‘Festival Weekend’ part one: Geeking out at Fandom Fest

[This article is part of the ‘Festival Weekend’ Double Feature, which explores a series of large scale events that are intended to drive traffic to downtown Chambersburg and the organizations behind them. Part one focuses on Saturday’s Fandom Fest. Part two covers Sunday’s Spring Food Truck Festival.]

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. – “We all worked together to put this spring weekend together,” said Downtown Business Council Coordinator Jennifer Davis, of last weekend’s packed two-day event schedule.

The marathon of events started on Saturday with an Earth Day event hosted by Waste Management in the courthouse plaza, the inaugural Great Futures Downtown Chambersburg 5K for the Boys & Girls Club, and the first annual Fandom Fest.

Sunday kept the festivities going with the Spring Food Truck Festival and Swing into Spring, and event that positioned non-food vendors near the food trucks so people could shop while they ate.

Fandom Fest is at heart a continuation of GeekFest, which was started by Nerdvana Outpost, a pop culture store (with an arcade) that, unfortunately, closed on Christmas Eve 2022. When the Downtown Business Council picked up the baton and decided to run with it, they wanted to expand the umbrella to include an even wider array of fandoms. They worked closely with Sam Thrush from Downtown Chambersburg Inc. and Brittany Shade of Mirabella Took Creations.

“Our goal for this event was to have things that were collectible, things that were geared towards what people love,” said Davis who considers herself to be both a “Wizard of Oz” person and a “Simpsons” person. At Fandom Fest, Davis doesn’t have to choose between them (although she was dressed as Marge Simpson with her trademark blue hair and a red beaded necklace).

“Some people love ‘Starship Troopers,’ some people love Legos,” she said naming a few of the fandoms represented by the crowd. “We put together just a bunch of marvelous things into one festival so we kind of hit everybody.”

She added that “in a family, you can have a bunch of people that like different things, but at a festival like this, they’re all going to find something that they love.”

The event was originally scheduled to start at noon on Saturday, but at the last minute, it was bumped to 10 a.m. to counter the risk of inclement weather. Even as the gray clouds gathered overhead, the parking lot near Fort Chambers Park filled with cosplayers, vendors and even a bubble magician.

“You just see a wonderful mix of things,” said Davis, “and we’re very excited about it.”

There were also a variety of photo-ops featuring a mermaid lagoon, a replica of KITT from the television show “Knight Rider,” and Wonder Woman posing with her invisible jet.

“We do character performances,” said Erica Steckel who played Wonder Woman for a meet and greet session at Fandom Fest. Steckel is part of the cast of The Enchanted Teapot, which is a mobile tea service and character appearance company located in central Pennsylvania.

Steckel was at Fandom Fest for photo opportunities, but she explained that Enchanted Teapot experience can be much more immersive depending on the nature of the event.

“A lot of times, though, we do birthday parties where we do activities, coloring sheets, music – stuff like that,” she said. “That’s usually what we do.”

Steckel discovered The Enchanted Teapot when she hired four princesses for her daughter’s fourth birthday party. Today, she has been with the company for nearly a year, and in that time, she has appeared at almost 50 events.

“Yeah, it’s pretty big,” said Wonder Woman when asked if it was difficult traveling from event to event with an invisible jet.

Parked next to Wonder Woman’s invisible jet was another famous vehicle for fans to explore and pose with.

“This is the Knight Industries Two Thousand, or more commonly referred to as KITT from the 1980s classic TV show ‘Knight Rider,’” said Levin Lewis Sr, owner and operator of Levy Metal Enterprises.

“We are your one-stop shop for costumes, props, and more,” said Lewis. “We do everything from production sets, movie cars, special effects, costumes, makeup, and we also do a custom line of hand-made instruments, amps, pedals, drum sets and more.”

He has done custom guitars for Ace Frehley of Kiss, Chuck Garric of Alice Cooper and numerous others.

Lewis’s KITT began as a 1984 Pontiac Trans Am with 4,500 original miles on it. Since then, he has racked up 20,000. The vehicle has been customized with the correct front nose, T-Top center console and two TVs mounted in the dashboard. It also has a built-in arcade system – “Just like KITT had in the series” – but this one has been upgraded with more than 600 classic games ranging from Atari to Super Nintendo.

When he’s not constructing props, he spends time appearing at community and school events “to teach them all of the many skill sets that we have at Levy Metal Enterprises.”

Over in the Mermaid Lagoon, attendees could meet mermaids like Spyra, Maeve and Gingersnap.

Gingersnap, also known as Jillian Breneman, has been Miss Mermaid Pennsylvania since 2021. She explained that there is a national and even an international body of mermaid pageantry. Contestants are required to undergo a thorough application process inquiring about everything from water experience to modeling and acting experience.

“But the real important part is to have a platform and a charity,” said Breneman. “I stared out with a double platform. At the time, most theaters were closed down still because of the pandemic, so I was really pushing for support for small theaters.”

This issue was especially personal to mermaids who often have formal performance-based training, so she called upon her fellow mermaids to help.

“We’re actresses, too, so let’s support each other,” she said.

The other half of her platform called attention to the plight of small businesses, particularly the kinds of vendors that mermaids often cross paths with at events like Renaissance fairs and Fandom Fest.

Breneman discovered mermaiding while she was modeling for photographers in the area, and she decided to put together a quality costume for a photoshoot concept. She invested in a nice tail figuring that when she was finished with it, she could rent it out. Instead, she still wears that same tail – it’s the one she brought with her to Fandom Fest – and she has added others to her collection.

She caught the attention of the mermaid community, and they introduced her to the world of pageantry and MerMagic Con.

“Within a couple of months, I was part of the mermaid world,” she said. With that came a sense of sisterhood. “I had a family to be accepted into besides the Pennsylvania Mermaid Pod right away.”

Dabo-Rye, an international artisan sandwich food truck – “expect familiar cuisine w/ jazzy flavors!” – made its public debut at Fandom Fest. Co-owners Daniel Klink and Brian Gardner formed the idea for Dabo-Rye in the early summer of last year.

“Today, we’re offering our berbere cheesesteak – berbere is an Ethiopian house-blend of spices,” said Klink as he prepared an order for a customer. “And our chorizo smash burger.”

Klink, who works at Falafel Shack and plans to continue doing so, explained how the restaurant’s owner Amer Chaudhry has helped them on their journey and how Falafel Shack is Dabo-Rye’s commissary kitchen.

“Ahmer has helped us through the process because he’s been through the whole thing,” said Klink.

Gardner added: “We’re two young guys that are really excited about expanding the understanding of what food can be and bringing some new ideas and cultures into Chambersburg.”

Fandom Fest was a taste of what was to come for Dabo-Rye because they would be back the next day, in the same spot, for the Spring Food Truck Festival.

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