Denver’s StarFest, one of the nation’s oldest pop culture con artists, calls it out after 45 years

Michelle Hurd attends the LA premiere of ‘Star Trek: Picard’ at ArcLight Hollywood on Monday, January 13, 2020 in Los Angeles. Hurd is expected to be at this year’s “StarFest Denver.”
Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

The Denver StarFest convention, one of the longest-running pop culture gatherings in the country, announced its final trip.

The 45-year-old event, which debuted just two weeks before “Star Wars” was released in 1977, will hold its final convention May 13-15 at the Hyatt Regency DTC. Celebrity guests scheduled to attend include Brent Spiner (Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Picard”); Terry Farrell (Dax from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”); Michelle Hurd (“Picard”); and Zach McGowan (“Black Sails” and “The 100”).

“My kids were about 3 when we started,” said KathE Walker, who co-founded and went on to produce StarFest with her husband Stephen and sister Karoline Jobin. She said the end of StarFest did not stem from financial difficulties.

“Basically, we’re retiring,” she said. “None of us have ever gotten a paycheck from StarFest because it’s fan-run, and we’ve always poured all the money into next year’s event.”

William Shatner, left, and Brent Spiner attend the “Star Trek” panel at Comic-Con International 2016 in San Diego. Both were part of the “StarFest” in Denver, which will end its long history this year.
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

StarFest has hosted celebrities such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Francis Ford Coppola, Christian Bale and, of course, dozens of cast members from various Star Trek series and movies, including William Shatner, Patrick Stewart and the first female Captain of Star Trek to direct a series, Kate Mulgrew (“Star Trek: Voyager”).

StarFest is one of Denver’s original conventions for all things Star Trek, sci-fi, fantasy, horror and more, following the equally formative Mile High Con, which has continued to focus on literature. since its beginnings in 1969. StarFest, however, was Denver’s first media convention that tapped into the passionate TV, movie, and comic book fandom.

In recent years, pop culture conventions have evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry, gradually moving away from the mom-and-pop feel of the original conventions.

“I know the big downsides – they are out there. The one that’s going to be in Denver now, the Fan Expo… they have like 12 others across the country,” Walker said. “StarFest is just a different show. We have families who have been coming to our house for decades, people who have married here, hosts and volunteers who have been with us for decades as well.

That kind of institutional knowledge will be impossible to replace on Denver’s pop culture scene, but it’s unclear how many young fans will care. StarFest has been overshadowed in recent years by the event currently known as Fan Expo Denver (formerly Denver Pop Culture Con, formerly Denver Comic Con), with its million-square-foot layout at the Colorado Convention Center and dozens and dozens of TV, film, comic book, and literary guests amid panels, shopping aisles, cosplay contests, and performances.

This corporate event, and many others, owe a debt to the pioneering StarFest, which solved its industry’s problems long before it was even considered as such. His celebrity get-togethers and autographs, cosplay (before that term was coined in Japan), and cross-genre approach appealed to nerds, geeks, and fanatics of all types who may have felt intimidated or ignored in other social environments.

Back when StarFest began, it was propelled by in-person encounters, such as clubs getting together to look at “Star Trek” episodes on VHS tape, Walker said. StarFest has since expanded into counter-counter-counters, such as ArtFest, ComicFest, GameFest, HorrorFest, KlingonFest, and ScienceFest.

“We try to do a bit of everything and not just dabble in it,” Walker said. “But it has become so expensive. Hotel costs have gone up — and you can’t blame them during the pandemic, because they’ve been devastated — and it’s very expensive to bring in actors.

It’s been a rough ride for many smaller events in recent years. In the late 2010s, San Diego Comic Con International forced many “comic cons” across the United States to change their names, after claiming copyright over the term. This included renaming Denver Comic Con to Denver Pop Culture Con.

StarFest has never had this problem, nor has it visibly endured the spasms of expansion, contraction, and staff turnover that have plagued other major cons over the past decade. Its shoestring budgets and hundreds of volunteers – this year there will be 185 to accommodate the expected 3,000 to 5,000 attendees – supported an event inspired primarily by its creators’ love for Star Trek, not a business plan. cobbled together to meet market demand. .

Walker’s favorite memories aren’t just about the celebrities she brought along, like Cruise and Travolta. It’s also the weddings, Klingon vow renewals, lifetime encounters and generational continuity she saw at the event, from friends who have been faithfully attending for decades to younger fans looking for an event. at a slower pace that doesn’t rely on social media buzz or licensed properties. (although these are also pictured).

“I just don’t see the same fandom being created (these days) because you can binge an entire show in one weekend and forget about it,” said Walker, who streamed the first tape. -announcement of “Star Wars” at the first StarFest before anyone knew what the movie was. (They would find out two weeks later.) “We are lucky to have so many people who have stayed with us over the years. It’s a family.

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