I was fortunate enough to go with my significant other to Midwest Furfest 2017, held in Rosemont, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. It turned out to be the largest furry convention ever held, with about 8700 attendees. I don’t think that we quite knew what we were getting ourselves into, but I’d say it turned out to be an even better experience than either of us thought it would be.
It’s hard to convey what it was like just to walk through the halls of the hotel and convention center and see fursuiters everywhere, or to notice furs walking the streets of Rosemont. It was rather odd, knowing that there were so many others nearby who shared our interest in the furry fandom, and were just as excited as we were to celebrate it.
This was not the first time that MFF had been held here. The convention seems to be well-known by the locals, and seems to maintain a very good reputation. Checking into our hotel, we were asked by the staff if we were excited for it. Our room key cards were customised for the convention, with art done by one of the guests of honor.
During our time there, we were asked a few times by various people in the area about the convention.Getting dinner the night before the convention started, our waitress asked us: “Are you here for the convention?” When we replied that we were, she said “It’s that furry thing, right?” We noticed other furs eating in the room with us as we dug into Chicago deep dish pizza.
Another night, we were asked about our characters by a staff person at a restaurant in the mall. I didn’t really know what to say, so I just showed her my con badge, which read “Trace”. She expressed how much she enjoyed finding out about the characters of everyone from the convention who came through. As for the convention itself… the staff did an incredible job, especially given the unprecedented and unexpectedly large number of attendees.
Even with difficulties with the registration system and far more furs present than anyone anticipated, it seemed like everyone had a great time. The extreme length of the registration line ended up becoming a good-natured recurring joke for the rest of the convention. The convention started on Thursday, but didn’t really get going until Friday morning.
We attended opening ceremonies, where it was clear that all of the convention staff were extremely excited for everything happening over the weekend. The majority of the programming took place in the Hyatt Regency hotel, but this year the convention had also expanded into the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center nearby, allowing for a much larger dealers’ den and artists’ alley. Everyone seemed very excited about the addition, especially the staff. The programming was incredible. There were some wonderful panels and events, including an incredibly fun take on the show Whose Line is it Anyway?; pun-tastically titled Whose Lion is it Anyway?; featuring improvisational comedy acting games.
This took place over two events, one with primarily audience members participating and the other with special guest hosts. Another panel we went to was a sketchbook swap, where I dropped my sketchbook off to have strangers draw in it while I scribbled in their sketchbooks. It was wonderful just browsing through the art in some of their books, and the drawings I received in my sketchbook were all wonderful. We also went to some incredible panels on writing, hosted by professional writers within the furry fandom, including Kyell Gold and Tempe O’Kun.
At one of the panels Tempe O’Kun was hosting, he actually mentioned the SA fandom. He mentioned that he had been on the South Afrifur Pawdcast, and expressed how much he had enjoyed it. And of course, there were plenty of opportunities to take pictures of fursuits. Between the fursuit menagerie, where furs were grouped up for pictures, and just wandering the halls, there were many chances to see and photograph some incredible suits.
One thing I was struck by for the entire convention was the sheer amount of creativity on display. Between seeing fursuits everywhere, browsing through the dealers’ room and artists’ alley and being fortunate enough to have strangers draw in my sketchbook, it was awesome to see so much art and skill centered around the fandom. It was also incredible to get to get to meet some of our favourite writers and webcomic artists. They were all really cool people, and it was inspiring just to get to interact with them a bit. We were also able to attend two of the dances that were held over several nights, though we didn’t stay for very long at either. Both times, it was like a giant, fuzzy rave, with flashing lights, glowsticks, and fursuiters all around.
Overall it was an absolutely amazing experience, and we are both hoping to be able to attend next year. But even with all of the outstanding events and panels, I have to say that one of my favourite things was the general convention atmosphere. It was incredible to just walk around, seeing gorgeous fursuits everywhere, including those of characters I recognized, like Telephone and Mosfet. Seeing fursuiters interacting with other suiters and with non-suiters was a real treat. It felt like a little taste of what an anthro world could be like.