What the Hell is MAGFest?
Music and Gaming Festival aka MAGFest recently celebrated its 16th annual convention at the Gaylord Hotel in National Harbor, MD. For those of you not familiar with MAGFest, it’s the Mecca of Video Game Music (VGM). Although MAGFest is neither the largest nor the most popular convention I’ve ever attended, it has quickly become my favorite which begs the question, what makes MAGFest so special? In short, the people, the positivity, and the performances.
Over the course of three years, I’ve met dozens of talented performers, musicians, and artists as the manager of GameLark, a VGM community and record label. Before my first MAGFest in 2015, my wife would often ask me, “How do you even know these people are real?” Not only are these people real, they are even more amazing in real life. Twice now, we’ve held a GameLark meetup where we share lunch as a group and in these moments, I’m reminded how truly fortunate I am to be in the company of such good friends and good people.
After attending my third straight year, I’ve realized that MAGFest is essentially summer camp for VGM fans. People come from far and wide to enjoy each other’s company, play games, watch live music, and share a beverage or two. Walking the halls of MAGFest, you might be surrounded by a group of Team Skull cosplayers from Pokémon, or witness a scene from Monty Python, or if you’re extremely lucky, encounter a wandering group of Party Wizards. In other words, MAGFest is a place for people to be whoever they want to be, free of judgment or ridicule. It’s a geek utopia with endless opportunities for fun.
Speaking of fun, the performances at MAGFest are second to none. Where else can you expect to find a group of 30+ musicians playing “All-Star” at 1 in the morning? MAGFest actively encourages these jam sessions by providing musicians dedicated jam spaces, but I haven’t even mentioned the scheduled performances. This year, the Super Guitar Bros performed their entire Ocarina of Time album live (accompanied by some cleverly edited visuals). Despite their humble set up (two men on two guitars), they managed to enthrall an entire conference hall with their acoustic arrangements.
The highlight of this year’s MAGFest for me had to be the “Sonic Adventure Music Experience” featuring a performance by Jun Senoue, a main composer for Sonic Adventure 1 and 2. This show had special significance to me because Sonic Adventure 2 happens to be my favorite video game soundtrack of all time. Seeing my favorite tracks performed live before a crowd of thousands is something that I will never forget, and I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a tear in my eye as I stood in that crowd.
After the show ended, we wandered the arcade hall, fighting sleep as we tried to soak up the last few moments of MAGFest. The next morning, we’d have to return to our separate lives, jobs, and loved ones (aka the “real world.”) The truth is I would love to eventually find a career with the same passionate, creative, and interesting people as the ones that I’ve met at National Harbor. For now, I’ll simply look forward to MAGFest 2019, and I hope to see you there.