Pensacola has a vibrant and active nerd culture scene all year long, but for one weekend a year in February, it really takes over the city. That’s when pop culture fever arrives as Pensacon returns, turning a trip to Pensacola into an out-of-this-world experience.
How “out of this world”? Well, if you’re flying in for the massive pop culture gathering, you aren’t just flying into a regular, everyday airport. Your plane will land at one of the Stargates at Pensacola Intergalactic Airport as you find yourself transported into the worlds of science fiction, fantasy, horror, comics, anime, gaming, cosplay and much, much more.
You’ll find that same spirit of fun and fandom echoed throughout Downtown Pensacola. You see, while many fandom conventions take place in a single building, Pensacon’s campus extends throughout the downtown community.
A pop culture gathering of epic proportions, Pensacon encompasses official events at the Pensacola Bay Center, the Pensacola Grand Hotel, the Saenger Theatre, the Pensacola Little Theatre and the Rex Theatre, setting a massive footprint throughout Downtown Pensacola. That footprint is augmented by the area's hospitality businesses, a number of which get into the Pensacon spirit with official, themed after-hours events, as well as decorations and themed food and drink specials throughout the weekend.
"Pensacon has brought visitors from more than half the continental U.S. and Hawaii, as well as the U.K., Australia and South America for their first experiences with the city," said Pensacon President and CEO Mike Ensley. "And that experience begins as soon as they step off the plane into the Intergalactic airport and as they visit the many themed restaurants and bars during Gallery Night and all weekend long."
Fans of science-fiction, comic books, horror, fantasy, gaming, art, music, film, cosplay and much more will find plenty they want to do this weekend. But Pensacon is not just for the hard-core nerds -- there's something for everyone at this all-inclusive, family-friendly convention.
Here are five things about Pensacon that I think everyone -- nerd or not -- will love, too.
1. THE GUESTS
Pensacon's main draw for many people is its incredible guest list. Each year, the convention hosts more than 100 celebrity guests -- actors, authors, artists, musicians, wrestlers and more -- who appear to greet fans, sign autographs, pose for photos and discuss their work in panel presentations.
Expect to find cast members from popular movies and TV shows including "The Walking Dead," "Star Wars," "Star Trek," “Doctor Who” and more. One of the best aspects of Pensacon is the celebrity guest panels. At multiple venues downtown, attendees can enjoy moderated discussions with convention guests discussing their work and even taking questions from the audience. Panels take place at the Saenger Theatre, Pensacola Little Theatre, the Rex Theatre and the Pensacola Grand Hotel, and can range from full houses at the Saenger for top celebrities to intimate community discussions at some of the smaller venues. Some venues will also host workshops, the Pensacon Film Festival and other creative activities.
To check out the full guest list, go to pensacon.com/guests/
2. THE PEOPLE
You'll meet an amazing array of friendly people at Pensacon. It really is an opportunity for the nerd community to come together in the name of shared fandoms and fellowship.
Even if you're not the chatty type, Pensacon offers some of the greatest people-watching opportunities you'll ever experience. While it's by no means required, many attendees cosplay, dressing up in elaborate costumes representing their favorite pop culture figures. These typically aren't store-bought Halloween costumes; they're painstakingly-crafted original pieces made with love and pride. Most cosplayers will happily pose for photos, but it's considered polite to ask before snapping away and to not touch anyone without their expressed consent.
All of Pensacola puts on its best face over Pensacon weekend, so you'll likely find people in good moods everywhere you go, including many who get into the spirit even if they're working elsewhere or unable to attend the convention.
3. THE SHOPPING
Whether you're looking for something for your own collection or seeking out gifts for friends, the vendor floor and Artist's Alley at Pensacon offer opportunities that you won't find anywhere else.
You'll find all manner of collectibles including comic books, posters, T-shirts, jewelry, prints, toys, games, DVDs and more on the massive vendor floor, which takes up the entire arena floor at the Pensacola Bay Center.
Artist's Alley is on the third-floor concourse at the Bay Center, circling the arena, and here's where it gets really special. Dozens of artists are set up here selling their work, and most also offer commissions, work made to order that they will complete on-site, as well as their original artwork, prints and other hand-crafted pieces. You'll find a number of veteran artists here, professionals who have worked on some of your favorite comic books, cover illustrations and other famous works. This isn't stuff you can pick up on Amazon or at the corner store.
4. THE COSTUMES
I mentioned that a lot of attendees like to cosplay at Pensacon but to truly see the best of the best, make time Saturday night to attend the annual costume contest at the historic Saenger Theatre. Dozens of cosplayers will parade across the Saenger stage to show off their work for a packed audience and professional judges as they compete for cash and prizes. It's one of the biggest events of the weekend.
Additionally, Pensacon invites a number of professional cosplayers as guests. Their work is always worth seeing, and these lovely people are definitely worth meeting.
5. THE REST
There's so much I haven't gotten to! Immediately outside the Bay Center, there is entertainment and food vendors in parking lots on both sides of the building, including Poseidon’s Bay, inside the Ninth Avenue parking lot, featuring a wide variety of live entertainment including demonstrations and other fun activities.
There are after-hours parties at a number of downtown venues; 'round-the-clock gaming at the Pensacola Grand Hotel including role-playing, card and board games; video game tournaments; cultural performances including improv, music and dance; a film festival; fighting exhibitions and other outdoor activities and so much more.
For complete ticket and event information, visit pensacon.com.
If you can't find something to entertain you at Pensacon, please seek medical attention, because I fear you may be dead.