FESTIVAL REPORT: Wizarding Weekend, Ithaca, NY

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Though the world has already fallen into a Star Wars frenzy, the streets of Ithaca, NY, are filled with the sounds of a different John Williams soundtrack this Halloween. In this Finger Lakes college town, scarves may be all-season attire, but today, most of them are red and gold stripes (I’ve been crossing the street when someone is wearing green and silver). Today, this is home of Wizarding Weekend, a fan-created street festival celebrating all things Harry Potter. Fans from all over New York (and likely further) have descended on downtown Ithaca, many in elaborate costumes, for their chance to experience a little bit of Britain right here in central New York.

The day starts off with our Muggle version of Quidditch. The event here varies slightly from the version played on college campuses all over, with each team’s Seeker perched on the back of a motorbike, driven by a teammate. The action is fast, though with the players remaining firmly on the ground, the danger is greatly reduced. The crowd for the day’s first game lined the streets and surrounded the parking lot converted to Quidditch pitch. That shouldn’t be a surprise, though, as this game featured fierce rivals Gryffindor and Slytherin. After a few quick  goals by both teams, the Golden Snitch was introduced to the pitch. The players mixed game play with theatrics, reenacting scenes from the first game described in the series. While the commentary may not have had the magnitude of Lee Jordan, it was a great help for the fans more inclined to read than follow sports. After a tough match, Gryffindor came out the victor, 210-50.

Walking along Ithaca’s streets, many local businesses, from the candy shop to the bank, replaced their signs to fit the festival’s theme. Harry Potter clothing and accessories line the shelves, while regular products have new, magical, names. Even the sci-fi food truck switched their menu from Spock to Snape.
The main gathering area, a repurposed parking lot, is home to a Ford Anglia, of the non-magical variety, and a huge basilisk made of balloons. Each of Hogwarts’ houses has their own common room, and visitors help their house earn points through the Horcrux Hunt by visiting seven different sites around town. There was no shortage of butterbeer, and plenty of variation. Hot or cold, thick or thin, alcoholic or not, I sampled almost all of it.

Unlike the conventions I have visited around North America, the attractions here are mostly free or inexpensive. Hand-written, personal Hogwarts acceptance letters attached a line stretching an entire city block, with the lines for State Theater’s showing off all right movies was not much shorter. Much like Harrys experience in the real Diagon Alley, each street revealed a new surprise. I have walked thousands of streets in cities big and small, but never stumbled into a life-size game of Wizard’s Chess before today. Never have I believe in magic more than after seeing a German man balance a bowling ball on a pool cute in his chin, while hula hooping.

Fan reaction was as strong here on the chilly sheets of Ithaca as the convention halls of San Diego or New York. Let’s hope that the festival’s second year is as eventual as (though less dangerous than) Harry’s.

IMG_2284Costume Tally:

Hagrid – 2

Professor Trelawney – 5

Moaning Myrtle coming out of a toilet – not nearly enough

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