October 7th, 2012. I’m at Steamstock, held at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, California. The room hosts a crowd of time travelers, airship officers, airship pirates, and mad scientists.
Costumes aplenty. I even saw one person wearing a t-shirt and jeans.
My wife and I couldn’t arrive until halfway through the day’s proceedings. This still gave us ample time to roam through the vendors area before settling in for an evening of music and dancing. Roughly one third of the Craneway space was given to vendor booths. These and the band merchandise tables were curtained off from the stages and dance area. Yet that in no way limited our ability to enjoy the music in the open space of the Craneway.
Another advantage of the venue was its history. Thanks to preservation efforts by the City of Richmond, Steamstock attendees enjoyed a perfectly decorated venue. Event organizers (Brian Gardner, Alyssa Rosenbloom, Laura Oz-burn, Ruth Duncan, Tananda Weasley, and Sandra Forrer) could not have chosen a better location. As the site of an old Ford Motor assembly plant, the Craneway still boasts original assembly line hoists, cranes, and catwalks. The waterfront side of the room is a wall of factory windows mounted in refurbished wood and metal frames. And the whole works is housed in the original brick structure, seismically reinforced, of course.
We moved around to the stage side after a brief bite from the chorizo food truck. A second truck had been scheduled but canceled last minute, leaving the food offerings somewhat slim in the pickings. Craneway concessions were set up inside and staff took pains to provide appropriate fare. Atop of their truly creative menu calamari was offered as “God Flesh”.
Good Co. was playing as we arrived, but the first act we caught was Vernian Process. The band’s website promised “the most intense set of the night,” and they did not disappoint. Opening with “Something Wicked That Way Went,” and joined momentarily by the Aether Brigade, the band rocked, waltzed, spun, and slammed music around the room for 40 solid minutes.
At times, Josh Pfeiffer’s vocals crept through the crowd, rising up to strike in perfect unison with the energy of the music. The band rehearsed hard in advance of Steamstock, and they brought a polished and powerful set to the event. In a surprise closing number dedicated to MCA, Vernian Process sent the crowd into a fit of frenzied applause. I paused from enjoying the absolute hell out of myself to catch a little video.
I talked with Janus Zarate (bass) after the show. They’re slowing down on touring for a while, he said, as they work on new material for an upcoming album. We got a taste of things to come during their set with a jumping punk number rooted in the style of Romani gypsy music.
Steamstock organizers made full use of the Craneway by setting up two stages on opposite ends of the room. As Vernian Proces took down their equipment, Lee Presson and the Nails took the stage and started another 40-minute set full of energy and theatricality. Lee Presson has mastered the art of stage play and performance, and the Nails are fully in on the act. Anyone with a taste for swing/big-band revival should go straight away to the LPN site and get busy picking up their music.
During the LPN set, SwingGoth regulars lit up the floor with wild steps and spins. Watching the crowd is always fun at Steampunk events. At Steamstock, it became a second entertainment of its own as dance floor and stage competed for attention. The harmony of the two made for an incredible night.
After LPN’s set, we took a break to get a closer look at the vendors and pick up some music. Josh, Janus, and Martin Irigoyen (guitar), were at the Vernian Process table signing CDs and talking with fans. Hydrogen Skyline were at the next table over. We sadly missed their set, but were really happy that they’d made it to the show. Their Indiegogo campaign brought in nearly half of what they’d set out for, and it’s hoped that we’ll see more from this band at future Steampunk events. They’ve got a great sound, and videos of their performances tell me we really missed out. We’ll be sure to sort out more babysitting next year.
The evening promised a fine finish, starting with El Radio Fantastique (a late addition to the lineup, due to the unfortunate cancellation by Blue Rabbit). We only caught a few minutes of their set, but what I saw was impressive and demands I find a way to see more of this group. We missed Frenchy and the Punk’s cabaret, but could still hear and feel the energy of their show as we gave our feet a rest. Steamstock organizers put plenty of thought into guest comfort. There was never a shortage of seating.
The night’s star performers took the stage just before 9pm. Thomas Dolby entered to a cacophony of applause and cheers, and his set rolled time back to the 1980s for most of those in attendance. Ever current though, Dolby’s songs had guests of all ages dancing. Abney Park violinist, Titus Munteanu, joined him on “Toad Lickers. At the finale, he brought “all the scientists in the audience” on stage for an experiment of sorts (taking the mic and reciting those well-known and oft-quoted lines “Science!” and “She blinded me with science.”) The winner of the experiment was none other than Lee Presson.
Abney Park’s set began just a few minutes after Thomas Dolby exited, proving again that professionals were behind this event. Steamstock organizers timed the sets perfectly to avoid dead air between acts, and the musicians and stage crews kept the entertainment chugging along beautifully. The airship pirates launched into their set and didn’t let up through five numbers of rollicking, danceable music. Again, the dancing took precedence and we only nabbed a snippet of video here.
Sadly, that was all of Abney Park that my wife and I had time to enjoy. The babysitter’s clock was ticking. As we left, I surveyed the room and saw the crowd was just as big as it had been when we arrived.
Official numbers aren’t available at the time of this writing, but my estimate put around 800-1000 people inside. In the spacious room of the Craneway, this didn’t mean the dance floor was packed full. As Captain Robert noted, “we’ve provided ample space for you to dance, a rarity at an Abney Park show.” Despite the Craneway’s ability to hold five times as many people as showed up this year, given the sheer awesomeness of the event I suspect there will be slightly less elbow room next year.
Steamstock 2 is slated for August 3rd, 2013, which will be a Saturday. The man behind the plan, Brian Gardner, says the Craneway Pavilion has TENTATIVELY scheduled the event. As a crowdfunded project, this means spreading the word, building the buzz, and committing to being there. Brian asks how big we can make this. Go tell him at the Steamstock Facebook Group.