Gilmore Girls Fan Fest – a weekend in Stars Hollow

The stars (in the Hollow!) aligned and I was able to snag tickets to the first ever Gilmore Girls Fan Fest in the town that inspired it: Washington Depot, CT. Jennie Whitaker, a GG superfan, got inspired by ATX Television Festival and decided that the 2015 reunion was just not enough Gilmore. So she decided to make a whole weekend dedicated to our favorite show.

My bestie Ally and I hit the road up to CT on Friday afternoon, pulling into the school parking lot just after 5pm. I was already feeling the excitement in the air as I blasted “Where You Lead” from my speakers and watched lots of fans walk past wearing Luke’s Diner t-shirts and other GG-inspired merch.

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Gilmore Fan Fest official t-shirt

First stop after registration was hitting up the merch stand. Kindred Handicrafts had so many shirt designs to choose from, it was a bit overwhelming! I managed to narrow it down to 3 designs: Meet Me at Luke’s; Well, What is Much; and I Got Hit By a Deer. I resisted a Hep Alien design (I already have one from ATX Festival in 2015, which I consider an official concert tee since we saw them perform at the Friday Night Lights tailgate party) and a few other Jess-inspired quotes.

Meet Me at Luke's from Kindred Handicrafts
Meet Me at Luke’s from Kindred Handicrafts

Then it was time for the first official panel! We were in the tent for this one, with the actual panel happening in the nearby Town Hall and a live-stream on the big screen. This was a behind-the-scenes panel moderated by Michael Ausiello of TVLine (the point person for all GG scoop since the news of the revival broke!) Michael hosted an array of GG crew including casting directors Mara Casey & Jami Rudofsky, dialogue coach George Bell, costume designer Valerie Campbell, and writers  Sheila Lawrence & Stan Zimmerman. They all shared lots of really interesting stories, including a few things about the revival (no spoilers!). Sheila described how after the table read for the new episodes, everyone applauded and no one wanted to be the first to leave. Valerie had to unofficially gauge people’s new sizes because they weren’t officially contracted yet. Mara and Jami shared a story about casting for the original series. Jami had a young man who auditioned for something else, and she really wanted him for GG because he was so good. Unfortunately, his audition for GG fell a little flat and they passed on him. Jami: “That young man’s name was Ryan Gosling.”

Behind the scenes panel
Behind the scenes panel

For the last 10-15 minutes of the crew panel, Michael invited up Star and Emma Herrmann, wife and daughter of the late Edward Herrmann (Richard Gilmore). Star and Emma shared stories about Ed (who passed in late 2014) and how much he loved the show. There wasn’t a dry eye in the town.

Ally and me with Star Hermann
Ally and me with Star Hermann

Saturday morning, several cast members were located around the area promoting certain causes as well as chatting with fans and posing for pictures. We arrived in rainy, cold Washington Depot to find long lines of fans waiting anxiously for their chance to meet Keiko Agena (Lane) with John Cabrera (Brian), Rose Abdoo (Gypsy), Mike Gandolfi (Andrew), Biff Yeager (contractor Tom), Liz Torres (Miss Patty) on one side of the street and Sean Gunn (Kirk) with Rini Bell (Lulu) and Vanessa Marano (April) on the other side of the street. Keiko and Rose were both selling original artwork while Mike and Biff were signing books they wrote. Liz just set up at a table in the bookshop and was offering autos and pics with fans. Sean and Rini were helping the Animal Welfare Society—8 out of 12 cats got a forever home thanks to the Fest!

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Rose Abdoo

With a few trips back and forth to the General Store to buy ponchos and hand-warmers, we managed to get in to see Rose Abdoo. I had her sign my Gilmore Girls Companion and she shared a story about the sweater she was wearing in the picture. Apparently, both Melissa McCarthy and Lauren Graham had been offered the sweater but refused. Rose said it was the hottest, itchiest sweater ever! I also bought 2 magnets designed by Rose’s husband, John Matta. They were both Gypsy quotes and I’m excited to put them up! One says “How can a stupid donut be happy?” and the other says “I miss my home.” Although Keiko had run out of art to sell and had to leave, John Cabrera was nice enough to hang around in the rain, posing for pics with fans and signing autos. John’s wife, Babsi, was also in attendance and held the camera for a few fans who wanted pics with John. Ally and I decided we are definitely #TeamJohn this weekend, though of course not to the exclusion of anyone else. John also walked several women to the car, holding the umbrella for them—what a gentleman!

John Cabrera with me and Ally
John Cabrera with me and Ally

We decided to forgo the long line for Jackson as we had a great pic with him from ATX in 2015, and opted to nip over to the side tent just in time to meet Vanessa Marano, who was very sweet. Her workshop had ended, but she was hanging out taking pics with fans. I also had her sign my book and she was impressed I had it open to April’s page.

Vanessa Marano
Vanessa Marano (also of Switched at Birth fame)

Over lunch, Aris Alvarado (Caesar) was doing a cooking demonstration in the main tent with the author of the new cookbook: Eat Like a Gilmore. Eagle-eyed fans may have spotted a young Aris at Rory’s Chilton dance in the first season.

