Legend has it that the idea of RiverCon was born on top of a Dempsey Dumpster at the 1974 Kentucky Derby. In any case, Cliff Amos, who had founded a Louisville science fiction club some five years earlier (Falls of the Ohio SF Association, or FOSFA), broached the idea to the rest of the club and, to extend the racing metaphor, they were off and running.
The seventies were the dawn of the SF convention age, which eventually led to today's con-on-every-weekend calendar, but in the early years of the decade conventions, especially in the South, were few and far between. Kubla Khan had its first outing in only 1973, and though the DeepSouthCon had been around for a dozen years, its structure of moving from city to city left the rest of the region virtually con-less the rest of the year. RiverCon was conceived in this light as being a cross between the more relaxed style of a DSC or a Midwestcon and the heavily programmed Worldcon or big regionals such as Westercon and Disclave. The RiverCon committee wanted panels, art shows, huckster rooms, and masquerades, but they also wanted parties, con suites, and general fannish socializing. Partly to encourage the latter and perhaps partly to ease neophyte jitters, the RiverCon committee decided to also bid RiverCon 75 (as it was called at first) as the site of DeepSouthCon XIII, which they won. The dayglo orange flyer with Cliff's stick-figure riverboat was fandom's introduction to RiverCon.
The name RiverCon (the idea came from Steve Francis during a committee brainstorming meeting) was intended to reflect the city's riverport heritage. The choice of Philip Jose Farmer, well-known at the time for his Riverworld novels, as guest of honor naturally followed. Kentucky's favorite author, andrew j. offutt, was asked to be the first toastmaster, and long-time Indiana fans Buck and Juanita Coulson were chosen as fan guests. That first RiverCon guest list also included Kelly Freas, comics artists Dave Cockrum and Mike Kaluta, and one of only two convention appearances by the late fantasy novelist Thomas Burnett Swann. (The inclusion of Cockrum and Kaluta was another nod to increase potential attendance. The comics angle did not work out and committee member Don Rosa left after the first year.) A surprise appearance by Poul and Karen Anderson also enlivened the con. Attendance was 545, allaying fears and guaranteeing that there would be a RiverCon II. Cliff Amos remained as RiverCon's chair for the first seven years, plus the 1979 NorthAmeriCon, and then Steve and Sue Francis took over the pilot wheel to the present day.
RiverCon guests of honor over the years are a virtual Who's Who of SF, including (in order) Farmer, Anderson, Larry Niven, Robert Bloch, Roger Zelazny, Jack Williamson, Gordon Dickson, L. Sprague and Catherine de Camp, andrew j. offutt, George R.R. Martin, C.J. Cherryh, Bob Shaw, Kelly Freas, Jack Chalker, Mike Resnick, Lois McMaster Bujold, Mercedes Lackey, Joe Haldeman, and Forrest J. Ackerman.
Fan guests who followed the Coulsons were: Jodie Offutt, Sandra Miesel, Ned Brooks, Lou Tabakow, Mike and Carol Resnick, Dave Kyle, Rusty Hevelin, Don and Jill Eastlake, John Millard, Dick (now Rich--MLR) and Nicki Lynch, Ken Moore, Samanda Jeude, Dick Spelman, George "Lan" Laskowski, Leslie Turek, Laurie Mann, Jane and Scott Dennis, and Verna Smith Trestrail.
Following andrew j. offutt at the toastmaster's podium were Kelly Freas, Joe L. Hensley, Bob Tucker, Vincent Di Fate, Frank Robinson, jan howard finder, Bob Tucker (again), Charles L. Grant, Mike Glicksohn, Sharon Webb, Michael Banks, Somtow Sucharitkul, Arlan Andrews, George Alec Effinger, Emma Bull, Bruce Pelz, Bob Tucker (yet again!), and Julius Schwartz.
In 1995, RiverCon celebrated its twentieth anniversary by inviting back its original guest list and holding a special reception in honor of the members who had attended every RiverCon.
Highlights over the years have included an original musical production (RiverCon III's Stringworld, written by Shelby Bush and B.J. Willinger) and a world-premiere movie (Vampire Hookers, starring the late John Carradine, at RiverCon IV). The Ming Award was conceived for the first RiverCon for masquerade winners, and the figurine is now crafted in hand-blown glass by Steve Scherer. Scherer also creates the glass Pegasus each year for RiverCon guests. Full-color program book covers by top-name artists were introduced in the mid-eighties, always with a riverboat prominently featured, an unvarying RiverCon trademark since the beginning.
