Gilmore Girls Fan Fest: A (2nd) Weekend in Stars Hollow

The second annual Gilmore Girls Fan Fest was held on October 20-22, 2017, this time in Kent, CT. Read about last year’s inaugural event in Washington Depot! Washington was a little too small last year, so we moved to another small town in CT: Kent! We had more room to move around in Kent; we weren’t only in one tiny square area. Although being in mostly one central location was more like Stars Hollow, this worked better for the multitude of fans who flocked to the town. One other thing that was different this year: every ticket was general admission. The panels all took place in the tent where we were all sitting; last year, there were a select few “VIPs” who got to be in the Town Hall for the panels and the rest of us got them live-streamed to the adjacent tents.

Things started earlier on Friday this year; we had a panel at noon with two people who helped behind the scenes to make Gilmore Girls what it was. We heard stories from George Bell, dialogue coach, and Carla McCloskey, who was the Assistant Director in some of the early seasons, directed the episode “I Solemnly Swear,” and was a production manager later in the series. They’d known each other for many years before Gilmore so it was fun to see them play off each other as well as share many stories from their years on set. George was responsible for making sure the dialogue being spoken was exactly word-perfect to the script, to the point where if someone said “I’m” versus “I am,” he had to correct them. Carla shared memories of her homage to All the President’s Men in “I Solemnly Swear.” She wanted the character of Francie to flick a lighter, but because the characters were 16-17 years old in a WB show, Francie couldn’t exactly light up a cigarette—so Carla had Francie use the lighter on lip-liner.

George Bell
Carla McCloskey

After George and Carla, we were treated to a special panel with Louise Goffin. She and her mom, Carole King, re-recorded Carole’s “Where You Lead” in more of a mother-daughter way than the original which was about a romantic couple. Louise shared stories about growing up with her parents (Carole and Gerry Goffin) and her own process of songwriting and finding her own voice.

Louise Goffin

 

We had a bit of a break where I tried to follow the map given in our welcome packets to get to know where everything was and walk around to enjoy the beautiful weather. Remember how it was rainy and cold last year? This year was in the 70s and sunny. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer weekend.

In the same time slot, there were two special guests available to meet while they promoted some artwork. Keiko Agena (Lane Kim) was selling some prints of her artwork. It’s abstract and pretty cool, but I passed on buying. I was excited to finally get to meet her and say hello—I’d seen her at ATX TV Festival in 2015 for the Gilmore reunion as well as at last year’s GG Fan Fest, but I hadn’t gotten a chance to meet her or get a picture with her. It was nice to take a pic with someone who is my size for once; when you’re 5’1”, even people who are 5’4”-5’7” are tall! The other guest was Rose Abdoo (Gypsy) who was appearing at a different location, selling some of her crafts with her husband’s artwork. I’d gotten her crafts and a good picture with her last year, though, so as much as I would have liked to say hi to her again, it wasn’t as much of a priority. The line was around the block to meet her, though, which was awesome! Well—awesome that so many people wanted to meet Rose, but maybe not quite as awesome for those waiting in line.

 

Cocktail Hour in the big tent featured Todd Lowe (Zach) and his guitar. He’s a Texas boy, from Houston, so he put his own country spin on a few songs we know and love. It was a great way to relax and have fun, especially once he started telling jokes. “What do people with two left feet wear to the beach? Flip flips.”

Todd Lowe’s Cocktail Hour

Friday evening was the official “crew” panel in the big tent. Along with George and Carla who had appeared earlier that day, also on the panel were Sheila Lawrence, writer; Valerie Campbell, costumes; and Stan Zimmerman (sporting a “rory’s going to yale!” t-shirt), writer. George and Carla had a few stories repeated from earlier, but it was definitely fun to hear from everyone. Sheila told us about life in the writers’ room, sharing that there were long hours but they survived on coffee and junk food, much like the Gilmore Girls themselves. Valerie was in charge of costume maintenance and continuity; she made sure the costumes were matching from scene to scene and take to take. She told us how hoodies on TV usually have the strings tucked in because it’s difficult to keep the strings the same length, and that she was always making sure it looked like winter or fall with the clothes the actors were wearing (no skin showing in CT in the winter!)

Crew panel

Saturday morning was a bit chilly, but it was warming up quickly. We started off with a 1-mile fun run/walk hosted by Star Herrmann in memory of her late husband Ed Herrmann (Richard Gilmore). They had a box near the start of the race for people to toss in donations to Head for a Cure, brain cancer research. We raised approximately $700! Costumes were encouraged and people took that to heart. There were lots of people dressed as characters from the show: I spotted about several people each dressed as Sookie, Lorelai, and Luke. There was a woman dressed as Rory as Gogo from the Quentin Tarantino party in “Pulp Friction.” When the run/walk was done, we went into the tent for the costume contest. One of the most original costumes was Lorelai’s Jeep! Unlike when people cosplay as the Impala from Supernatural, this wasn’t the Jeep personified. These ladies actually constructed a Jeep from cardboard and had it over them so it was like Lorelai and Rory were inside the car!

