown (including the legendary Astoria Pastry Shop) and Mexicantown (Los Galanes is my personal favorite) and the mecca for Michigan Barbeque- Slow's in Corktown.

Try picking just one at Astoria Pastry Shop in scenic Greektown, Detroit.  (Travel Detroit)
If you're a steampunk of limited means, don't worry- Michigan has you covered. The state is host to a type of greasy spoon/family restaurant called Coney Islands, typically run by Greek immigrant families. At these warm eateries you can expect to find Coney Island hot dogs, stick-to-your-ribs Greek food, traditional diner fare, breakfast most of the day, and a pretty low price tag ($5-$10 for a generous meal, easily). While you're here be sure to try Vernor's, a spicy, bitey ginger ale that's been brewed in the state since the 1860s as well as Faygo- a local staple since 1907.

8. The Hotel

Ooh.. shiny

World Steam Expo is held at the Dearborn Hyatt Regency, which sort of looks like some sort of superhero or supervillain headquarters- but that's not what makes it a great hotel for this con. My only main drawback with it is the lack of free wifi- but there are plenty of area restaurants and shops that have it.

First of all, the common areas and lobby are roomy with plenty of couches and chairs- perfect for ladies in corsets or heels or men carrying heavy prop guns. The staff is friendly and quite used to people wandering around in strange clothing as several genre conventions are held there throughout the year. In fact, I saw people actually swapping hats for photographs with the hotel bellhops!

This photo doesn't communicate how massive this lobby really is...
The basic guest accomedations are a respectable size, clean, and well-lit. I crashed in my room with 3 other members of the IAPS (and our suitcases of costumes) with very little issue and quite comfortably. Another admirable thing about the hotel are the MULTITUDES OF ELEVATORS! That's right, no waiting fifteen minutes to get back up to your room because your roommate overdid it or you had a costume malfunction. Furthermore the elevators are always well-maintained and quick.

Finally, the Hyatt has a fantastic indoor pool and rec area. There's a well appointed pool, a clean hot tub, and even a sauna and small fitness center... not that you'll need it with all of the activity you'll be doing.

7. The Michigan Steampunk Scene

Almost 40 Michigan-area steampunks enjoying a casual lunch at Sidetrack's Bar and Grill. (Aaron Egan)

In the last few years a fairly rich steampunk scene has emerged in Michigan, particularly the Southeast corner where the Expo is held. Local events are held on a monthly basis- from dance parties to concerts to crafting workshops and outings. This has kept the community active and varied. To find out more about these events, check out Motor City Steamworks.

You'll find most Michigan steampunks to be an open, friendly crowd who are happy to have you in their state (though be warned, Michiganders are stereotypically a sarcastic bunch). Should you need a suggestion for dinner or directions to a location, don't hesitate to ask- you'll receive many eager recommendations or perhaps even an invitation to join them.

If it's your first time visiting Michigan, you might have some issues comprehending the local lingo (we call soda/soft drinks 'pop', for example), so this website might be helpful, if not entertaining.

6. Vendors

Just one corner of the bustling vendor's hall. (Mark Moore)

What's one of the best parts about going to a convention? SHOPPING! If you're in need of some retail therapy or a special purchase, World Steam Expo will probably have something for you! The Vendors Hall and Artist Alley were constructed to not only be varied with its content and merchants, but comfortable enough for people to walk around (great pains have also been made to make it wheelchair-accessible).

In addition to steampunk convention staples like Blonde Swan Hats and Brute Force Leather, World Steam Expo is also host to limited edition vendors like Retroscope Fashions- who typically don't take their beautiful wares on the road. There are also plenty of tables for local artists and craftsmen, such as the Spectra Nova for jewelry and the art of Bethalynne Bajema. Whether you want to drop a fortune or a few bucks, there will be something for you to bring home!

Phil Foglio of Studio Foglio chatting with some fans in the Artist's Alley. (Mark Moore)

5. Nearby Attractions

Whitcome Conservatory on Belle Isle in Detroit (Desgrange)
I would actually recommend coming to Southeast Michigan a day early or stay a day late to appreciate some of its fantastic area attractions. The area is teeming with history, specialty shops or restaurants, and fantastic landmarks that will stir any steampunk's wanderlust.