RiverCon, in its twenty years, has been held in only a few hotels, the first three in Stouffers Louisville Inn, and then moving to the Executive West for 1974. It returned to downtown Louisville following the 1979 NASFiC to stay at the Galt House for the next eight years. In 1988 the con tried returning to its first hotel, now the Holiday Inn Downtown, but after two years it proved to be too small for the size RiverCon had become. Three years at the Hyatt Regency and one at the Hurstbourne Hotel led back to the Executive West, where RiverCon now has a long-term commitment for the future. The regular excursions on the Belle of Louisville, an authentic, old-time steam riverboat, have regrettably been discontinued with the move away from the downtown riverfront. Attendance since RiverCon I has ranged from a drop to 374 the second year to numbers averaging 800-1000 in recent years. The committee has no plans to make the convention significantly larger, feeling that a higher attendance would affect RiverCon's friendly and fannish atmosphere.
NorthAmeriCon '79 was the second NASFiC to be held when the Worldcon was held out of North America. The convention was held over the Labor Day weekend in 1979 in Louisville, KY. It started as a "Nashville is Neat in 100 Degree Heat" ad in a 1975 MidAmeriCon progress report. This ad was a big joke pulled on Khen Moore by Ken Keller, who was MidAmeriCon's chairman. It started to take off as a Worldcon bid for Nashville when Khen got a bad case of Worldcon fever. As it became more and more obvious that Nashville did not have the needed hotel space (this was before the Opryland Hotel was a factor) the bid somehow migrated north to Louisville as a NASFiC bid. The hotel selected was the 714-room Galt House (still known to be decorated in Early American Bordello).
The bid culminated at Suncon, the 1977 Worldcon held in Miami Beach, FL. There was a tremendous mint julep bid party thrown by John Shake of the Galt House sales staff in a beautiful, huge suite in the old Fountainebleau Hotel. This party was talked about for years afterward. When all of the dust settled, Louisville had won the site selection with almost no opposition from the folks in New Orleans who had just lost the Worldcon bid for 1979 to Brighton, England. This is another story.
The committee worked for the next two years putting the convention together, lining up guests and setting a contract with the hotel. The concom consisted of Cliff Amos, Chairman; Bob Roehm, Vice-chairman, publications; Steve Francis, Registrar; Ken Amos, Operations; Shelby Bush and Irvin Koch, Special Events; Ken & Lou Moore, Art Show; and Mike Hutto and Mike Jenevice, Film Program.
The convention was held in lieu of the 1979 RiverCon which resumed in 1980 with RiverCon V. The convention went very well with the exception of a few things which caused some hassles for the committee. Some of these problems were the somewhat overcrowded Hucksters Room, poor lighting in the Art Show, and those infamous cantankerous 35mm movie projectors. One other problem that arose was overselling tickets for the Belle of Louisville steamboat Cruise and Filksing. By means of much scrambling around we managed to buy back enough tickets from gracious fans who were willing to forego the Belle cruise.
Two of the most noted highlights of NorthAmeriCon were the Ethnic Food Fair (Louisville Heritage Weekend, actually--SS) held on the Belvedere Plaza, adjacent to the Galt House, and the spectacular fireworks display on the last day of the convention. Many people asked us how we managed to arrange the fireworks. For a while, we took credit for them but finally 'fessed up that it was done by the city for the Ethnic Food Fair as part of the Labor Day celebration. All in all, the convention was a huge success and is well remembered by most of the 2000 people who attended. [And probably some mundanes. Per Janice Gelb: Remember "the skinny-dip pool party inadvertently witnessed by hotel bar patrons due to portholes in the pool....?"]
[Blessings upon blessings to Sue Francis who retyped this for me at the last minute when I couldn't find the original!--TKFW]
The first ingredient for a Worldcon bid is people, and that is where the story should begin. Since 1980 there had been a loose group of convention committees and fans stretching from Louisville through Nashville that called itself either I-65 Fandom or L&N Fandom. This group included Worldcon pros such as Steve and Sue Francis, Jane and Scott Dennis, Ken Moore, Gary Robe, Pat Molloy, Dick Spelman, and others. In 1987, the roof of Bowling Green fan Rickey Sheppard's house trailer partially collapsed, and Gary Robe and Steve Francis built him a false roof over the trailer and shored up the trailer's roof. While doing the job, we never drew blueprints, or really planned much, we just both had a picture of what we were doing in mind, and built the thing. While laying the shingles, Steve remarked to Gary, "If we could do this job without plans or killing each other, then we could run a Worldcon bid." It was a joke at the time but soon became as serious as a heart attack. We had the talent to run a bid, but we needed a location. That's the second essential ingredient of a Worldcon bid.