After the costume contest is when the tears started. Emma Herrmann shared clips from her work in progress, a documentary about her father. She also shared a short film dramatizing how she felt the first time she returned home after his death. Star let us know that we all (fans included) grieved for Ed (and Richard) and she appreciated all the love sent the family’s way. Emma told us how after Ed had passed, she had to go and get the mail daily from their PO Box because there were so many cards and letters. Ed had always responded to fan mail; he was a big fan of writing letters with fountain pens. Emma promised us she’d finish the documentary this year and premiere it at next year’s Fan Fest.

Next up was a panel with two guests I was most looking forward to: Alan Loayza and Tanc Sade (Colin McCrea and Finn, of the Life and Death Brigade). The panel started off with Tanc throwing candy into the audience. The two of them got to be good friends during the filming of the original series (along with Matt Czuchry, who played Logan, and Nick Holmes, who was Robert) and it definitely showed onstage. Alan especially seemed to put a lot of thought into his character and his answers to questions. They figured out that among the three families (the McCreas, the Huntzbergers, and Finn’s family), that Colin’s family had the most money; then Logan’s, and then Finn’s, although they all had very plush bank accounts. They shared how they were not like their characters – Finn is often drunk, while Tanc does not drink. “I’m drunk sober,” he explained, and it made perfect sense. At one point, while Alan was thoughtfully answering the moderator’s question, Tanc rolled up his pants and pushed his boots down to take a picture of his socks to show his girlfriend. He explained how he’d packed in a hurry and forgotten socks, so he’d had to borrow a pair of hers. He wanted to send her a picture to show that he was wearing them onstage. “Can’t you do that later?!” Alan demanded of his friend. They shared how the tango scene in the revival took Tanc six weeks of rehearsal to learn. Alan, who claims he actually is the dancer of the group, got off easy and just had to stand there while the professional dancers danced around him.

Toward the end of the panel, the guys announced there was going to be a Life & Death Brigade Scavenger Hunt: the items were listed on the Gilmore Girls Fan Fest Instagram, and we had an hour to find pictures of each one. The list was full of references to the series and included such items as a crow, a milk maid, Yale, polo, British Invasion, champagne, Asian Bird Flu, missing letter E, and an umbrella. I ended up skipping the scavenger hunt, as the guys were each standing toward the side of the tent (Alan inside; Tanc outside) and posing for pictures with the fans. I got each of them to sign my Gilmore Girls Companion book, and posed for pics with each of them. By the time that was done, the hunt was half over and I chose to move on to the next activity that was starting shortly.

The next event I attended was The Coffee Monologues, hosted by Stan Zimmerman. This was so popular, there was barely any room! All the chairs were filled and even the standing room (and floor space) were crowded. It was well worth it, though. Stan had picked out several monologues from each of the three Gilmore Girls for actors to read. Sam Pancake, who played Donald in the revival, was Lorelai (fitting, since he and Lauren Graham are very close); Aris Alvarado (Luke’s right hand man Caesar) put a fresh spin on Rory; and George Bell (dialogue coach and Rory’s professor) gave an incredible Emily. We were all laughing and crying at the scenes Stan had picked out. What a fun time! They all came down after and were happy to sign and take pics with everyone. The crowd around George was especially enthusiastic, causing him to remark “All this for a dialogue coach?!”

After that, there were several things going on at once. First, I went over to the library where Rini Bell (Lulu) was selling her handmade soaps (most of which featured a dragonfly, in honor of The Dragonfly Inn) and posing for pictures with fans. She’s a quiet, soft-spoken person, but just as sweet as she seems. She also signed my Gilmore book. Then across the street at the antiques store, a line was forming to meet Emily Kuroda (Mrs. Kim) although she wasn’t scheduled to be there for another hour. I chatted with a few people in line, then decided to take my chances at the bookstore where there were appearances and book signings by Carla McCloskey and Biff Yeager (Tom the contractor). I bought each of their books (yay supporting local businesses) and had them each sign their books. It was a little crowded in the tiny store, but worth it to meet them. I headed back over to the antiques store to find out that Emily had started almost a full hour early and the people that were holding my spot in line had already gone through. So I hopped on the end of the line, which was moving quickly. A Fest volunteer was taking everyone’s pictures as they approached Emily and my phone put my whole interaction together in a gif. Emily signed my book, then was surprised to see that it was a page with her. “I’ll have to get this book!” she said.

