Attune your ears to the grinding gears...

by - Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A felt black top hat with brass goggles tarries in front of me. The wearer is dressed very dapper, tailcoat with crisp white shirt, standing rather tall with his dragon claw cane. After a hurried departure from our weekday reality, we arrived to buzzing excitement in the lobby of the Radisson... We are finally at the Steampunk World's Fair, in line with a flurry of guests awaiting seats for Moriarty's Deadliest Dinner. Grabbing a newspaper ledger from a nearby stand, we eagerly comb the schedule, patiently planning the evening. I am already transported... River Vale feels like a completely foreign dimension...
One thing is for certain - if you didn't dress for the occasion, the inadequacy immediately emerged. Everyone donned some type of costume or steampunk element, no matter how simple or stunning, embracing the event's revelry. It was a real feast for the imagination! Clearly people were here to have a good time. "Good evening, sir" and "So good of you to come" were exchanged generously everywhere we went. As we perused the halls casually finding our way, visiting main floor hotel rooms set up as shops, we met a delightful array of personalities displaying craftsmanship of the highest caliber in everything from replicated artillery to literature, tea and corsets.

Corsets were in abundance for sale and adorned many of the ladies we met. The custom-crafted details reflected a passion for the genre. Ladies bustled, wrapped, gathered and chain-linked garments with style and finesse, infused with traits from India to Gothic and everything in between.

Pop culture favorites popped up in surprising accents too, like this Doctor Who dalek inspired hoop skirt. Pictured on the right is David Lee from Virginia carrying his Darth Vader steampunked helmet creation. He attended with his wife who graced the stage with her belly dancing routine in the weekend events.

We weren't the only family to attend. Accommodating one of the youngest attendees, a vintage pram cruised the show with this couple we saw Friday evening in one of the many exhibit rooms.

The whole show was crawling with time travelers hauling the most impressive gear. From more traditional embellished khaki jumpsuits to tons of metalwork gizmos, everyone was proud to pose for a photo boasting their passion and inventive craft.

This trio in tow sported Viking, Victoriana and vaudeville looks all with elements of steampunk. Many groups strolled indoors and out, attending the various symposiums and panels. Out in the courtyard, an actual wedding took place and we were told there is another one scheduled for next year's fair!

Lots of leather in feminine lacing and added tinkering created conversation coming and going all weekend. The fella on the right was a walking music man carrying his steampunked audio system backpack with brass horn speakers.

Meet the talking automaton parrot, Smithwick. She casually introduced her creation to us as we browsed the jewelry and millinery vendors. Many of the robotic companions echoed their owners inventive spirit.

Demonstrating his passion, David Lee of Hatton Cross Steampunk  built this tank automobile - The Gentleman's Armored Battle Carriage. Not only did David host one of the many symposiums at the fair, he is also one of the iconic faces featured in the International Steampunk Fashions book by Victoriana Lady Lisa. After speaking with the author, I purchased the book, which Lady Lisa generously signed for me. It's packed with unique styles, taking her two years to compile, chronicling a reference for the many veins of the Steampunk fashion movement all over the world. With the abundance of picturesque photos, this beautiful book is now part of my personal design library. It is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Robert got a chance to try the doctor's contraption for "behavioral modification", cleverly engineered with colander, flatware chest and authentic antique electric shock components. Not that my dear husband needed any of this... I am told he is already very well trained! He was such a good sport and enjoyed the festivities with lighthearted spirit and charm, as always.

The three of us managed very well with our vintage and thrift store finds. Three outfits each carried us throughout the weekend. Friday, day one, Brenna and Robert donned their pinstriped vests. The boots I purchased were fittingly comfortable especially for all the walking we did.

Day two, more vests, boots, corset, goggles and cameos... Oh my! We took a break Saturday afternoon before the Centennial Ball concerts that evening.

On Sunday, we continued with the steampunk threads. Robert was complimented on his brocade vest, surprising inquiring minds when he confessed it was simply a Good Will score... from the ladies section!

Not only was fashion showcased, but top-notch entertainment included music, belly-dancing, karaoke, clever exhibits and engaging demonstrations. Strictly for the adults, gaming, absinthe tastings and burlesque were highlighted. The "statue" at Friday's Goblin Market had all of us carefully watching as she stood completely still until Brenna put money in her vessel. She then gracefully repositioned herself after handing Brenna a piece of paper which quoted Homer's Odyssey... "Cyclops, You ask my honorable name? Remember the gift you promised me, and I shall tell you. My name is Nobody: mother, father, and friends, everyone calls me nobody."

Everyone was somebody and devoted fans like Brenna were excited to spot some members sans make-up from her favorite band, Steam Powered Giraffe. Granting autographs and photos before their performances, the guys were just hanging out, meeting and greeting lucky fans as we strolled the hallways from one event to the other. Several official meet and greet times were scheduled for real face time with their favorites. Above, Bunny Bennett with girlfriend Paige were spotted in a corner near the main entrance. To the right, guitarist, Michael Reed easily flowed up and down the hall to autograph fan paraphernalia while waiting for the other members on the long winding line. Michael was nice enough to pause for the minute, and according to Brenna, he gives great hugs!

Mentalist and Mime, Mr. Saturday & Sixpence popped up all over and enjoyed interacting with fans, signing their original artwork and just chillin' at the Daffodil Lounge on Saturday.

Up close and personal with modern day Renaissance man, musician, artist and writer, Voltaire... He was on the ticket here promoting his new book, Call of the Jersey Devil, illustrations and Cd's, back in the US after a victorious UK and Dublin tour. Taking the stage solo, Voltaire performed his lively cabaret set Saturday night to an ardent crowd until one in the morning.

Earlier Saturday night, we anxiously awaited Steam Powered Giraffe's set, playing to a packed tent. The Fair was this San Diego band's first area gig, and the turnout confirmed a substantial fan base here on the East Coast. Their show is a unique mix of robot pantomime and folk rock music, dotted with humor and witty charm. Just as the harmonies in their song Clockwork Vaudeville, "There were four metal people dressed oh so sharply; They sung and danced a catchy tune with automaton robotic ease; Their guitar strings hummed to the beat kept by their tambourine." I'm sure we'll be seeing them again in our area real soon. Can't wait!
The fair was the first time for us to experience the cello and vocals of Unwoman. What a great performance! Recording the base beat live so she can then layer supplemental cords, her original music is sung from the heart. It is easy to see why she won the Steampunk Chronicle Reader's Choice Award for Best Solo Musician. Other performers presented by DJ Doctor Q. we caught were Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band, This Way to the Egress and Frenchy and the Punk. There were so many acts in the three-day line-up, it would have been great if we could have cloned ourselves or really skipped through time to catch all of the gypsy folk sounds. But of those performers we missed, their latest Cd's and concert DVDs were available for purchase, and many attendees grabbed merchandise to revisit the spirit of the weekend long after returning to present reality.
And so, all good things must come to an end, but that means it is time to start planning the next one! Jeff Mach did an outstanding job organizing an event of this magnitude and the dates for next year's Steampunk World's Fair are already posted as May 16 -18. We are marking our calendars for sure. Brenna has begun the countdown until it is time for us to attune our ears to the grinding gears once again... 

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