If you are not familiar with the Opryland hotel in Nashville, you should give it a visit some day if you are in Nashville. When you see the place, you will instantly understand why the L&N group was itching to bid for a Worldcon some day. There were two substantial stumbling blocks for us though. First, the Opryland Hotel hosts a national convention for satellite TV dealers that has taken up the hotel on every Labor Day weekend since the Opryland Hotel opened its doors. Second, the Opryland Hotel is simply farther upscale than any Worldcon has ever hoped for. Even if the place was available, we felt that the pricing would be out of reach. Then in the fall of 1988, Scott Dennis discovered that the satellite TV dealer's convention was downsizing and moving to Las Vegas in 1994. We had our window of opportunity.
The first informal meeting of the bid committee actually occurred at Gary and Corlis Robe's wedding reception on December 18, 1988. At the reception, the word was spread that the Opryland Hotel was available on Labor Day weekend of 1994, and was willing to meet with us to work out a deal. A negotiation delegation was appointed, and a meeting with the Opryland Hotel Sales Manager was arranged quickly. The announcement of the launch of the bid was made at Xanadu in 1988. The first official bid party was thrown at Chattacon in January of 1989.
The initial bid committee structure was Sue Francis and Ken Moore as co-chairs with Steve Francis, Gary Robe, Jane and Scott Dennis, and Dick Spelman as members. In May of 1990 Pat and Roger Sims moved to Cincinnati and joined the effort that summer. We decided to use the L&N Railroad as the theme for the bid, even though the L&N Corporation no longer existed, and neither Louisville nor Nashville had passenger rail service anymore. We began to have bid parties at the large regional conventions and, of course, planned promotions at the Worldcons in Boston, The Hague, and finally for the site selection vote in Chicago in 1991.
One of the first bid parties established one of the traditions of the bid. At Boskone in 1989, the official convention rule was no alcohol at parties. Gary Robe, Sue Francis and Dick Spelman were throwing a party, and Gary just happened to have a bottle of Jack Daniels in his suitcase "for medicinal purposes only." It was at that party that the first batches of "L&N Lemonade" were concocted, which along with Ken Moore's Secret Nashville Swill, became the trademark drinks of the bid. The major push that year, however, was at the Boston Worldcon, and that presented some major problems for running bid parties.
Due to the touchy relations with the Boston Sheraton, no room parties were supposed to be allowed. R-i-ight. The convention gave the bids rooms in the convention center, and a "generous" allowance for purchasing food through the convention center that would last for about 5 minutes for a real bid party. The room we got was way in the bowels of the Hynes Convention Center, and was guaranteed not to draw much attention. Gary Robe arranged to have some industrial sized boxes delivered to Boston, and we built a mock locomotive behind the bidders table area. Gary also happened to be working for a company that makes duct tape, so strips of tape were used to lay "tracks" leading people into the remote function room. Despite all of these efforts, there was almost no traffic in the room, and we soon decided to bend the rules and run a room party anyhow. We managed to get a suite on the 20th floor of the Sheraton for the doin's.
In order to pass party supplies into the Sheraton, we took large rolling suitcases to the grocery and liquor stores and loaded up the supplies inside and rolled the goods right past the hotel security guards. In the room we set up a model train, and Gary dressed in engineer's overalls. The party was a great success even though it was not strictly by the rules, and most of the other bids had thumbed their noses at the Sheraton's no party rules anyway.
In the spring of 1990, the worst nightmare of a Worldcon bid came to pass. The Opryland Hotel downgraded our tentative agreement to a second option. This placed us in the position of having to make the choice between folding the bid or moving it to another site. We could have firmly secured the property by giving the hotel a $25,000 deposit. This would have been absolutely insane since we had not won the bid and we were facing a well organized bid from Winnipeg. We all checked our wallets and--dagnab it--none of us had the $25,000 in pocket change to secure our hold on the hotel and convention facilities. We had in effect just lost the Opryland Hotel two years before the vote.
We had three options at this point. We could fold the bid, move it to downtown Nashville or move the bid to another city. Downtown Nashville was quickly eliminated due to the lack of sleeping rooms in the city center to hold the convention. Louisville, however, had enough sleeping rooms within walking distance of the convention. Also, the convention center was available for the Labor Day weekend in 1994.
Furthermore, the anchor hotel, the Hyatt Regency, was very anxious for the business. There was also the goodwill of the Louisville Convention Bureau which stemmed from NorthAmeriCon in 1979. With the support of the hotels, the Convention Bureau, and the city of Louisville, we had a much more congenial location for the bid in Louisville than the Opryland Hotel, whose attitude was, "Take the money and run." The L&N bid then became the first Worldcon bid to change locations during the run. A letter was sent out to all of the presupporting members announcing the change. This letter actually reached everyone before anyone heard about it on the grapevine. The letter offered to refund their money if they could not continue to support the bid in the new location. Only one person requested a refund. We then headed off for the 1990 Worldcon in The Hague with a new location (complete with a full set of agreements with the hotels and the Louisville Convention Center) but with the same people behind the scenes.
