The author:
The author: "I'm cool... right?" Photo By Meg Nanna

When it comes to all things hard rock and metal, I am an epic nerd…well, at least my wife says so. And like most nerds, I can be an incredible cynic as well. When I first saw an ad for the inaugural Headbangers Con in my Instagram feed, and perused the website to see what it entailed, I discounted it immediately. More than half of the “Celebrity Guests” were from commercial, satellite radio-friendly bands like Sevendust, Soil, Butcher Babies, Shadows Fall, and so on. They served as little inspiration for the cynic in me to attend. Plus, I believe metal is primarily an underground pursuit, and not fit for the pomp of a convention.

Much to the cynic’s chagrin, there were a few diamonds in the rough that peaked the nerd’s interest: guitarist and vocalist Corey Glover from Living Colour, guitarist Eddie Ojeda from Twisted Sister, bassist David Ellefson from Megadeth, and artist Derek Riggs, the man responsible for creating Iron Maiden’s mascot “Eddie.”

Despite my initially furrowed brow, the nerd and the cynic needed to go head to head on this one. I had to leap into the fray and see if Headbangers Con was something that the metal community would embrace.

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I thought the three-day Headbangers Con would be dead. All of it. Nobody I knew was going or even interested in going. Being a typical nerd, I think I’m quite cool and my taste is impeccable. Naturally, everyone I associate with is the same. Since nobody cool was going, who would?

Friday night kicked off the Headbangers Con weekend. A “Red Carpet Press Gala” and an exclusive show for VIP ticket holders featuring the legendary, yellow and black striped Christian hair metal band Stryper was held at the Bossanova Ballroom—and it was packed to the freakin’ gills. People waited outside for over an hour to get in. The line wrapped from the front door of the Ballroom, down south east Burnside, and traveled all the way around the corner to Ankeny.

Big smiles from Corey Glover of Living Colour
Big smiles from Corey Glover of Living Colour Photo By Meg Nanna

Everyone I spoke to that evening was excited for the weekend ahead. The Con’s founder and curator Chris 51 was beaming and thrilled with the turnout. The celebrity guests in attendance were peacocking around, but they were very gracious and greeted all fans, press, and photographers with smiles and conversation. Stryper put on a great show. The mean age of the attendees was likely 55, but they were feeling like it was 1986.

It looked like the cynic was gonna be wrong on this one.

Strypers yellow and black attack!
Stryper's yellow and black attack! Photo By Meg Nanna

Then came the con on Saturday, and much to the cynic’s pleasure, it was pretty slow. There was no line wrapped around the Doubletree Hotel to get in. No droves of denim and leather clad longhairs clambering to get photos and autographs from their heroes. The exhibit hall where booths featuring all things metal—records, horror paraphernalia, tattoo artists, “Video Vixens” Bobbi Brown and Brandi Brandt—were easily navigated and perused in 30 minutes or so. The panels where celebrity guests were interviewed by host of SiriusXM Liquid Metal and Octane shows Jose Mangin, when con guests could ask questions of their idols, were poorly attended. It was a shame.

Saturday evening’s show with Silent Theory, Hyro The Hero, and Soil wasn’t as populated as the previous night’s Stryper show, but there was a good amount of fans there. Personally, I was not interested in seeing any of the bands on the bill, but in the spirit of keeping an open mind, I went. I was mostly right that the music wasn’t my flavor, but Hyro The Hero’s performance was undeniably great. His band ripped through some funky, heavy, and tight tunes while Hyro spit over the top of them. Their style was a major nod to Rage Against The Machine, but their energy and presence was off the charts.
Horns up for Hyro The Hero!
Horns up for Hyro The Hero! Photo By Meg Nanna

Sunday, the final day of the con at the Doubletree was just as slow as Saturday, maybe even slower. So, the cynic was mostly right. Mostly...

Yes, there was a meager turnout for the first Headbangers Con, but the small crowd notwithstanding, I had a hell of a good time, and so did everyone in attendance. There was nothing but smiles dripping off the faces of everyone all weekend. Those that did their best to fill the seats for the panels, were enthralled and starry-eyed as they were regaled with wild tales about their favorite bands straight from the people that lived them.

Also, considering the fact that the con wasn’t super packed, it afforded fans more opportunity and time to talk with the celebrities. Of course, if you wanted more than a handshake, autographs and selfies were running $20 a pop, but some of the celebrities were selling items with a bit more of a personal touch as well. David Ellefson was selling basses he had played on tour, and Carla Harvey and Heidi Shepherd from the Butcher Babies were selling handmade crafts and art that they had made themselves. These were the things of superfans’ dreams.

And as far as the turnout was concerned, David Ellefson really put it best.

“I think [Headbangers Con] is a great idea," he said. "I do a lot of comic cons and horror cons around the country. I find, especially at the horror cons, the same kind of headbanger likes a good slasher flick as much as they like a good metal album. I thought this was the perfect idea for our culture. They’ve got the right idea. You gotta just fire one off. It’s like a band with their first gig, you gotta just see how it goes and take it from there. As long as we keep creating and innovating, we keep laying track for the train to go forward.”

Silent Theory bassist George Swanger had eyes for our photog Meg Nanna.
Silent Theory bassist George Swanger had eyes for our photog Meg Nanna. Photo By Meg Nanna

Chris 51 told me he already has three more Headbanger Cons in the works that will be held in different cities across the US. I hope he continues to pursue these cons. Headbangers might look a little rough and tumble sometimes, but they’re mostly loving, inclusive people. Giving them a place to gather, providing good tunes, good buddies, and anything their steely hearts made of metal could desire, can’t be a bad thing.

Silence your cynic now and again. It feels good.