For a bohemian experience, travel a half an hour west of Dearborn to that famed hotbed of artistic activity and home to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In nearby Royal Oak you'll find the Detroit Zoo, with its fantastic aquatic exhibit where polar bears literally swim above your head!

If you're looking for a good read, check out Off the Beaten Path Bookstore and Cafe in Farmington Hills, which has made itself a hub of the Michigan Steampunk scene and a heartfelt hangout. There you'll find both new and used titles of fantasy, steampunk, science fiction, mystery, and children's genres, in addition to a bustling steampunk boutique.

The Detroit Institute of Arts (Travel Detroit)
Detroit is actually not as bad as the media would have you believe, if you stick to friendly areas such as Downtown, the Wayne State District, and ethnic neighborhoods like Greektown and Mexicantown. You'll find a lot of people in the city that are happy to have you (and your tourism dollars, not going to lie) visit. There you'll find the ethereal Whitcomb Conservatory on vast Belle Isle in the middle of the Detroit River, that hearkens back to a more opulent age. Back in the city there's the Detroit Institute of Arts, featuring the famous "Detroit Industry" fresco by muralist Diego Rivera. Nearby (and across the street from my favorite crepe shop) there's the Detroit Historical Society Museum- containing hundreds of years of local history. If you end up in downtown, be sure to stop by John K. King books, the largest independent bookstore in Michigan with seven floors of used, antique, and rare finds.

There are tons of historical places, centers of industry, and a new sense of urban and cultural revival in the Detroit area- so give it a chance!

4. The Programming!

Scandal! The ladies of the IAPS present a panel on bustles in their unmentionables! (Mark Moore)

One of the best things about World Steam Expo is that you can't do everything the convention has to offer, which is to say that at any time there's a variety of unique programming going on! Panels typically don't start until 10am (thankfully, I've seen 8 and 9 am panels with some very tired-looking panelists and moderators) and run until early or mid-evening, which allows some time for a dinner break before evening festivities begin.

After 10pm, the salacious side of steampunk comes out with burlesque reviews, intimate unplugged performances, and old time vaudeville or freak shows at the Midnight Carnival. Room parties and convention-organized parties are also common in the evening- guaranteeing a lively evening out for any night owl. Informal dances on Friday and Sunday nights are presided over by regionally-respected steampunk DJ Dr. Toon. On Saturday night there's a ticketed formal charity ball designed to help a local organization. Last year's charity was Cornerstone School in Detroit, so it's nice to know that you're twirling and jiving in your finery for a good cause.

High fashion and hijinks abound at the Charity Ball. (Mark Moore)

There are multiple panel and event rooms open simultaneously offering a diverse body of content. In one room you'll find a talk on Victorian etiquette while next-door there's a leather or metalcrafting demo. There are panels for beginner steampunks all the way up to the serious alternate history enthusiast. For the music fan, you can do no better than WSE- with a series of concerts both large and small occurring every day!

3. It's Easy on the Pocketbook!

Dearborn, Michigan- conveniently located in the middle of the bloody country.

World Steam Expo is cheap, particularly in comparison to similar events occurring on the East and West coasts. Due to Michigan's unique position, it's fairly equidistant from a lot of big cities in the East, West, and South, which means you spend less money getting here! Until April 15th registration for this Four-Day event is only $40 per ticket- that's $10 a day! Most conventions are only three days and cost just as much, if not more! The hotel rate for the convention is $91 a night (which is a steal for a hotel like a Hyatt) and split between friends it's very affordable.

The cost of living is less expensive in Michigan as well, meaning that you get more bang for your buck when it comes to food, alcohol, and those little emergency purchases like hairspray or duct tape. This way you have more money to spend on vendors or having a good time rather than frustration because your cheeseburger cost you $12.

2. Greenfield Village

All Aboard at Greenfield Village

Greenfield Village is hosting Expo events concurrently to the Dearborn Hyatt and scantly a mile away from the hotel! But what is Greenfield Village? Only one of the greatest historical attractions in the world!

Henry Ford decided that he would collect buildings brick-for-brick and restore them, arranged in a village-like setting in Dearborn to educate the public on American life and heritage. In the Village you'll find a hatshop from Detroit dating to the 1900s to a 17th century Cotswold cottage all the way from England! There are also landmarks of famous historical figures such as the Wright Brother's Bicycle Shop, Noah Webster's house, and the entire Edison Menlo Park Complex. There are over 80 historical buildings, manned by friendly costumed interpreters and guides that relive the past.

