OC Fair & Events Center, Costa Mesa, CA
Greetings, folks! This evening, we continue our brief Halloween hiatus with a look back at another local music and arts festival. This past weekend, the Orange County Fair and Events Center played host to Big Adventure Fest, a music, comedy, anime, comic-con, video game, and EDM convention that mixed all things that seem to be currently trendy in the con world into one entertaining and colorful mishmash of fandom.
Sponsored by local alternative radio station ALT 98.7FM, Big Adventure was effectively a replacement for the very similarly curated ID10T Music Festival + Comic Conival. But the Chris Hardwick-backed event put on by the same producers was postponed before it was formally announced, during a period of time that coincided with accusations of abuse and sexual misconduct by Hardwick’s former girlfriend, Chloe Dykstra. Fortunately for fans, the promoters found a way to deliver essentially the same type of product, and this past Saturday and Sunday, Big Adventure played host to over 16,000 guests and lovers of music, comedy, and all things nerdy.
For a mixture of so many interests, Big Adventure laid out in a fairly straightforward manner. Clustered among the six central promenades and pavilions of the fairgrounds and the Hangar performance space, Big Adventure featured an typical expo area featuring vendors and exhibitors and artists; themed experiences by sponsors such as NerdBot and Machinima; panels on televisions shows, films, and series like Wrecked, Stan vs Evil, Superfight Live!, and American Satan; and plenty of photo ops.
The adjacent halls made navigation relatively easy, allowing guests to move from area to area in a relatively quick fashion. The central promenade featured its own series of sponsor stalls promoting their own products, offering samplers, and selling drinks to any guests interested.
On the south edge of the festival grounds, a line of fairground food stands provided bites for those looking to recharge. Although the cuisine ranged from BBQ to street tacos to Hawaiian bowls and desserts, some additional variety beyond that would have been welcome. A few food trucks could have added some greater diversity and helped with some of the lines that formed during the dinner rush.
Beyond that, the first year festival never felt uncomfortably crowded. Guests were slow to fill up the venue during the early and mid-afternoon hours, but this provided a fair amount of relaxing space to explore the various booths and attractions. Even by the evening, though the crowds were plentiful for the evening music and EDM acts, moving around never felt like a chore or a perilous exercise, which was a good sign for the event.
Of course, a con can’t really be a con without its fans, and Big Adventure certainly encouraged the fandom to engage with both its various features and a cosplay contest. The result was quite a fair number of guests dressed up as their favorite comic or movie or video game or television character, or some hybrid version. Mash-ups of Star Wars and Marvel, gender-bending variations of recognizable characters, steam-punk derived aesthetics, and more joined many other typical representations of identities well known in pop culture.
There were lots of interesting looks, some representing recent popular characters and others spanning back further—and even obscure references. There was plenty of Disney and DC and Marvel and anime cosplay, to be sure. From Deadpool to Batman to a Sorcerer Mickey to Naruto to Pokemon to Alice in Wonderland, the usual hits were well represented. But the random dress-ups provided fun people watching as well. A group costumed after Wes Anderson’s Life Aquatic definitely wouldn’t win most mainstream recognition, but much credit is warranted for their commitment to their theme. A couple done up in costuming that matched the graphic aesthetic of Archer also stood out among the more creative looks at the festival.
In what might be recognized as a product of liberal, Californian nerddom (or perhaps nothing surprising from those who go to comic cons in general), the number of gender reversed cosplays was also a treat to see. Big Adventure Fest saw characters like Lara Croft, the Pink Power Ranger, and Ash and Misty from Pokemon confidently represented by the opposite sex. And they looked great doing so!
Even if it was just to see how other guests were celebrating their passion for pop culture in costumed form, Big Adventure provided quite an enjoyable and supportive atmosphere for this type of guest-driven creativity to thrive.
One of the top highlights of Big Adventure Fest was its incredibly stacked comedy line-up. With heavyweights, Patton Oswald and Jim Jeffries, headlining Saturday and Sunday, respectively, there was no doubt that guests were in for a treat, and the packed Hangar early in the afternoon gave great energy to the big name funnymen and their supporting acts.
Marcella Arguello, known for appearances on @Midnight, Funny or Die, The Nerdist, and more, served as host for the two-hour comedy set each day. Strutting in her highly visible Simpsons jacket, she quickly kept things moving between comedy sets, not hesitating to call out guests who were video recording sets (a comedy club no-no, since it spoils routines that may be planned for specials in the future) and encouraging the crowd to show its support for each comic.
Australian Monty Franklin was the opener on Saturday, and he provided a thoroughly entertaining and informative routine that touched upon subjects ranging from his own expression of Australia’s convict history to the pressure of fulfilling Aussie stereotypes to Americans to even Australia’s only formal war in its history, a combat against—and this is absolutely true—emus. It happened. Twice.
Indian-American comic Hari Kondabolu followed with a set that moved around his family and childhood experiences, as well as around his reputation as a liberal and activist and how that runs in his professional work. Fearless in his inclusion of politics in his comedy, Hari closed his 15 minutes with a urge to all guests to go out and vote—a message that would be repeated throughout the day.
