I’ll be the first to admit that Harry Potter conventions aren’t exactly on my radar. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Harry Potter books and movies. While I was never the rabid fan who would dress up in costumes and wait in line for a midnight release, I was voracious enough to read the last few books in fewer that 24 hours upon their respective releases. All that is to say, when a coworker informed me there would be a convention focused on Potter, fantasy, and other fandoms I was certainly intrigued. The fact that my wife was going out of town for the weekend and I needed to find something fun to do with my daughters certainly influenced my decision, so I made arrangements to attend Atlanta’s CONjuration 2015.
The second annual CONjuration was held at the Marriott Century Center hotel, which was a perfect venue for an event this size. Last year, the convention attracted 800 people, but if Saturday’s crowd was any indication I’m sure attendance increased. I am a 12-year veteran of Dragon Con, one of the largest conventions in the Southeast, but when it comes to smaller cons like CONjuration, I’m not as experienced. Would there be enough there to occupy the attention of my 6- and 10-year old daughters (and me)?
As we made our first sweep of the convention halls, I could already tell we were in a safe space. Costumed characters from Ghostbusters, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter surrounded us. My concern over whether or not this was a kid-friendly con was put to rest when I observed a young boy dressed in what would be my favorite costume of the con.
The vendor hall was filled with everything from authors shilling their books to wizard robes and steampunk accessories. One nice surprise aside from all the cool trinkets for sale was to see the Georgia Reptile Society out in full force showcasing their creature collection. It wasn’t a total stretch to see them there though, witches need to source their lizard tails and eye of newt somewhere, right? Other surprises that were nice touches included a program guide that mimicked the fictional “Daily Prophet” newspaper, a roving balloon artist who made free balloon animals and hats for the kids, and a wooden cutout “Have You Seen this Wizard” photo opportunity. (We took advantage of all)
Any con worth its salt will have panel discussions and presentations, but with a 6-year old in tow, I didn’t think that a discussion about Harry Potter minutiae would hold her attention. Instead, we sought out some more kid-friendly activities which we found in the cleverly titled “imaginarium.” Every hour, the imaginarium would host a different craft or activity. While we were there we narrowly missed creating our own wands, but did take part in “quillagraphy” and “nail design – Harry Potter style!”
Although we didn’t sit through the panel discussions, there was still plenty more for us to do during the convention. We were able to see several musical acts including a “band” I had heard about years ago called Draco and the Malfoys which turned out to just be one guy with a guitar. Still, his song “My Dad is Rich (Your Dad is Dead),” sung from the perspective of Potter tormentor Draco Malfoy, elicited belly laughs from my 10-year old. However, I have to say I was a bit disappointed with the turnout for the musical acts. It seemed pretty empty, and as a person who likes to observe from the background, I felt the performers were very aware of my presence – especially for those poor souls trying to elicit dreaded audience participation.
In the main performance area, however, the attendance was much better. Complete with a large stage and lighting, we watched a fun but slow-paced round of Potter-themed Family Feud before we were treated to modern rock music performed on electric harps by the Harp Twins. I had never heard of the sisterly duo before, but videos of them playing Iron Maiden and Guns N’ Roses have garnered close to two million views on YouTube. I anticipated seeing something out of the ordinary when I planned on attending CONjuration, but rock-n-roll harpists wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. I guess I can check that one off the list.
We ended up staying at the convention for several hours. We roamed the vendor hall a few times and I bought my daughters their first “real” wands, we played a round of Exploding Kittens in the gaming room, but we left before some of the more adult activity in the evenings (apparently there was a burlesque show the previous evening). Oh well, we still enjoyed the time we spent there. In fact, my 10-year probably put it best when she looked at me as we were seated in the gaming room, “This place is so homey.” As conventions across the country race to become the next San Diego Comic Con, it’s nice to find a local convention that doesn’t feel the need to be everything to everybody. No, CONjuration knows its audience and what it wants to be – a place to be yourself, to celebrate your fandom, to interact with other friendly faces, and to experience just a little touch of magic.