published Friday, January 20th, 2012

Wizards, werewolves and superheroes gather downtown

IF YOU GO

What: Chattacon 37.

When: Today-Sunday.

Where: Chattanooga Choo Choo, 1400 Market St.

Admission: $50 for a weekend pass; $25 for children ages 12 and younger when accompanied by an adult.

Phone: 800-872-2529.

Website: www.chattacon.org

For more than 60 years, the Terminal Station off Market Street served as the final destination for crowds of people arriving from trips from the Southeast. This weekend, it'll serve the same purpose for would-be werewolves, space marines and wizards.

Beginning today, the Chattacon convention returns to the Chattanooga Choo Choo to offer an anticipated crowd of about 1,000 people a chance to gather and share their devotion to various kinds of pop subculture.

"It's an exciting, fun-filled weekend and a chance to meet and greet with people you normally only see once a year at other conventions," said convention programming director Cyndi Holtsclaw.

The Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates Chattacon's economic impact at more than $400,000.

As a "multifandom" convention, Chattacon offers programming for fans of everything from Star Wars and Star Trek to novel writing and classic horror films. This year, Holtsclaw said there has been an increased emphasis on programming for steampunk, a subgenre of fantasy/science fiction that reimagines modern technology as if it had been invented during the Industrial Revolution.

Other events include annual favorites such as the art show, a dedicated game room and a two-weight-class tournament for robot battles.

Special guests this year include Steve Miller and Sharon Lee, co-authors of the Liaden Universe novels; Laura Anne Gilman, contributing author to the Cosa Nostradamus series; and sci-fi/fantasy/horror artist John Picacio.

The Choo Choo's Centennial Theater will offer a slate of live entertainment, including the Harry Strange Radio Drama from Atlanta and tonight's annual Chattacon Revue, featuring music by Opposite Box and feats of pain and strength by local sideshow troupe Subterranean Cirqus.

Last September marked the opening of the Track 29 music venue in a building at the rear of the Choo Choo lot. Throughout the year, Chattacon fans have been calling to voice their concerns about losing the space, which usually serves as the location for the convention's food and beverage area. Holtsclaw said nothing should change this year.

"Before they put that there, they guaranteed us that we can use it for anything we used it for before," she said. "We anticipate no problems whatsoever."

Saturday evening, the venue also will serve as a performance space for convention favorites ArcAttack, an Austin, Texas-based technical rock group that generates music through electric arcs produced by computer-controlled Tesla coils.

ArcAttack's performance should awe newcomers and please fans who saw them two years ago, Holtsclaw said.

"They're better attended than anything we've ever done," she said. "They do a great show, and it's so cool to see the lighting shooting around the building."

Whether they're in costume or street clothes, geeks or non-geeks, longtime veterans or convention novices, Chattacon should have plenty to offer for everyone, Holtsclaw said.

"We call it a party we throw once a year for about 1,000 of our closest friends," she said, laughing.

EVENT SPOTLIGHT

Chattacon Revue (today, 9 p.m., Centennial Theater): Vaudevillian showcase combines stunts, burlesque dancing, feats of strength and more.

Robot battles (Saturday, noon, Track 29): Home-built metal warriors battle for dominance. Show up early to meet the builders.

Surviving a zombie apocalypse (Saturday, 3 p.m., Finley): Grab your weapon of choice and learn what to do when the inevitable happens and the dead walk the earth.

Steampunk photo shoot (Saturday, 5 p.m., Town Hall Theater): Costumed attendees pose for digital daguerreotypes.

ArcAttack! (Saturday, 10 p.m., Track 29): Convention favorites return to perform music inspired by pop culture with computer-controlled Tesla coils.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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