Smoky Mountain Fan Fest 2021 Review: Steps In The Right Direction But Has More Steps To Go

This year Smoky Mountain Fan Fest enters its 2nd year and I was actually present during it’s first year; however, it was a much smaller event and I wasn’t there long enough for me to feel like I could give it a proper review with all the details I like to give. This year though it really grew by leaps and bounds and honestly felt almost like an entirely different event and was one that had a lot more to experience, but periods of growth for conventions can be tricky so the question is if this convention did it well or stumbled along the way.

First I want to talk about the vendors because they were a big step up from last year. The number of vendors they had this year would have exceeded the entire space they had for last years event which was an improvement I found rather impressive. Furthermore there was a fair amount of variety included such as home made crafts, wooden designs, dice sets, T-shirts. The stuff present really represented a good variety of fandoms; however, I will note that there were a lot of funko pops. I have nothing against funko pops; however, when I go through three consecutive rows and see some of the same items I can’t help but want more variety. I don’t want this to take away from the fact that they improved tremendously in this area because they did and the vendors were a lot of fun to shop around at. I only think that because I saw some of the same items several times rather quickly that the variety of vendors could improve even further for next year’s event. I say this because if too many vendors close to each other sell the same items, shoppers wind up buying less and vendors end of selling less where as a greater variety means more sales taking place. I will note a fun story that happened. I entered my wife in a contest for one of the vendors for a $50 voucher because she would absolutely love it if she won and turns out she did, she was overjoyed, and because the booth was one that sold D&D dice she told me to spend the voucher, so thanks to this con I now own a super well made dice set.

Next up I’ll talk about the guests because this was something they did well last year and even better this year. They had an impressive variety of actors in anime, movies, TV and wrestling so there was a little something for a wide variety of fans. My wife absolutely loved it as she was a huge fan of the Sandlot and this event had several actors from the movie. As a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe I thought it was cool that they had the actress that played Tony Stark’s daughter in Avenger’s Endgame. Since we went on Sunday only lines really weren’t that bad at all so we actually got plenty of time to talk to a lot of the actors that we met and it really felt like a VIP experience to a degree because we got so much time with them. However, speaking of VIP, my wife did get one of the VIP badges which comes with line skipping options for autograph lines but I didn’t notice anything separating VIP and general admission lines at the autographs nor were the line skipping options enforced for people that had a line. Because of the small crowd it never presented an issue but I think it’s something that can be improved as a lot can be gained for this con if they really perfect the VIP experience.

Finally I want to bring up the panels and other experiences that they have to offer. Panels were a lot of fun they were Q&As with a bunch of the guests and they were right there at the vendors so it was easy to catch a panel. I think as they continue to grow they will want to branch out and have a dedicated panel room but at their size right now I thought this was a smart move. They offered photo ops this year and my wife got a Sandlot photo op which was only listed for Sunday (which was why we only went Sunday). Now it was really easy to get in and out and I really like that as I’ve had some rough photo op experiences in the past. A couple of things I wasn’t a fan of was how the entrance door was shut after the photo ops started so I wasn’t sure if it was ok to just enter and see if they were doing the photos or not because no official call was made to alert anyone that the Sandlot photo op started, which started a bit late as well, by about 15 to 20 minutes. I did find out the door was closed because people were peaking in and taking free pictures while they were doing the photo ops so I agree shutting the door was the right call, but someone really had to be at the door to make sure people who were there for the photo op knew it was their time to get their picture. We then went to the charity auction which oddly enough started a bit early as we got their before 5pm to get a good seat and the auction was already taking place. It just barely started so it wasn’t an issue for us we just thought it was odd. They also noted the auction would announce items in order on the pamphlets we were given which I thought was an amazing idea because it helped to prepare bids in advance and not blow a bunch of money early on not knowing what all was coming, but turns out they were all over the place as the pamphlet was significantly different from the order the auction happened. This was also minor as it still had all the items on it so we were still able to plan ahead and got some amazing items and spent money that benefited a good cause. Plus the auctioneers were incredible and really put on a great show during the auction so I had a wonderful time.

Overall this marks the first time I saw significant growth in a convention and thought that growth was handled well. Often times I’ve seen conventions grow and in that process get so badly organized that it became difficult to experience what I came to do at the convention. This was not the case here. Even though it had some scheduling difficulties and some organizational areas that could be improved there was nothing that hindered our ability to go to this event and enjoy what it has to offer. If this convention continues at this rate I can see it being a really big event in just a few short years plus it’s only two hours from me so it’s an event that is easy for me to attend and I’m super excited to see this one grow. I think as it is now it offers a pleasant convention experience and because it’s in the middle of Gatlinburg, TN it’s within walking distance to several attractions so you could really plan an amazing weekend here when you put the two together.

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