History is also meant to be experienced here. You can ride a working steam locomotive around the Village, drive in a Model T automobile, and ride one of the oldest working carousels in the world. There is also Eagle Tavern, a restored stagecoach stop that serves up 19th century, locally sourced food and drinks.

Civil War Reenactors drilling on the Village Green in front of the Eagle Tavern (Detroit News)

Attendees of the Expo are doubly fortunate because Memorial Day weekend is also host to the Civil War Remembrance, the largest Civil War reenacting event in Michigan. So during the weekend the Village is alive with thousands of reenactors, sutlers, and events like skirmishes and parades. The reenactors are also very friendly and some are part-time steampunks, so don't be surprised if you're stopped to chat or asked how the Expo's going.

Just watch where you step, there are horses around.

1. The Guest Roster

Abney Park performing at the 2010 Expo. (Lex Machina photog)

I've gabbed about value, Michigan's varied attractions, and Greenfield Village, but what's the best feature of World Steam Expo? The Guests! WSE has worked hard to bring in a variety of musicians, historical experts, authors, and artisans to make your convention interesting and worthwhile. There's also a good mix of internationally-known steampunk acts and impressive local groups- a variety that cannot be found at other events of this kind.

There are some big American musical names this year, such as Abney Park (you might have heard of them) and the Clockwork Dolls but WSE is the ONLY place where you can see U.K. sensations Sunday Driver (this is their debut show stateside) and the punktastic Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing. For more intimate shows there are steampunk veterans Frenchy and the Punk (formerly the Gypsy Nomads), Harpnotic, and local Celtic ruffians, the Bawdy Boys.

Artists of the big and small screen, Penny Dreadful Productions (Lex Machina Photog)

Famed steampunk author (and Multiculturalism for Steampunk contributer) G.D. Falksen and East-Coast promoter and events-diva Evelyn Kriete will be on hand, as well as the impressive work of professional screen and convention veterans Penny Dreadful Productions (yes, Steampunk Fett is coming too, he promised me). The award-winning and trendsetting creators of Girl Genius, Studio Foglio return to the event as well, making a varied pool of creativity and information. You can find them all under one roof here in Michigan during Memorial Day Weekend, so don't pass this opportunity up!

Mr. Falksen will also be acting as an emcee. Science has shown that looking at pictures of him lowers blood pressure.

So have I convinced you yet? Well why don't you register for your pass to one of the best events this year! You're all welcome here in Michigan!


  1. The #1 reason I won't be coming to WSE: I spent all my money on Wild Wild West Con! BOO! But you make the convention sound so awesome that I want to save up and go in 2012!

  2. You had me at number 10.

    Seriously, folks, everything said above is true and then some. Last year I was very new to steampunk, didn't know anyone, and wasn't sure I should go, other than an excuse to wear my frock coat in public. I had a great time with tons to do and lots of fun and friendly people, so much so that I'll probably be there the entire weekend this year. As a native Detroiter, I can vouch for the fact that there is lots to do in the area beyond the convention. Just find one of us and ask, and I'm sure you'll get plenty of helpful suggestions. See you there!

  3. I'm sad Outland Armour isn't coming back : (

  4. I'll try to make it for 2012, but it's a no no for me this year, unfortunately

  5. I feel my blood pressure dropping already.

  6. Thanks for posting this, it's good to see something positive being said about the Detroit area!

  7. I'm so excited for this event! Can't wait to meet everyone (and so reacquaint myself with those I've met before, including a very attractive Lady Blogger!)

  8. <3 ROCK ON and Thanks for the Mention Lovely Lady!

  9. I"d love to make it out there! I'm only over in the Grand Rapids area, and I used to live in Ypsi/Ann Arbor, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem if I can make the time :)

  10. Hey, we'd love to be there, but haven't gotten answers to our questions on the vendor form as of yet . . . since you're involved, could we possibly impose on you to ask someone to drop us a note or give us a ding? :D We'd owe ya bigtime . . .

  11. Ugh, I live in Washington state, but I do so want to go. Perhaps I can save enough in the meantime. The Northwest has some pretty good Sci Fi/Fantasy Cons that have a high number of Steampunk, which is how I got interested. I have yet to start sewing a costume, needing to revamp patterns to fit my 6'4" female frame.