A New Year, A New MAGFest
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published Jan. 9, 2017 by Allen Brasch.
It’s difficult to describe MAGFest with words so instead I will use a picture.
So what exactly are we looking at? First and foremost, MAGFest is about the music. Hell, it’s even in the name (Music and Gaming Festival). Secondly, you might notice the giant arcade machine behind Mr. Parodi. That would be the second part of MAGFest, gaming. Finally, to the right, you see a merchandise table. This is the final piece of the MAGFest puzzle, geek culture.
If you’ve ever heard someone talk about MAGFest, they might sound like a cultist because it’s an experience like no other. It’s not just a convention. It’s not just a festival. It’s not just a celebration of geek culture. It’s all those things and more.
MAGFest is people. People like Jackson Alexander Parodi. People who enjoy gaming and music so much that they gather together every year, almost ritualistically, to celebrate their passions. People who dress up like their favorite characters, whether they be from video games, anime, movies, or internet memes. People who are separated by thousands of miles, but share the same bond because of the things they love. It doesn’t matter where you live; when you’re at MAGFest, you’re home.
My love for MAGFest began in 2016 when I attended my first convention. Beyond the obvious appeal of music and gaming, I enjoyed meeting all of the friends that I knew from the video game music community. It was a surreal experience talking in person with people that I had known for over a year. Unfortunately, my trip was cut short as I came down with the flu (or MAGflu as some call it). This year, I was determined to make it through the entire four days. Equipped with a fresh pack of Emergen-C, I made the trek to National Harbor, MD.
Walking through the main doors of the Gaylord Hotel, I was greeted by a familiar sight. Hundreds of people were milling around, some in full cosplay, others in geek attire, reuniting with friends after a year apart. After picking up my badge and grabbing lunch with some friends, I hit the floor, excited to see what I would find.
You can find music just about anywhere in MAGFest. Jampods (spaces for musicians and DJs) were strategically placed all over the convention. In addition, a Jamspace was open for musicians at all hours of the day. Last but not least, a spacious concert hall was the place to catch some of your favorite artists. People at MAGFest love music, and they love to talk about music, especially video game music. I know because I was a panelist on one such panel.
I had the great honor of sitting on a panel for video game remix albums because of my work with GameLark. Along with several other panelists, I discussed the challenges of coordinating and releasing a video game remix album. It was an incredibly humbling experience to say the least. I cracked a few jokes, shared some personal thoughts, and listened to the experiences of the other panelists. We all had our own perspectives, but we shared the same love for video game music as did many in the crowd. It’s no secret that the video game remix community is a tight one, and that unity was on full display at this panel (and a later one as well).
Later that night, I caught my first show of MAGFest watching The OneUps, a video game jazz group. I was tired from a long day, and the show started at midnight, but I fought off sleep to enjoy every second of the performance including a guest appearance by David Wise. In addition, this was the MAGprom so several hundred people in suits and dresses danced to smooth jazz arrangements of Battletoads, Donkey Kong Country, and other gaming soundtracks. Two and a half hours came and went. After the lights went dim and the music stopped, I trudged back to my hotel room and promptly passed out.
The next day I made my way to the exhibition hall, avoiding roving packs of Team Skull cosplayers (I didn’t have any Poké Balls on me at the time). I had a few hours to kill so I decided to check out the arcades. On one end of the exhibition hall, rows and rows of consoles stretched for dozens of yards with impromptu battles occurring one after the other in addition to scheduled tournaments. On the other end, stacks of arcade machines provided entertainment for every kind of gamer. I tried my hand at a particularly challenging lightgun game with my friend Eric (Project Genesis). After a few bouts, we decided that the aliens could have Manhattan; our fingers ached, and we were done trying to save the world.
Afterwards, I found myself wandering through the merchant section, looking for anything that caught my eye. The choices were overwhelming, but I managed to pick up a respectable amount of loot, including an Ōkami hat that I couldn’t pass up. I decided to leave before temptation overwhelmed me, and I spent more than I should. Dropping off my load of loot, I headed to the concert hall to catch a performance by The Returners, another video game cover band. As expected, the show was incredible, capped by a chilling rendition of The Phantom of the Opera with vocal performances by Lauren the Flute and Brian Diamond.
A few friends and I headed back to our room to enjoy a quick round of Super Smash Bros before we headed to a party hosted by Zeldathon folks. Without saying too much, the evening was enjoyable. The next morning was not.
By the grace of God, I met some of my friends from GameLark at McLoone’s for lunch. Next year, we’ll be certain to set the meetup at a later time to account for any late-night activities. I’ve often said that GameLark is a family and after seeing all these artists together, I’ll say it again. I was delighted as I watched all these talented artists eat with each other, talk with each other, and laugh with each other. I may not have felt the best, but after lunch, I was in high spirits.
The rest of the third day at MAGFest was a bit of a blur. A three-hour nap, an awesome performance by Gemanon and Ro, a VGM remix competition (congrats Carlos!) and finally a delicious dinner at Succotash. Before I knew it, I was watching a panel hosted by some friends in the cover community.
I listened as these professionals talked about their craft, sharing some of their insight with the audience. There was no pandering; there was no sign of pretense. These were people who were grateful for the position they had reached and wanted to help others achieve the same success. The panelists were happy to answer any and all questions (including mine) until the event coordinators politely asked us to leave.
After the panel, fans and artists stayed and chatted. Nobody wanted to leave, but as the night wore on, hugs and goodbyes were given, and finally the panel dispersed. My friend Eric and I wandered the halls of MAGFest, soaking up the last few moments of MAGFest. The jamspace was still jamming, the arcade was still humming, and a few folks couldn’t even make it back to their room. Reluctantly, we headed back to the hotel room and caught a few hours of sleep.
After a final lunch with friends, I found myself driving home with conflicting emotions. I was sad to say goodbye to my friends, but I was happy for all the new memories. I felt inspired from witnessing all the talent and the passion on display at MAGFest. I turned my thoughts to next year and what I might be doing then. I’ll be a new dad, I’ll be a gamer, and with any luck I’ll be at MAGFest in 2018. I hope I’ll see you there.