More than 1,000 people - and who knows how many extraterrestrials, time-travelers and other imaginary beings - enjoyed a weekend of fantasy and fun at Concarolinas 2011 last weekend.
The 10th annual fantasy and gamers convention was held at the University City Hilton Hotel for the third straight year. The three-day event featured several guest authors, illustrators, game designers, actors and musicians working in the fantasy fiction world.
On Saturday evening, hallways in the Hilton meeting area were lined with tables advertising the signing appearances of featured guests, future conventions, upcoming sci-fi film or book offerings and other attractions appealing to those interested in exploring the unknown and unreal.
Con Committee Chairman Ron McClung said the event draws people from several nearby states and included participants from as far away as Arizona.
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McClung estimated the crowd was slightly smaller than the 1,300-plus who enjoyed last year's event, due both to the current economy and the presence of a Heroes Convention for cartoon lovers taking place the same weekend in uptown Charlotte.
"This is for fans of speculative fiction, which includes sci-fi, horror and fantasy, for anyone who wants to ask, 'What if?'" said McClung.
The convention draws a wide variety of interests, if Saturday night's crowd was any indication. Casually-dressed people of all ages mixed freely with those in costumes from "Star Trek," time-travel adventures, gothic horror tales and other creative genres.
McClung, whose day job is in IT for a large shoe-retailing firm, said he had the chairman's role dropped in his lap when the previous chairman moved out of state.
While gamers flooded darkened rooms lighted only by long banks of computer screens, music poured from several meeting rooms along the corridor to the main ballroom, where the "gothic cabaret" music of duo Valentine Wolfe entertained a small crowd with ethereal harmonies.
In the far corner room, a boisterous crowd enjoyed "Klingon Karaoke," hosted by "fan guests of honor" Keela and Katkith, otherwise known as Leila McMichael and Andy Fairbanks.
McMichael, despite her menacing outward appearance as a Klingon warrior in full battle dress, patiently explained the term "filking" to a novice visitor.
"It's from 'filching folk music,' because you take folk music or other borrowed tunes but put in new lyrics," McMichael said. "Like using 'American Pie' but giving it 'Star Wars' lyrics."
Saturday's culminating event for most in attendance was a midnight showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." With many audience members in costumes inspired by the 1975 cult classic and a variety of performers acting out routines in front of the screen, the show's dialogue was often drowned out by the enthusiastic crowd of about 200.
The 74-page convention program book listed nearly a dozen different activities, performances or events happening simultaneously in various rooms throughout virtually every hour of the three-day event, with the back page inviting the curious to return for next year's convention, to be held the first weekend of June 2012.
"This is a passion, not just an interest," said McClung.