Convention Recap: Buck 2013

Buck 2013 © Buck
Buck 2013 © Buck

Buck is the largest My Little Pony convention in Europe. This year, only the second for the event, it attracted around 1,000 bronies to Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall for a weekend-long celebration. Having never attended any brony events before, I was unsure of what to expect from the weekend. I ended up having a truly brilliant time.

The Summer Sun Celebration © Sophie Brown
The Summer Sun Celebration © Sophie Brown

Buck kicked off on the Friday night with the Summer Sun Celebration; a separate ticketed event at the large Manchester Central venue across the street. Taking place in one enormous room, the evening had the feel of a music festival tent. A succession of brony musicians took to the stage playing a mixture of Pony music (music from the show usually remixed and played in the artists’ own style) and their own original works. Convention special guest Michelle Creber (the voice of Apple Bloom) came on stage briefly to perform with AcousticBrony and the party continued right on until 1 A.M. While I have to admit that most of the music was not to my taste, the atmosphere in the room was incredible. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves dancing, talking, and showing off their costumes.

The convention proper began late Saturday morning at the Bridgewater Hall with an opening ceremony that introduced event staff and covered the convention rules. The vendors’ floor was already heaving as people came away with limited edition prints, custom made plushies, and more. Build-A-Bear had a stall on which they were selling the new Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle plushies, and many pony-artists were present offering commissions. The convention quieted down a little over lunchtime as many guests left to watch the Manchester Pride Parade which was passing only a block away. By the time of the mid afternoon charity auction in aid of Cardiac Risk in The Young, everyone was back and ready to spend some serious cash. A one-of-a-kind plush sold for £600 ($930) and nearly every item made amounts well into the three-figure range. The afternoon continued with a Q&A panel of brony community voice actors in the main auditorium while group karaoke, stand-up comedy, game demos, and more carried on around the building.

Michelle Creber & The Living Tombstone onstage at The Lunar Eclipse © Sophie Brown
Michelle Creber & The Living Tombstone onstage at The Lunar Eclipse © Sophie Brown

The Saturday evening event was The Lunar Eclipse; a three hour long music event with three separate stages. The event was designed to feel like Thursday nights in the French city of Nimes over summer when the city becomes a musical melting pot. Each stage ran music simultaneously and guests were encouraged to move between rooms as they pleased taking in the different acts as well as settling down in the open lobby spaces to play games, write, draw, or talk.

The Main Stage featured sets from Laserpon3, Eilemonty, Michelle Creber, and AcousticBrony. Michelle performed songs from her Timeless album along with her parents, themselves musicians and involved in My Little Pony; she also invited several guests to the stage including The Living Tombstone who was himself playing the Electronic Stage. The third stage was the Mixed Stage with a whole variety of acts. If you’re interested in hearing some of the music from the evening, check out the playlist over on the GeekMom YouTube channel.

Game Developers Q&A Panel © Sophie Brown
Game Developers Q&A Panel © Sophie Brown

Oddly for a convention, Sunday was the biggest day of events by far. The main auditorium played host to seven Q&A panels from fanfiction writers to game developers, musicians to artists. Each panel was interesting, funny, and often surprised us – I for one certainly didn’t expect to see Darth Vader battle Princess Celestia onstage during the morning’s Radio & Networking Panel.

Out in the main concourse area, a number of competitions ran throughout the day including cupcake decorating, flash fiction, and artwork challenges and a pub quiz about the show. A number of smaller events were dotted across the venue from a play session of Ponyfinder (a pony-themed spin-off of classic paper RPG game Pathfinder) with the game’s designers, a Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament, autograph signings, and art demonstrations.

The demonstration of Buck: Legacy, a Munchkin style D&D/pony card game, was so popular that only around one third of those queueing outside the room managed to attend, but the game’s designer spent his entire weekend demonstrating the game at his table in the vendor’s area to much apparent success judging by the number of people playing the game across the venue as time went on.

The biggest event of the convention was the Sunday afternoon Q&A panel with voice actress Michelle Creber and show writer Cindy Morrow (Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, The Powerpuff Girls). The panel was also attended via a video link by writer Amy Keating-Rogers (Johnny Bravo, The Powerpuff Girls) and head writer Meghan McCarthy (Equestria Girls, Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends). As always when technology is involved in something like this, it wasn’t smooth sailing but the link maintained itself for most of the 90-minute panel and Meghan dropped several hints about the show’s upcoming fourth season which had the crowd cheering with excitement.

Waiting for the Friendship is Magic panel to begin © Sophie Brown
Waiting for the Friendship is Magic panel to begin © Sophie Brown

After the panel, for those not attending the final Q&A of the day, there was just enough time for a little last minute shopping, dancing outside with fellow bronies, and collecting of commissioned works—I had ended up getting two myself—before the closing ceremony began.

As everyone gathered in the main auditorium, a group of attendees began building a tower of plushies. Soon the whole room was watching on the video screen and chanting “one more plush! One more plush!”—the screams and cheers as a final small toy topped the tower was deafening.

During the closing ceremony the winners of all the weekend’s competitions were announced from cosplay to cupcakes. The staff announced the total raised by the previous day’s auction—later improved by the addition of the silent auction items—to a whopping £8,025 ($12,462). Thanks were given to the team behind the convention before a final sing-a-long of Winter Wrap-Up (see if you can spot a dancing Doctor) closed the convention for another year.

Cosplayers at Buck © Sophie Brown
Cosplayers at Buck © Sophie Brown

Buck 2013 was by far one of the most enjoyable conventions I have ever attended. From opening to close there was always something happening, but you also felt free to wander at your leisure and simply enjoy being there. The number of different accents I heard over the weekend was incredible: attendees had traveled from all over Europe, the USA, and Canada to be there. The venue was a perfect choice as it was small enough to feel intimate and friendly, but never once felt crowded. The cosplayers were incredible and so friendly that I’m now planning my own. In the lobby areas there were constantly people drawing, writing, playing games, and chatting—the sheer creativity and relaxing atmosphere was a joy to be a part of.

Of course, there were some things that could be improved. Timing was a slight issue, especially on the Saturday with some events starting late, meaning they were cut short. Music played in the lobby and thanks to people freely wandering in and out of the main auditorium, it would often carry into panels. The final issue I noticed was with the acoustics of the venue which are spectacular and carry sound so well the panelists hardly needed microphones. Of course, this worked inversely and so when staff members had whispered conversations at the back of the room I could hear every word, even at the expense of mic’d-up panelists.

However, all of these were minor issues that did not detract from the overall experience. I’m already looking forward to going back next year. Coming from someone who only considers themselves a casual viewer of the show and is not even slightly involved in the brony community, I don’t think there’s higher praise.

Entry to Buck 2013 was provided free of charge by the organisers.

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