Contata (1)

I spent this weekend at the hotel Hilton Parsippany, attending a sci fi con called “Contata 5“. In a somewhat strange co-branding fashion this was also NEFilk 18 — apparently, NEFilk is sort of an umbrella designation. Filk is an odd branch of music deriving from (originally, literally via typo) folk music — it’s folk with a science fiction / fantasy bend. Filking is one of those sundry ways in which being a science fiction fan is not the same as being, say, a New York Mets fan or an opera aficionado. It’s the shared culture and oral history that keeps the community close-knit and vibrant despite being spread over every known continent.

Although I’d heard of the phenomenon, my first exposure to filk was at Lunacon this past March. Filking was a distinct thread woven through Lunacon — a chain of panels and sessions scattered among the calendar of events, at which more or less the same people showed up. I attended one late-night filking session to see what the buzz was about. To be honest, it was a little intimidating. This truly is an organized oral culture with multiple decades of backstory. Everyone knew the words and the anecdotes and the in-jokes — everyone but me, that is. My temptation was to high-tail it out of the room and write it off as a failed exercise.

The story doesn’t end there though — more below the fold.


Happily, though, I lingered just long enough to discover the contradiction of filking. Due to the steep curve and the shared history, filkers are naturally a little separated from other con goers. The richness of the culture can be overwhelming. But the filkers aren’t a closed or exclusive community. To the contrary, the filkers at Lunacon reached out to me as a newbie.  Even though most of them have known each other for a decade or more, they went out of their way to include me and make me welcome. They shared songbooks; they shared jokes; they shared stories.

By the time the “open filk” was winding down, it seemed entirely natural to join them at the traditional midnight chocolate tasting. I’m still not clear on whether the chocolate tasting is a general filk tradition, or a Contata one, or a NEFilk one — or just the particular habit of that particular band of filkers. It was a good excuse to get together and socialize and basically not let the night end with the official closing time. Merav Hoffman was the con chair for Contata and she found the chocolate tasting an opportune time to strike and make a pitch for new members. In particular, she told me about the upcoming con in June and invited me to it. Largely because it would be in New Jersey and I could easily get to it, I decided to take her up on it.

So a few days after Lunacon, I booked a hotel room and registered myself for Contata, wondering what would be unique to a filking con. More to come.

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