Steve and Sue Francis, Pat and Roger Sims, Gary and Corlis Robe and Dick Spelman all made the trip to The Netherlands to host the bid party. ConFiction was a whole different ballpark as far as running a bid party. No open bid parties were allowed in the hotels with no way around this rule.
The convention provided a room in the convention center for one night for each of the bidders. The concept of open bid parties is weakly developed in Europe at best. The liaison between the bidders and the convention center was a very nice and helpful Dutch fan names Jannelies Smit who was in charge of arranging party supplies for the convention center. When Steve Francis told her that we needed approximately 500kg of ice for the party (about 1,200 pounds--MLR), her mouth dropped open. After she recovered, she jokingly explained that this was more than the entire ice production for the whole country of Holland. At least, unlike U.S. convention centers, they did not charge an outrageously high price for sodas and other supplies, so we ended up buying most of the heavy supplies from the convention center. We found a nearby street with many stores and shops located along it. This street was called FreidreichHeinreichlaan, or FreddyHenry Lane as we dubbed it.
Having no cars available to us, we had to hand carry all of the supplies and decorations back to the convention center. That "short distance" turned out to be a lot further than we had first thought.
It was not easy to creatively decorate a plain rectangular convention center meeting room, but we did come up with a couple of good ideas. One wall was covered with a large roll of shelf paper, on which we drew a locomotive and tracks running the length of the paper. We invited partygoers to draw more cars on the train and whatever other graffiti they wanted as a sort of do-it-yourself decoration. After the party, we carefully rolled up the paper to take it to San Diego for the party at the infamous ConDigeo NASFiC the following week.
When we removed the paper from the wall, much to our horror, we found that the markers had bled through the double layer of paper and onto the wall. One of the conditions for using the room was to return it to the center in its original condition. Visualizing a several thousand guilder damage bill being submitted to ConFiction, we desperately searched for a way to clean off the marks before leaving the room. Soap and water, L&N lemonade, lighter fluid and shaving lotion did not work, but someone noticed that spit was a good cleaning fluid. It was a bit crude watching all of those people spitting on the wall, but it worked. Our thanks go out to all of the people who stayed and contributed their elbow grease and spit to clean up the mess.
Presupporting membership sales came very close to paying for all of the party supplies including the quantity of Jack Daniels brought over to make sure that people had their usual choice of "leaded or unleaded" L&N Lemonade.
Prior to ConFiction our group had attended more than 30 conventions all around the country to promote the bid. Between Con Fiction and Chicon V we went to 23 more conventions including the WesterCon held at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. This was an unusual convention in that it was held at the University making use of dorm rooms, called "quads." This room arrangement provided 6 tiny single bedrooms along with a foyer and kitchenette.
The layout worked surprisingly well for throwing a bid party. The culmination of the "Run for the Roses" was at Chicon V held in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Chicago. All of our bidding committee was there except Gary and Corlis Robe. They had a fair to middling reason for not attending Chicon: Corlis delivered a son during the convention. We had a beautiful two-bedroom suite with a large parlor on the 25th floor of the East tower. This suite of rooms, coincidentally, was the site of the "Southern Hospitality Suite" at which the bid was launched for Atlanta in 1986. Both the L&N bid and the group from Winnipeg threw multi-day bid parties much to the joy of many fans at Chicon. It was one HELL of a lot of work but we had a lot of fun doing it.
Saturday night has been called the "ballot count from hell" as it took 7 of us, 3 from each bid and a moderator, FOURTEEN hours to complete the task. The actual ballot count only took 2-1/2 hours to complete. We were absolutely "Zombified" by the time we were finished. The joke that came from the counting session was "How many ballot counters does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: "None, we just waited for the sun to come up!"
The final count was 1,012 votes for Winnipeg, 957 votes for Louisville, and 96 no preference votes. It just goes to show you that your vote DOES count when the no preference vote is greater than the winning margin. Mike Resnick edited a book called Alternate Worldcons in which the last story was set in the year 2107. This was the exact total number of ballots cast in the site selection for the 1994 Worldcon. A coincidence? Not bloody likely! One thing that we realized after the fact was that we really had 1,012 friends out there in addition to the 957 that voted for us. One last, but important note: the group that put on ConAdian in Winnipeg did a fine job and a good time was had by all. We attended the convention and enjoyed it very much.
We have been frequently asked if we will ever bid again, and our answer has always been, "NO DAMN WAY--WE ARE GETTING TOO OLD FOR THIS $#_T!"
Special thanks go to Samuel A. Smith, who digitized the SFC Handbook 2nd edition and gave gracious permission to use his existing work in the preparation of the 3rd edition. The main text of this page came from Sam's hard work.--MLR
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