Another day…another Monkees announcement. This time, by the same folks who brought us Monkees Con 2013.
My fandom reached a whole new level of geek-awesome in March 2013 when I decided to attend a Monkees convention. I had never attended such a thing before and I didn’t know what to expect…but I did know that Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and some of my best Monkee-buddies were going to be there.
When the convention was first announced I was hesitant of the legitimacy of the organizers but after hearing that they had lots of experience putting on these types of events I started to seriously consider the possibility of trekking all the way from Indiana to New Jersey for the event. As an added bonus, the convention was to serve as a memorial to David Jones, who passed away suddenly a year earlier. Proceeds were supposed to benefit the Davy Jones Equine Memorial Foundation, which his daughters established after his passing as a way to raise funds to support their dad’s beloved herd of horses.
My husband has been incredibly supportive of my obsession and has even become a fan himself (as I type this, he just suggested “let’s listen to the Monkees–how about disc 3 because it always gets neglected?” I love it). When he realized we could take Amtrak to NYC he was “on board” (pardon the pun). We decided to splurge and buy the VIP passes since it was for a good cause, after all.
My friend wrote a great blog post about the convention and she did a nice job of focusing on the positive. In light of the newly announced convention for 2014, I’m going to try to offer some constructive criticism. I’m not very optimistic that the organizers will take it to heart, however, based on my earlier interactions with them.
Suggestion #1 — Be honest and provide a schedule
My first misgivings about the convention occurred when the organizers promised to send a schedule of events if you sent them an e-mail requesting it. I didn’t understand why they couldn’t create a list from those who purchased tickets, since e-mails were required then but whatever. I sent my e-mail. The next thing I see (on facebook, mind you–not through some official sort of communication) is that the e-mail method was not going to work and if you wanted the schedule you had to fill out an on-line form. Uh, really? But I complied because I needed that schedule. I was trying to work out plans to visit a friend who lives in the area. I’m sorry to say that the only thing received prior to having to catch our train was an advertisement from the organizers–about the convention I had already purchased tickets to. No schedule. Those who criticized the lack of an advanced schedule were quickly told to just “plan on being there the whole weekend–it’ll be awesome!” and were made to feel guilty if they might need to work around some life issues that same weekend.
Because no schedule was ever provided (unless you wanted to shell out $25 for a poorly-designed program), we missed a number of performances and events. If you were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, you might hear some announcement about what time something was occurring, but most of the time, we were totally clueless about what was going on when.
Suggestion #2 — Choose an appropriate venue to host the convention
Trying to get to the hotel was another adventure. I had researched how to get there via public transportation and the hotel’s shuttle service, calling the hotel in advance to make sure I understood things properly. We were told that a shuttle would run from the nearby New Jersey Transit station to the hotel on the hour. One would think with hundreds of people arriving for a convention that the hotel would be prepared for an influx of customers needing to make use of the shuttle the first evening of the convention. Not so. We arrived at the station early and waited about 40 minutes for the shuttle–along with a bunch of other fans needing a ride. Needless to say, when the shuttle arrived, it filled up quickly and we didn’t get a seat. The driver did call and requested another shuttle to come pick us up but that meant another 40 minute wait in the cold and a later check-in time. Our hopes that we might be able to steal away to Manhattan during off times were quickly dashed by the realization of just how difficult the transport situation was.
The hotel was simply a bad choice by organizers (and apparently, they’ve already decided to hold the next convention at the same hotel). It was not easily accessible by public transportation and it was in the middle of a sea of highways with no nearby options for dining. Once you arrived at the hotel you were stuck there, unless you wanted to dish out a wad of cash for a taxi or risk getting stuck at the train station trying to rely on the hotel shuttle. To make matters worse, the hotel limited the menu of their one on-site restaurant to about a dozen very expensive selections–just for the convention (lucky us). My husband and I skirted that by sharing the $30+ steak dinner. And eventually we discovered that we could have pizza and Chinese delivered to our room at a very reasonable rate.
Suggestion #3 — Provide nicely-designed swag to attendees who have spent lots of money to be there
So we were finally there and I was ready to make lemonade out of lemons. But not so fast. We registered and guess what? The only size t-shirts available (one of our VIP “perks”) were X-Large. We both wear Small. And the laminated VIP pass? Sorry, they had run out of safety pins so there was no way for us to easily display them (I carried ours in my purse for the weekend–apparently they’ve never heard of Lanyards). But surely there was a schedule, right? For a mere $25. I was particularly disappointed by the lack of design on all of these items. The t-shirts, programs, VIP passes, website–everything–looked like it was put together 15 years ago using clipart and some childish font. That’s such a shame since there are so many talented fans who I’m sure would have been happy to give their time and services to produce nice-looking memorabilia.