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The afternoon had options outside of the immediate town where you could take a shuttle bus to the Mayflower Inn for tea or over to New Preston where Liz Torres was at a dance recital. We stayed in Washington where we listened to Valerie Campbell narrate some episodes such as “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving” and answer fan questions about wardrobe and other behind-the-scenes tidbits. Valerie brought the Bop-It from “We Got Us a Pippi Virgin” and let fans take pics with it.

Bad party? Break out the Bop-It!
Bad party? Break out the Bop-It!

We stopped at a few local stores—I couldn’t help but buy a large heavy book from the Hickory Stick Bookshop (Rory would be so proud!) and a Stars Hollow wall decoration from a gift shop. The townspeople of Washington Depot were all so friendly and welcoming—happiness was contagious this weekend! The market was selling some food and hot drinks while another local shop owner was offering out hot cider for free! The elementary school was having a bake sale on the lawn in the square and the PTO moms were wearing Luke’s Diner aprons! The school was nice enough to let the festival attendees park in their field during the weekend so we enjoyed giving them donations for their yummy baked goods!

"Luke" offered hot cider for free!
“Luke” offered hot cider for free!

We grabbed some dinner and ate at a table in one of the tents while watching some more of our favorite show. We caught most of the classic “You Jump, I Jump, Jack” before it was time to head over to Town Hall to grab seats for the evening panel.

Before you know it, it was time for the big event: the evening cast panel moderated by Kevin and Demi of the Gilmore Guys podcast. Because there were so many people on this panel, they did it in shifts. First up: the ladies of Stars Hollow – Rini Bell, Rose Abdoo, and Liz Torres. Rini told us Lulu’s taste was “adorable” – and who’s more adorable than Kirk/Sean? Rose shared her headcanon about Gypsy holding a torch for Lorelai. Liz shared stories about her days as a dancer prior to Gilmore and how it was worked into the canon for Miss Patty.

Then the ladies moved back and it was the men’s turn: Jackson Douglas, Biff Yeager, Mike Gandolfi, and Ted Rooney (Morey). Jackson shared a bit about his transition from guest star to guest director on Gilmore and talked about how supportive everyone was when he was in charge. One caveat, though: no one orders Lauren Graham around! The men were asked what the town loner was protesting. No one knew, but we did know who the town protester was: none other than Daniel Palladino!

Next up was “Friends of Luke” – Aris Alvarado, Vanessa Marano, and Sean Gunn. Vanessa had been a fan of the show before she was cast and when the call went out for a “teen girl with a connection to Luke” – she pegged it immediately. She knew they were giving Luke a daughter and it was going to break them up. She was torn at first about being that character, but the part that loved Gilmore and wanted to be employed won out. Even though her character was hated on the show, she had a sense of humor about it. “They got back together in the end and it was fine,” Vanessa told everyone, “So HA!”

Last up was the band: Keiko Agena, Todd Lowe, and John Cabrera. Todd is actually a musician and has a cover band called Hootenanny that plays around LA. John does not play bass, although he has taken some lessons from the real-life Dave Rygalski. It was fun to hear them banter, especially when Todd claimed he was “cuter than John,” and the audience “ooohed” in disbelief!

The last question asked of the cast was the question that everyone has been debating since before the original series even ended: which “team” are they on, regarding Rory’s boyfriends. Keiko is adamantly Team Jess; Jackson says he’s Team Dean. Mike had the best answer: “Rory is an independent woman and doesn’t need a man to define her!” Nice one, “Andrew”! Rini and Rose both declared they were “Team Rory,” along the same lines as Mike.

At the end of the cast panel, after a bit of “Audience Q&A,” the cast had some questions for the audience! Trivia questions, with the chance to win a Hep Alien keychain signed by all 3 members, were not easy! What is Gilmore Girls called in Italy and in Germany? Italy’s title is Una Mama per Amica (rough translation is A Mom for a Friend) and in Germany, it’s simply Gilmore Girls. What is Hep Alien’s tag line, per a flyer for the band? This one stumped the entire audience. “We’re out there.” Good one, GG cast! Finally, we know Kirk’s last name is Gleason, but how do we know? I was so close to winning this one. Keiko thought I’d raised my hand first, but Sean thought it was someone on the other side of the room. The answer is because he had a band called The Kirk Gleason Five.

Hep Alien keychain!
Hep Alien keychain!

Sunday morning we arrived to sunshine and blue skies! Not only was the gentleman with the free cider back, he also had boxes of donut holes to give away. There were giveaways and wrap-ups in the main tent. I won a Hep Alien keychain that I had nearly won the night before! This one wasn’t signed, but hey—there’s always next year! Ally and I opted out of watching the finale with everyone and decided to wander around the block a bit more. Good thing we did—we managed to see Liz Torres and Mike Gandolfi outside the tents and then we ran into Sean Gunn and John Cabrera outside the bookstore! The town of Washington Depot was lovely and perfect for a Gilmore festival. 

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Sean Gunn
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Liz Torres
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Mike Gandolfi
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The general store had a mini diner set up in the front window!

Hopefully we’ll all be back again next year!

Ally and me outside Town Hall
Ally and me outside Town Hall

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