Back at the big tent, I caught the end of the special panel with the Herrmann family (Star, Emma, and Ed & Star’s oldest daughter Ryan). Emma shared a story about one time she was on set visiting her dad when she was young and he’d left her with Alexis so he could film a scene. Alexis was wearing a beautiful blue dress with a scarf, Emma recalled, and she let Emma try on the scarf. Later, Emma realized that the pretty blue dress was the costume Alexis wore for the iconic scene where she & Logan jump off the scaffolding scene in “You Jump, I Jump, Jack” and was very pleased to have been able to try on the scarf. Ryan shared a story about when she’d first started dating her wife, she introduced her to her dad and her [future] wife fangirled over “the dad from Richie Rich!” Ed’s presence was definitely felt throughout the weekend.

The Herrmann Family

After a quick bite to eat, I stopped by Town Hall where Valerie Campbell was sharing some handmade ice cream and talking costumes. I managed to catch the very last question, luckily. I would have liked to be there for more, but I’d misread the schedule and expected her to be at the tent, so between being in the wrong location and needing food, I missed most of it. It’s okay, though – I did catch a lot of her commentary last year, and I’m sure she’ll be back next year. I did get to taste a little bit of her ice cream, which was delicious. She had special Gilmore flavors: Jackson’s Pumpkin with Sookie’s Fudge, Stars Hollow Cider Sorbet, and Luke’s Coffee.

Cocktail hour this evening featured entertainment by Eric Henry, who was Nat Compton, the director of the musical in the revival. I wasn’t that thrilled with the actual musical in the show – I thought it was a joke that was drawn out too much – but Eric was a lot of fun! He was bouncing around the stage, taking requests for songs. He sang everything from Prince’s “Kiss” to “The Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound of Music. At the end of Eric’s time, he introduced Louise Goffin, who led the room in a big sing-a-long of “Where You Lead.” We had some of the cast sneak out behind her to join in the singalong as well!

Then it was time for the big event: the cast panel! As with last year, the guests were brought out in bunches to be a little more manageable. The moderator asked a few questions to the guests, then opened it up to audience questions during each part. About halfway through, most of the cast was onstage, and Todd started playing on his guitar. From offstage, you heard a voice singing the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Everyone in the audience leapt to their feet as festival staff helped Liz Torres (Miss Patty) up on to the stage and she continued to serenade us. Then we stood again for her, with the entire cast onstage standing and applauding as well. It was a magical moment. Also a magical moment: when Sam got Lauren on FaceTime during the panel to say hi! She was a little teary eyed seeing so many fans in one room and promised to try to come next year.

I was among many people who rushed the stage after the panel, and the actors were nice enough to stick around for pictures. They crouched or lay on the stage so we could be almost on the same level. (I suppose that depends on your height. Even when they were at the level of the stage, I was still a head shorter.) I snagged a quick picture with Todd Lowe and a selfie with Valerie Campbell. I also got to say hi to Alan and Tanc again and catch a quick video with each of them.

Sunday morning, the festival was wrapping up. The staff and volunteers started off by throwing more candy and other goodies into the audience as we crowded the stage and all reached for the free swag. Then Jennie hosted some giveaways including t-shirts from her company Kindred Handicrafts. I didn’t win anything, and neither did any of my friends, but it was still fun. George Bell had donated a few props from the show, and Jennie auctioned them off with all the money going to brain cancer research. The final piece was a skateboard given to him as a gift for the spin-off that wasn’t, Windward Circle. George had everyone, cast and crew, sign it while on the show (including Lauren, Alexis, Kelly Bishop, and Ed!) and I believe the final price was over $10,000. The final tally from the auctions were over $15,000 all going to brain cancer research! Jennie was in tears, and so were many of us in the audience.

I decided to skip the DAR panels and roam around the town to see what I hadn’t gotten a chance to visit during the festival. I visited the chocolate and coffee shop, the farmer’s market, and then continued wandering. In my travels, I happened upon Valerie Campbell packing up a car. I wished her a safe trip, and we started chatting. Then Todd Lowe came out as well and they were all talking about the other cast members. I must have stumbled upon the green room or festival office! I texted the friend I’d been hanging with all weekend to let her know that Todd and Valerie were around, and soon a lot of others showed up as well! They were still kind and generous with their time, taking pics and signing autos. I thanked them for coming, and we told Todd he needed his own comedy hour. He said we were such a good audience, he wanted to bring us with him! We promised we would love to be friendly faces in the crowd everywhere he performs, but it might be a bit difficult logistically. We got a chance to speak with Eric, too, and thank him for his Saturday night entertainment.

 

We let everyone get in their cars and move on from the festival while we waited to talk to Jennie, the festival founder. We thanked her for an amazing weekend and started speculating about next year. I told her I think we should stay in Kent, but she said she might move around to a different CT town each year—maybe Litchfield or New Milford next year. Well, no matter what small town in CT it’s held in, you can bet I’ll be there!

Jennie Whitaker, festival founder

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