Veteran comic Emo Philips brought his trademark fidgeting and eccentric persona to the Hangar stage and unleashed a hailstorm of dark, ironic humor, quirky observations, and misdirectional and morbid punchlines upon the audience. Those not familiar with Philips’ character were undoubtedly surprised that this innocently odd-looking, nervous-acting speaker could provide jokes that started in the absurd and quickly devolve into the disturbing. Many of his jokes were thinkers, triggering a slow ripple of murmurs that coalesced into a laughter that was at once raucous and unsure as the crowd connected the dots and realized the uncomfortable truth highlighting each point.
At one point, Emo paused, momentarily and proceeded to stuff his entire jacket into a pants pocket. It was a ridiculous moment, but the successful accomplishment garnished a rowdy applause. If there were some who were unsure of Philips because of his skittish appearance at the beginning of the set, they were sold by the time he finished. The applause as he left the stage broadcast the audience approval.
Kristen Schaal was left with a tough act to follow, and did her best with her recognizable awkward insecure whimsy. Discussing topics like her recent newborn daughter, her successful marriage after years of being and feeling undesired, and the general tribulations of being a woman, Schaal did not hesitate to unflatter herself. But that added to the charm. Her openness in discussing her challenges and insecurities provided a welcome authenticity to her set.
Patton Oswalt, the Saturday headliner, capped off a great comedy spree with a one-hour set that showcased his mastery of the comedy craft. Polished yet casual, engaging in his wit and observations, expertly moving from subject to subject—even when they seemed unrelated—Oswalt effortlessly manipulated the room with his upfront and hard-hitting humor. From pop culture to politics to life with his new wife to amusing anecdotes and parental lessons from his daughter, Oswalt wove a captivating and thoroughly riotous journey that provided a great accent to the afternoon.
Fans of alternative and indie music as well as electronic dance music had their pick on both days of Big Adventure. After an hour’s break to reconfigure the space following the last comedian, the Hangar played host to a quarter of of both up and coming and recognizable radio acts stretching into the mid evening. Over in the Huntington Beach Building, after the panels had ended, the chairs were similarly cleared to make way for a series of electronic DJ’s spinning tracks to the delight of the ravers and clubbers in attendance at what was dubbed the Adventure Stage.
The former was more of the interest for us, especially with the pavilion space making for poor sound in the overly loud Adventure Stage. Opening indietronic band, NVDES, kicked off the late afternoon with a high energy dance fest of their own. Sporting colorful bathrobes, they served as an effective warm-up act to get the crowd active and moving.
Portland-based Echos brought things to a mellower level with their set. Lexi Norton’s strong, moving, heartfelt, often melancholy (self recognizingly so) voice mixed elements of emo and Indiepop, Backed by percussion from musical partner, Tal Richards, Echos infused a more sentimental and poignant vibe to the Hangar atmosphere.
Where Echos kept the beat more deliberate, Phantogram picked up the rhythm and re-established a more riveted energy. Starting mostly with songs from their most recent album, Three, Phantogram gradually traced back their discography. By now, the Hangar had filled up with thousands of dancing fans, and Phantogram’s electronica and “trip hop” harmonies provided plenty of motivation to keep up the energy.
Finally for Saturday night… the headliner. Empire of the Sun brought their theatrical and dramatic stage presence to the OC Fairgrounds, thrilling audiences with an hour and a quarter set covering their big hits, like “Alive,” “We Are People,” “High and Low,” and, of course, “Walking on a Dream,” in between lesser commercially known tracks from their three albums.
By the time frontman Luke Steele and his band took the stage, it was clear that a very large contingent of the crowd had been waiting all afternoon just for the main attraction, and the crowded exploded with liveliness as the band took the stage. In typical fashion, the entrance was colorfully flamboyant—dancers deliberately marching across the elevated stage set and toward the crowd as the other band members took their places. And then there was Steele, emerging like a monarch in his flowery and iconic headdress, guitar in hand, taking in the energy before quickly breaking into a guitar riff to launch into the set.
From smoke blasts to multiple dancer costume changes to a dazzling visual background display to confetti, the Empire of the Sun set was hardly with a dull moment. And the crowd matched it with an infectious ardor that had everyone moving on their feet from the railing all the way to the general circulation area in the promenade. People of all ages bobbed, whirled, and regaled to the synth-pop and dance-rock beats. And when the last encore song was finished, many seemed hesitant to leave—so energized were they still from a fantastic set.
Big Adventure’s first year certainly had some minor improvements that could have been implemented. Although the panels were staggered, and breaks between the Hangar musical acts did allow the chance to check out the EDM at the Adventure Stage, the scheduling did force a couple of “one or the other” choices. Those who wanted to see comedy would have to miss all the panels, while a couple of the EDM acts completely overlapped with the Hangar stage acts. It would have been nice to have had a little more flexibility built in for fans of multiple genres. Improved dining options would definitely be welcome next year as well. If there was even half as much variety in food as there was in alcoholic choices, the festival will definitely be a culinary attraction.
But for its inaugural offering, Big Adventure firmly established a fun and satisfying convention. Overall, it was an entertaining and diverse festival that allowed for a relaxing, chill tone to enjoy the festivities. In an age where so many festivals seem to jam as many things into a limited amount of time, it was very refreshing to not have to worry about a taxing and lengthy festival that feels like an endurance race. We certainly hope Big Adventure will return next year!
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.