Suggestion #4 — Create a professional looking website and a cohesive social media presence
These days, with tools like WordPress and a myriad of free themes, it’s quite easy to put together a good-looking website without a lot of know-how. I hand it to the organizers, what they have going for the 2014 convention is looking a lot better than the website for the 2013 convention (which has been disabled). Maybe they are listening…maybe.
The reason I am doubtful… after the convention the organizers started promoting a Brady Bunch Convention. Instead of creating a page that people could “like” and follow on facebook for updates, they created a friend page. When I suggested they create a “like” page they responded, “thanks but we know what we’re doing.” I, for one, was very confused about their facebook presence regarding the 2013 convention. First, I do not “friend” pages that are not real people. I don’t want random people associated with these “friend” pages being able to see my personal information. In addition to having a friend page, there was a convention group page and an event page. You had to be following all three to get an idea of what was going on. And what about all those attendees not on facebook? I guess they were just SOL.
Updates should be shared on the official webpage and then that information shared with the various social media outlets. You should not have to be following five different sites to have an idea of what is going on. Who has time for that? I’m sorry, but no, my life does not revolve around the convention, especially when I can’t even get my hands on a schedule!
Suggestion #5 — Be kind to the attendees
More than once throughout the weekend, we encountered mostly rude, power-happy people associated with the convention. There were some shining exceptions (mostly volunteers, I believe) who kept us from feeling totally disrespected. It isn’t hard to be nice. When someone walks up to the table to register, smile, give them the scoop, and don’t scoff at them when they ask for a smaller shirt size.
Suggestion #6 — Plan for some down time
Folks need to know when they have time to steal away to grab a bite to eat, without being afraid they might miss a performance or Q&A session they’ve been looking forward to. When you have hundreds of people and one sit-down dining option, it’s going to take folks a while to get served their dinner.
Suggestion #7 — If you’re doing something for charity, be open about how much of various costs actually benefit the charity
A bit more on this below, but you get the gist.
Suggestion #8 — Screen the questions for Q & A Sessions
This would have saved a lot of embarrassment for the guests and for the poor soul who doesn’t know better than to ask Micky why Mike doesn’t like the Monkees (or whatever that question was, I think I started to delete it from my memory the second it was asked). This would not be hard to do. Have people submit questions in advance. When it comes Q&A time, call out there names and ask them to come forward and ask their question.
What the Organizers Did Well
All of that being said, the organizers did put together a great line-up of celebrities and guests. I understand that it has to be a tough job organizing an event like this. I felt like all the hard things to do (secure guests) they did well. It was the easy things they got wrong: being kind to attendees, providing a schedule so people could plan accordingly, designing nice-looking items.
The performances I happened to catch (because remember, we didn’t have a schedule) were really great. I particularly enjoyed Christian Nesmith/Circe Link/Robbie Rist. And meeting Christian and Circe was a highlight of the weekend. There were some great tribute bands there like the Blue Meanies and Loose Salute. And of course, Saturday night’s performance by Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz was well worth the price of admission. Another highlight was meeting Henry Diltz and having him (OMG) photograph us! If you’re unaware, Diltz is a photographer who photographed the Monkees and lots of other famous people during the 1960s. He was so nice and kind and funny. He was there with Gary Strobl, a Monkees historian who was also a pleasure to chat with.
The best part of the weekend was getting to spend time with my friends and my husband who was such a trooper the whole time. It’s been too long since I’ve had a proper slumber party and this was pretty close. And to be there in one place with so many other people who “get it” was fabulous. Very much how I feel when I attend the National Trust’s annual conference–that feeling of being with “my people.”
We also got to chat briefly with Davy’s daughter, Annabel (who is herself an excellent musician). All four of David’s girls were there, selling their very well-designed t-shirts to benefit the fund. At one point during the Q&A with Micky, he mentioned the measure of a man being his children and we could see, just being in their presence for a little while, that they truly are his legacy. In the end, I’m unsure how much of our money actually benefited the fund. The organizers have not yet released that info as far as I know. All proceeds from the girls’ sale of t-shirts and from an auction held during the event (which we didn’t know was going on because we didn’t have a schedule) went to the fund, along with donations from attendees and some of the celebrities.
Despite how it may seem, my point in writing this was not to be hyper-negative, but to warn those thinking about attending future events organized by the same folks. Go knowing what may be in store; you’ll probably have a great time, but don’t count on forthrightness from the organizers or even kindness for that matter. I won’t be attending Monkees Con 2014.