Denver convention StarFest, one of the longest-running pop-culture gatherings in the nation, has announced its final voyage.
If you go
StarFest Denver: The Final Voyage. Classic pop-culture convention, May 13-15 at the Hyatt Regency DTC, 7800 E. Tufts Ave. in Denver. Tickets: $29; children 10 and under are free. Order by calling 303-777-6800 or visiting starfestdenver.com.
The 45-year-old event, which debuted just two weeks before “Star Wars” hit theaters in 1977, will hold its last convention May 13-15 at the Hyatt Regency DTC. Celebrity guests scheduled to attend include Brent Spiner (Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Picard”); Terry Farrell (Dax from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”); Michelle Hurd (“Picard”); and Zach McGowan (“Black Sails” and “The 100”).
“My kids were like three years old when we started,” said KathE Walker, who co-founded and has continued producing StarFest along with husband Stephen and sister Karoline Jobin. She said the end of StarFest does not spring from financial woes.
“Basically, we’re retiring,” she said. “None of us has ever gotten a paycheck from StarFest because it’s fan-run, and we’ve always put all the money into next year’s event.”
StarFest has hosted celebrities such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Francis Ford Coppola, Christian Bale and, of course, dozens of cast members from various “Star Trek” series and films, including William Shatner, Patrick Stewart and “Star Trek’s” first female captain to lead a series, Kate Mulgrew (“Star Trek: Voyager”).
The founders of StarFest, shown in 1977, were among the first in the world to screen the trailer for “Star Wars.”
StarFest is one of Denver’s original conventions for all things “Star Trek,” sci-fi, fantasy, horror and more, following the also-formative Mile High Con, which has continued to be literary-focused since it debuted in 1969. StarFest, however, was Denver’s first media-oriented convention that harnessed the passionate fandom for TV, film and comics.
In recent years, pop-culture conventions have evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry, moving steadily away from the mom-and-pop feel of the original conventions.
“I know the big cons — they’re out there. The one that’s now going to be in Denver, the Fan Expo … they have like 12 others they do throughout the country,” Walker said. “StarFest is just a different show. We have families who have been coming to us for decades, people who have gotten married here, and hosts and volunteers who have also been with us for decades.”
That kind of institutional knowledge will be impossible to replace in Denver’s pop-culture scene, but it’s not clear how many younger fans will care. StarFest has been upstaged in recent years by the event currently known as Fan Expo Denver (formerly Denver Pop Culture Con, formerly Denver Comic Con), with its million-square-foot layout at the Colorado Convention Center and dozens upon dozens of TV, film, comics and literary guests amid the panels, retail alleys, cosplay contests and performances.
That corporate event, and many others, owe a debt to the pioneering StarFest, which worked out the kinks in its industry long before it was even considered one. Its celeb meetings and autographs, cosplay (back before that term was coined in Japan), and cross-genre approach invited nerds, geeks and fanatics of all types who may have felt intimidated or ignored in other social environments.
Back when StarFest started, it was propelled by in-person meetups, such as clubs that gathered to pore over “Star Trek” episodes on VHS tape, Walker said. StarFest has since expanded to cons-within-cons, such as ArtFest, ComicFest, GameFest, HorrorFest, KlingonFest and ScienceFest.
“We try to do a little bit of everything and still not just dabble in it,” Walker said. “But it’s gotten so expensive. Hotel fees have gone up — and you can’t blame them during the pandemic, because they’ve been devastated — and it’s gotten really expensive to bring in actors.”
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It’s been a rough ride for many smaller events in recent years. In the late 2010s, San Diego Comic Con International forced many “comic cons” across the U.S. to change their names, having laid claim to the copyright on that term. That included Denver Comic Con changing its name to Denver Pop Culture Con.
StarFest has never had that problem, nor has it visibly endured the spasms of expansion, contraction and staff turnover that have plagued other major cons over the last decade. Its shoestring budgets and hundreds of volunteers — this year there will be 185 of them to greet the 3,000 to 5,000 anticipated attendees — has supported an event inspired mostly by its creators’ love for “Star Trek,” not a business plan cobbled together to meet market demand.
Walker’s favorite memories aren’t just of the celebs she’s brought in, like Cruise and Travolta. It’s also the weddings, Klingon vow renewals, lifelong meet-ups and generational continuity she’s seen at the event, from friends who have faithfully been attending for decades to younger fans looking for a slower-paced event not dependent on social media buzz or licensed properties (although those are represented, too).
“I just don’t see the same fandom being created (these days) because you can binge an entire show in a weekend and forget about it,” said Walker, who ran the first trailer for “Star Wars” at the debut StarFest before anyone knew what the movie was. (They’d find out two weeks later.) “We’re lucky to have so many people who have stayed with us over the years. It’s a family.”
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