Nerdapalooza 2011: A Community-Building Event (With Music)

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Curtis and Z.Curtis and Z.

Photo by Larry "@datavortex" Fine

Hindsight being what it is, I find myself looking back at the thoughts I shared regarding Nerdapalooza 2010 with a knowing grin. When speaking of the dissatisfying elements of that year’s festival –- the scheduling woes, sound issues and overall setup –- I referenced the challenges facing Hex and his team of organizers. I spoke frankly (but hopefully) about the uncertain future of the event as it continued to grow into its adult form. While I stand by those words, even the less-than favorable ones, I am man enough to admit that my alarmism was unfounded.

Contrary to my concerns, the Nerdapalooza crew did find its way; it did manage to walk that fine line between concert and convention. If Nerdapalooza 2010 was an experiment, then this year’s festival put all that collected data to good use. With a two room layout – the larger of which featured the main merch area, vendor tables and the NOS-sponsored stage while the smaller boasted the art gallery and the GeekDad stage – properly engineered sound/visuals and the instantly endearing Schaffer the Darklord and Nelson Lugo as the event hosts, Nerdapalooza 2011 was the best of all possible outcomes.

It offered an impeccable cross-section of geek music. Sure, the lack of regular headliner MC Frontalot led to a bit of consternation from some in the nerdcore set and specialized elements like Wizard Rock certainly lacked representation, but the sheer distance spanned between acts like the high-octane aggression of Metroid Metal and the off-kilter humor of Rappy McRapperson speaks volumes about the extent to which the organizers went with regard to inclusion.

From blistering small stage sets from Adam WarRock and Illbotz to massive main stage productions from I Fight Dragons and The Protomen, there was certainly no shortage of amazing performances. This event introduced me to new acts like Beebs and Her Money Makers and the Math the Band-esque Koo Koo Kangaroo, but it also afforded me the chance to again witness the musical majesty of heavy hitters like The BossFights, Marc with a C and Mega Ran.

Let there be no mistaking, the thirst for quality nerdy music was easily slaked as fans flocked from room to room to see their old favorites rock out and to discover other amazing sonic flavors. Acts like My Parents Favorite Music and HDNinja managed to expand their sounds in new and satisfying ways, while the crew from the Funny Music Project once again drove home how amazingly competent, how uncannily enjoyable, a proper blend of music and comedy can truly be. Hell, Dual Core and Arm Cannon even managed to attract crowds of pleased onlookers during their sound checks!

Therefore it strikes me as rather odd that at Nerdapalooza 2011, the festival’s biggest, most immaculate iteration yet boasting its most eclectic and satisfying array of geeky music artist, I finally became convinced that the music was not the crux of the event.

Palling around with Adam WarRock was just as enjoyable as watching his performance. Shooting the breeze with VGM legend Mustin was the perfect lead-in for vibing to his Saturday evening set with The OneUps. But more to the point, many of these same artists stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me watching other acts on the bill. Nerdapalooza 2011 was that kind of event; camaraderie and support was in no short supply between the featured artists.

When New York’s head-banging hip-hoppers Shinobi Ninja brought MadHatter and his Scrub Club cohorts on stage during their set, I simply assumed that the groups had some longtime connection of which I was unaware. It was only later that I found out the two crews had been introduced mere hours beforehand. Similarly, as I stood in awe at I Fight Dragon‘s festival-closing performance I found myself next to Illbotz frontman Stevie D. When asked what he thought of the band he said, without taking his eye off that stage action, “These guys’re great.” He then proceeded not to reflect on their major label success story, but instead to mention that his bandmates Big Perm and DJ Samson had been partying with them all weekend. Sharing beer and jokes and stories from the road.

I’ll remind you all again that this is a major label act, one that chalked up an early victory at Nerdapalooza 2009, but that was more than willing to come back for more. The dragon-fighters also managed to capture this weekend of merriment with their own camera, and they recently uploaded their personal highlight reel to YouTube. It truly drives home the sense of fun and friendship that permeated the event. (But be forewarned: Klopfenpop drops an f-bomb during his hotel room freestyle.)

For me, though, the defining moment of Nerdapalooza 2011 was also the most unexpected. Around lunchtime on day two I (once again) abandoned Curtis at the GeekDad booth to check out my new pal Inverse Phase – a guy that, along with OverClocked ReMix community staples Larry Oji and Stevo, had been providing me with a ceaseless stream of entertainment since the earliest hours of the event – on the second stage. Brendan pulled off a killer set of mostly chiptune cover tracks with a dash of originals, not to mention some “Name That Tune” for good measure. But as great as the performance was, the magic wasn’t just limited to what was happening on stage.

For those not in the know, Sci-Fried are, in addition to being fast friends of mine, the very definition of geek rock. They are both a collection of convention floor miscreants with a love of Stargate and a raucous rock ‘n’ roll collective with a passion for Kiss. Equal parts nerdcore and hardcore, the Sci-Fried guys can be a bit of an imposing force with their long hair and iconic red and black bowling shirts, but never will you meet a more approachable, endearing group of fellows.

Even with that said, they are not exactly the crew that you’d expect to see wigging out to a performance of minimalistic electronica. And yet they were. I watched them as they weaved their way through the crowd toward the stage, smiling and talking and totally enjoying Inverse Phase as he deconstructed Nine Inch Nails. It was a strange sight to the uninitiated, but those of us who were there simply accept it as another prime example of the trademark Nerdapalooza spirit.

As an event, Nerdapalooza brings people together. It collects disparate outsiders and self-described loners, and it reminds them that, at least for one weekend a year, they are all part of a broader tribe. This year more than 1000 of us came together, and though I previously foretold of doom should that many souls venture into the event, I am happy to report that I couldn’t have been more wrong. The magic of Nerdapalooza – the festival’s saving grace during even its most trying hours – endures.

With minimal sound issues and no scheduling snafus worth mentioning, even a die-hard critic like myself finds it hard to complain about Nerdapalooza 2011. So I won’t even try. Easily the most enjoyable, most exhilarating iteration yet, I’d gladly put this year’s event toe-to-toe with any other fan convention or specialty festival.

Where previously I warned Nerdapalooza could never revert to the casual community event from which it had grown, I now realize that it doesn’t have to. In moving forward it hasn’t sacrificed any measure of its vision of unity, it has merely expanded its scope.

So here’s to next year, my friends. I hope to see you there.

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