FKO20 – Noob at a Filk Convention

This past weekend, I attended Ontario’s Filk convention. Filk is a music genre, mostly folk music, dedicated to fantasy and science fiction. However, one could write and sing about any obsession that spans the geek spectrum.

Filk Shot - I'm the geeky one

I have never heard of Filk before. I was shocked at this, because I collect geeks like some kids collect Pokemon cards. However, Filk seems to have arisen from conventions. And I, despite my badge of geekery I hide so proudly in public, have never been to one.


Why? Because I grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan. There weren’t many geeks in that small town and I’m sure that if I had engaged in more geek hobbies as a teenager the local bullies would have been quite happy to set up permanent residence in the toilet for my head.

A Toilet, fortunately unused

I learned about Filk from Phil Mills on the forums. After reading, I immediately decided that maybe I should go. A few days of perusing the Filk FAQ solidified my decision and I signed up.

Now, I wasn’t stalking Filk because I wanted to boost my creep cred. I wanted to understand the community. I didn’t know anyone at this convention. I only knew Phil from that one post he had on the forum. I also knew Debbie Ridpath Ohi whom everyone seems to know. But I just followed her tweets.

Going into any community that has been around for many years can be daunting. When I asked Filkers how long they’ve been part of Filk, the average seemed to be 15 years. The community is rich in their own folklore, and there are deep relationships that flow through these people. I needed to find a way to understand the culture of Filk.

But there is only so much you can learn from online research. The best way is by going and, as a noob, a lot of the onus is on me to understand.

I write this for those that are new to Filk and are considering going. If you are a musician, we will always have that bit of Lady Gaga that needs to yell out “Look at Me!” I needed to go to the Filk convention with an expectation of NOT playing anything. There are over 20 years of songs in their repertoire. Even if my songs fit, there is a need to respect my hosts. I did bring my keyboard and a few songs, however, just in case. 😀

Another thing I have to realize is that I’m going to a geek convention. A lot of geeks are not comfortable around things like people. This is not to say they were standoffish. They were very friendly and accepting to a noob like myself. Phil’s wife, Jane, went out of her way to make sure that the sea of introverts wouldn’t turn me off. In fact, many people tried their best to make me feel welcome. Debbie introduced me to a slew of people, let me eat her food, and pummeled me with a pillow. Two or three times, in fact.

Furthermore, the Filk community accepts everyone where they are at musically. If you can sing, that’s wonderful. If you can’t sing, that’s wonderful. You are only expected to do your best at the level you are. If all you want to do is listen, you are more than welcome! Musicians love an audience! 😀

To satiate my performer persona, however, I did get involved in the songwriting contests. I wasn’t concerned about the competing aspect; this was a way for me to perform things without worrying about whether the song fit the community or not. 😀 As an added bonus, other Filkers who might be a bit shy, may find this as a starting point to drum up conversations with me!

The first contest I entered had a Time Travel theme. The song I wrote, however, was heavily weighted in concept. I could only play a recording but Filk is about performing things live. My first foray into Filk and already it didn’t fit the spirit of the convention! *laugh* But I thought the concept was so cool I just needed to do it anyway. So here is my contest entry: Time Reversed Dimensional Twin.

The other contest I entered had the contestants write the song during the convention. They were given five words that needed to be in the song: die, evolution, cerebellum, retro-rocket and penguin. I wrote a song called “Steampunk Anti-Grav Penguin Warrior”, which sounds a lot more epic than it was. I don’t know how other people found time! I barely finished the words Saturday night around 11pm. And I found time to spit out a tune between 2:30am and 3:00am. The deadline for words was 11pm the next morning and I was able to get them in around 10:30pm. *laugh* I did win second place and this awesome penguin! Huzzah!

Kira, from Pittsburg, gave me a wonderful compliment on my song, though. She mentioned it made her laugh and cry as she listened. I hope it wasn’t because of my voice. But thanks Kira! 😀

Throughout the day there were workshops, and very informative workshops. They rounded up people with many years of experience and talent. Two of them (Mark Simmons and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff) were published authors so it was great to have a chance to sit in on these workshops. I couldn’t attend them all, but I tried to go to as many as I could. I even attended Jeff Bohnhoff’s guitar workshop, even though I don’t play guitar. It was good for me, especially since I suck at coming up with melodies and tunes and such.

Nighttime had open filks which went early into the morning! Here, people sat in a circle and took turns playing a song. These are very freeform but there were a lot of songs steeped in filklore. I could not tell what was well known and what was new, and I felt funny about playing any of my stuff. But I did play one of my songs because it fit the theme of one of the open filks: “Survival and Glory” I sang AT-ATs In The Snow (with music written by Mike Skliar):

AT-ATs In The Snow – Mike Skliar & Errol Elumir

I was able to get one of the Filk veterans (Mike Whitaker) to play the guitar for me. I just asked for a guitarist, and he happily volunteered. Without knowing anything about the song, he took my chords and played along with me singing. It was great! There are many talented people at Filk and I was happy to have a chance to play with them.

The con is done, and I hope I approached it appropriately. I wanted to learn about Filk and so I jumped in with both feet. I asked members about their involvement in Filk. I went to all the concerts that were put on. I listened to the one-shots (people can sign up for a 5 minute slot and perform). I went to the banquet and listened to the speeches. I went as an observer and indulged my performing narcissism with a few contest entries.

If you are interested in going to Filk and new to the community, be aware of a few things

  • If you are a performer, go as a listener. You can still play your stuff, but that shouldn’t be your main goal
  • Filk is a community of accepting everyone at their skill level. There are many people that are professional, and others that aren’t. They listen to everyone. You should too.
  • Get involved with contests or volunteering
  • A lot of geeks in general are introverts. They are as shy of you as you are of them. Approach them. However, most of them are visiting friends they haven’t seen for months. Be sensitive to that!

This is a community of longevity. These people have built relationships over many years. I wouldn’t expect to go in and be accepted in one weekend. There is still a lot I don’t know and I’m sure I’ve misinterpreted a lot of things and made a lot of faux pas. I’ll probably be corrected by Filkers as they read this. *laugh*

But if you are a geek, you will find many things that interest you. One thing I was pleasantly surprised at was the demographic. The majority of the Filkers, at least at the Ontario convention, were older than me. I have never experienced that before and I enjoyed that aspect of it. I think I will refer to them as Elder Geeks.

To any person interested in finding out about Filk, go! It was great! And to all the Filkers at the con, thank you for making me feel welcome! Please let me come back. Pretty please?

Photos of the convention taken by Walter, whom I hope is ok with that.

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