I was looking on TheVentures.com site when I first heard about the Ventures 2016 International Fan Fest. I have been a fan for many years, but had just recently got back into them heavily when I started getting back to my guitar playing. So, the Fan Fest sounded like fun. Well, one thing led to another, and the Fan Fest soon became the center point of a two-week driving vacation from Texas for my wife, DeeAine, and me.
I wonít bore anyone with the ho-hum details of Branson, Mo., The Ark Encounter in Kentucky, the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in Ohio, or Niagara Falls in the US and Canada. Instead, Iíll get right to the best part - the Fan Fest.
We arrived in Chester, NJ Friday afternoon and went straight to the hotel. Upon walking in the lobby, we were greeted by several Fan Fest attendees. All were so friendly and promptly introduced themselves. What a great group of people!
We checked into our room and relaxed for a bit, but were really too excited to get any real rest. Soon we met up with Fiona Taylor. I had asked her to bring a few Ventures items from the web site store. We had spoken on the phone prior, but it was nice to meet her in person. Such a kind woman!
Later that evening, we met Fiona in the lobby and we all went to dinner with the gang at a nice oriental buffet restaurant. On the way, I learned something new about Google Maps. (You know, they say you learn something new every dayÖwell, this was it!) Sometimes, you have to zoom in really close on the maps. What happened was this. I looked up the route from the hotel to the restaurant. I drew a little map and wrote down the street names. Well, as it turns out, one of the streets we had to turn down had not one, not two, but three names depending where you were on the street! I kept looking for the street name and was sure I hadnít missed it, but we drove, and drove, and drove. Finally, Fiona saved the day and used her GPS to get us there. When we returned to the hotel, I checked Google Maps to see where I went wrong. It turns out, the street had a different name where we were supposed to make a left turn and even a third name further down to the right. Lesson learned!
Again, we met so many awesome people and had a wonderful dinner. Did we eat too much? You bet we did! Then it was back to the hotel for a good nightís sleep. I set the alarm clock for the next morning. I think it was for 6:00 or 6:30 a.m. The alarm went off, I got in the shower, then got dressed. DeeAine was up and getting ready when she said, ďMy watch says 3:20.Ē I checked the alarm clock and it seemed right. I then checked my watch and even my laptop. What?!?! They both also said 3:20!!! To make a long story short, the alarm clock at the hotel was running very fast. Ok, so back to bed for more rest.
When we were really ready, we met with Fiona and Mike Bogle in the lobby, and we all went to the Tom Jones restaurant for breakfast. No direction problems this time. It was very close to the hotel. Breakfast was included in the entry fee for the Fan Fest. Nice touch!
After breakfast, we headed for the Fan Fest. We were first-timers and didnít really know what to expect. We were all hoping for the best. We arrived and checked in. We recognized many faces from the day before and began mingling after helping Fiona get her sales merchandise in the building.
The atmosphere was very relaxed all day. Well, with the exception of Tom Baltaeff! Oh, man, this guy can really move and get around from one place to 50 others like lightning! Although I had seen some of Tomís Fest teaser videos on YouTube, The Fan Fest was so much more exciting to be there in person. The videos are great but donít really show the energy from the performances that took place throughout the day. Everyone who played, regardless of skill level was warmly received. No real big heads here! Nor were any welcome. The music continued throughout the day with groups being formed on the spot by whoever got up to play.
Bob and Artie Spalding were there from Texas. I got to meet them and had Bob sign my Wilson Brothers Ventures model guitar that had already been signed by Nokie and Don. I visited briefly with Artie and talked a bit about Texas. Sheís such a pleasant person! I hope our paths cross again Ė hopefully in Texas!
I also met new member Lucas Griffin. What a nice young man he is. Heíll fit right in with the other Ventures! We traded guitar picks, and I asked him to sign his for me. I had personalized picks made up to trade with people, so I donít just ďtakeĒ from them. Lukeís picks, unfortunately, were ďpersonalized,Ē as Luke pointed out, by Jim DunlopÖget it?
Another plus was that we never had to leave to get anything to eat. Pizza was served for lunch and we had a very nice catered dinner. And letís not forget the lovely Ventures cake for dessert!!
Another highlight was the Q&A with Bob Spalding, Lucas Griffin, Fiona Taylor, and Mike Bogle. I love hearing the behind-the-scenes stories about the guys! Thanks to all of you for sharing your thoughts with us.
DeeAine spent most of the day next to Fiona and helped one of the attendees sell some CDs and memorabilia. Yours truly bought a bunch of it! Some tour posters and Rare Japanese CDs were the best! DeeAine and Fiona could hear the music very well from where they were in the back. Iím a people watcher, so I had a really fun time with that!
All-in-all, it was a fabulous day. Itís rare to get such a large group of people together with a common interest and warm hearts. Iím glad we went, and I consider myself very fortunate to have been a part of such a wonderful event. I certainly hope to attend again in the future. If it were up to me, if someone did an Internet search for ďa good time,Ē the first result would read, ďVentures International Fan Fest!Ē
I took along my copy of Del Haltermanís book Walk Donít Run. I had recently ordered a signed copy from Del, so I got the idea to get my original copy signed by the Fan Fest attendees Ė like a high school yearbook. I know I didnít get everyone to sign it, but I must have come close. I asked each person to sign it and write where they were from. I canít tell you how many times Iíve pulled that book out and just looked over the signatures. I told each one they could sign the book anywhere in the book they wished. Most signed inside the front and back covers, but several signed randomly throughout the book. I have to tell you, it is a really great souvenir from a really great event!
I purposefully didnít mention any of the attendees we met by name. There were so many that I know I would have left someone out, so I left them all out. Please know that I havenít forgotten any of you or your kindness and hospitality. I consider all of you my friends and look forward to meeting you again in the future!