Thursday, August 14, 2014

Farewell To Fanfest Part II--"Memorabilia, Memories, Folks, & Flavors"

Mid-Atlantic Fanfest.  NWA Fanfest.  Charlotte Fanfest.  No matter what name you knew it by, if you ever had the opportunity to attend, you likely had the time of your life.  Last week's blog entry was a "goodbye" of sorts to the event which is said to have had its final installment just a few weeks ago.  This week we're taking a look at that last blowout in the Queen City.  Four days of wrestling legends, friends, and even food is a lot to capture, but if even a small portion of the fun is conveyed in the next few paragraphs, then my mission is accomplished.

For many fans who are also collectors, autographs and photo opportunities are a major part of the event.  Dozens of wrestling legends, current names, and up-and-comers are on-hand to create a true "rasslin' melting pot."  One could argue that Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, and Arn Anderson were positioned as this years headliners, but everyone has their own favorites.  Rare appearances by territorial stars like "Number One" Paul Jones and Exotic Adrian Street and wife/valet Miss Linda were among the most exciting names for me, as was the convention debut of "Gigolo" Jimmy Del Rey.  The former member of "The Heavenly Bodies" was able to get away from his post-wrestling career to reunite with Dr. Tom Prichard and Jim Cornette much to the delight of fans.

After being unable to appear at 2013's Fanfest due to family reasons, Ole Anderson made his return to Charlotte.  Ever since my first time at the event in 2004, Ole has come across as the exact opposite of how he is portrayed by many who are allegedly "in the know."  Sure he's salty tongued and opinionated, but very few are as willing to tirelessly sign autographs, pose for photos, and tell stories as Ole is.  Despite a continued battle with multiple sclerosis and not having an official signing time, Ole's friends and family positioned the former champion's wheelchair in the hallway several times so that "The Rock" could spend as much time with fans as he could.  You can tell that, like many of the other stars, the adulation of the fans transports Ole back to his days of ruling the ring.

Another rare appearance was made on Sunday morning, when Bill Mercer was brought in to Fanfest as a vendor guest.  The 88-year-old Mercer still seems as sharp as a tack and even looks very similar to how he did during his days as the voice of World Class Championship Wrestling.  Mr. Mercer also has a place in history as part of one of the most fascinating periods of the 20th century--the JFK assassination.  Shortly before he, himself, was assassinated, Lee Harvey Oswald was held at Dallas police headquarters being charged with the slaying of JFK. Reporters were positioned throughout the building and were able to ask Oswald a question or two as he was shuttled between rooms.  One of those questions, caught on camera, was asked by Bill Mercer.  There is something about the legendary voices of wrestling's past such as Bob Caudle, Lance Russell, and Mercer.  The class that they each portrayed on television was far from an act.

Many of the vendors are actually stars themselves.  Jimmy Valiant, The Rock N Roll Express, "Fantastic" Bobby Fulton, and Jim Cornette were among those who set up shop.  Cornette again combined his space with Memphis historian and author Mark James.  If you did not come away with a book or relic from either gentleman, you missed a great opportunity.  Of course, Cornette would sign autographs or pose for photos even if you did not spend a dime.  He's another one of those opinionated yet often misunderstood stars of the glory days that often gets a bad rep.

It's always interesting to see just what fans are going after at Fanfest as far as the vendor room is concerned. The latest book or DVD?  A rare treasure from the past?  Maybe an action figure or two to take home for the kids.  As is usually the case at Fanfest, a variety of all was available.  Some of the most treasured items in my own collection were found over the years at Fanfest.  The thrill and wonder of just what would be uncovered each year is yet another important aspect of the show that I will miss.

One regret of the Charlotte-held Fanfests that I have attended was that I was unable to truly experience the city itself.  Due to the enormity of Fanfest, there just isn't enough time to explore the city at any length.  I do know that what little I have seen has made me realize that Charlotte is a place that deserves a separate visit. One of those experiences actually took place on the Friday and Saturday of this last Fanfest.  My crew, usually confined to quick meals each evening, decided to venture out for some true Carolina barbecue.  We found ourselves wandering into an establishment known as Old Hickory House.  The restaurant is like a step back in time, looking exactly as it must have at the beginning of its fifty-seven year history.  The food? Well, going two nights in a row should answer that.  My recommendation?  The large platter with ribs, chicken, pork, and beef, hush puppies, slaw, a bowl of Brunswick stew, and sweet tea.  You won't leave hungry.  You may not be able to stand for awhile, either.

Of course, what's wrestling without surprises?  Everyone was stunned to see David Crockett make an unannounced and rare appearance at Fanfest.  One of the voices of his father's wrestling product, Crockett was happy and maybe even a bit stunned that so many fans wanted photos and autographs.  Mr. Crockett's appearance was just another example of an experience that you just won't find anywhere else.

As is standard at Fanfest there were question and answer sessions, two separate nights of wrestling action, and other activities, but this year I believe the true attraction was making that connection.  With the word out long in advance that this would be the final event of this kind, I think that many fans tried their best to make it last as long as possible.  Whether it was meeting a long time idol or rekindling an old friendship, no one was taking the connections for granted.  Longtime wrestling fans have learned the hard way that the words "See you again" are often just that--words.  No one is guaranteed a tomorrow.  At Fanfest 2014, I believe that the special moments and opportunities presented were appreciated just a bit more.

This week and last, as well as any of my other writings regarding Fanfest over the years, are just a small glimpse into what the event was all about.  Not "is" about.  As difficult as it is for all of us to accept, Fanfest is now in the past tense.  There is no more "see you next year" or wondering which wrestling legends will appear next August.  The event itself now perfectly reflects the time period which it celebrates.  Both are nothing but memories.  My memories?  Ghosting through my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, back in 2004, as my first Fanfest was held later that weekend.  Tossing, turning, and being unable to sleep for over a month in advance due to my anticipation of returning to Charlotte in 2009.  Meeting stars from all aspects of the wrestling business and seeing them enjoy themselves as much as all of the fans that I met from all over the world.  That was Fanfest.  Often imitated.  Never, ever, duplicated.


Anonymous said...

Fun read.

I also just discovered your Facebook page. That has become a must click everyday. You've collected some great stuff over the years. Thanks for sharing as its really cool to see some of that memorabilia.

J\/\/ said...

Thanks! Glad you found and enjoy it!