‘Supernatural’ Vancouver Con – Fans Make A Pilgrimage to SPN Mecca

As promised, here’s the full recap from the “Supernatural” Vancouver Con brought to you by Lynn Zubernis aka FangasmSPN for you all on Twitter and Tumblr. She goes into some great detail and we really appreciate her sharing this with us. All the photos are by Lynn and Kim Prior, and they definitely give you a feel for how well all you “Supernatural” fans were treated.

If you missed it, we also have a great recap and videos from the Saturday Night Special that featured Rob Benedict and Jensen Ackles.

supernatural jensen ackles vancouver con

Thursday: Day 1!

The first day of a convention is always heady with anticipation. When that convention is taking place in the city where the show everyone loves films, the excitement is even greater. That’s how it was last weekend in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Supernatural fans started arriving on Thursday (unless they came up even earlier to scout around and perhaps stumble on a Supernatural filming location)  to a fabulous sunny day with white clouds and seagulls swooping over the harbor. Creation Entertainment brought their Supernatural Convention Tour to Vancouver for the eighth time this week, with fans traveling from all over the world to converge in what is, for Supernatural fans, their ‘Mecca’.  This is, after all, where the show is filmed – it’s where the magic happens.

That means that the convention starts a day earlier than usual, with the opportunity to sign on for a bus tour of past filming locations hosted by Supernatural’s location manager himself, the charismatic Russ Hamilton. Not only does Russ show off the beauty of Vancouver, he shares all sorts of inside information about the episodes filmed in each location. On one tour I went on, we got to stand on Dean’s grave (which was just a field of tall grasses, but still…). On another, fans visited the crossroads where Dean made that fateful deal to save Sam’s life. To non-fans, those sites looked like just another overgrown field. To Supernatural fans, those were moments to savor. Fan tourism has become a successful industry worldwide, giving fans the opportunity to have those moments, to feel like they’re closer than ever to the television show or film or book that had such an impact on their lives. If another word for it is ‘fan pilgrimage’, that’s not surprising – it can feel like almost a religious experience.

For fans who weren’t lucky enough to join the location tour, the best part about being here on Thursday is the chance to catch up with other fans before the actors arrive on Friday. Attending a fan convention is as much about meeting up with other fans as it is with getting up close and personal with the actors. Fans who haven’t seen each other in a year – and who live on opposite ends of the globe – greet each other in the hotel lobby, with hugs and cheers and sometimes tears. The Supernatural fandom, like most fandoms, is first and foremost a community. Fans come together online every day, but the chance to hug that friend you share the “real you” with on a daily basis is a whole other level of wonderful.

After lunches with friends and a few spa massages to work out the sore muscles from 12 hours of flying (ouch), fans congregated in the convention hotel lobby to register for the weekend. That means standing in the first of innumerable lines. Conventions are all about lines. Normally that would put me in a bad mood; I’m the person who keeps changing checkout lines at the grocery store because I’m convinced the other one will be faster. But these lines are just another opportunity to chat with other fans, which makes them a lot more enjoyable.

Some fans had made bracelets to give out to other fans. Others brought around thank you cards for the lead actors’ wives and families, to thank them for letting the actors share their weekends with fans. We admired some new tattoos, and the variety of Supernatural themed tee shirts. And in the vendor’s room, Dean and Castiel were there to keep watch over the array of merchandise as fans checked it out.

The bracelets and tee shirts and tattoos at a Supernatural convention aren’t just your standard ‘funny quote from the show’ or photos of the characters. Most mean more than that – and DO more than that. Over a year ago, series lead Jared Padalecki started a charity campaign with Represent.com to benefit several charitable organizations which are fighting to erase the stigma around mental health issues so that people can get the help they need. Padalecki’s first message was Always Keep Fighting, a reminder to fans to keep on living even when it’s difficult.

Many of the other Supernatural actors have also launched charity campaigns, some with the help of Creation Stands, the charitable arm of con organizer Creation Entertainment. Fans proudly proclaim that they are “WaywardAF” along with cast members Kim Rhodes and Briana Buckmaster, or are reminded that “You Are Not Alone” by Misha Collins. A new book coming out in 2017 reflects the message of the series and of the cast and fandom: Family Don’t End With Blood. The show’s actors and fans wrote chapters about how the show and the fandom have changed – sometimes even saved – lives.  Few if any television shows have had such a powerful impact on both the actors who bring the show to life and their fans.

Once everyone is sporting a stylish lanyard and wristband, it’s time for dinner and drinks. Vancouver has an amazing variety of restaurants, with every sort of cuisine you can imagine. (And some incredible drinks – I had my traditional Caesar).  But again, it’s the conversation that makes the evening so much fun. Sometimes the topic is Supernatural, the thing we all have in common. But just as often, it’s about ‘real life’, as fans catch each other up on jobs and school and partners and parents and kids and pets and everything in between. I invariably stay up way too late in spite of the East coast time difference, because time with other fans? You take that when you can get it!

We ended the evening in the hotel restaurant with a big table full of fangirls, all of us reminiscing about previous Supernatural conventions and what we liked most about Season 11 of the show (and, since we’re passionate fans, also what we didn’t). I headed back to my room at 10 pm only to run into another group of fans who I hadn’t seen in a while – so off we went to the hotel bar to continue the conversation. Before we left (for real this time) it was selfie time with my fangirl friends and with Ryan Curtis, filmmaker and former Supernatural VFX crew member, and a lovely chat with actor Rick Worthy, who memorably played the Alpha Vamp on SPN.

Luckily that enactment didn’t give me nightmares. I’m a Supernatural fan; I’m used to it.

supernatural brothers laughint

Friday – Day 2!

We all got to sleep in, which was a real blessing for most fans who had stayed out a bit too late the night before. Then our amazing hostesses Kim Rhodes (Sheriff Jody) and Briana Buckmaster (Sheriff Donna) kicked off the first official day of Supernatural Vancon with their signature brand of irreverence and adorableness. This convention was dubbed long ago by Richard Speight, Jr. (Gabriel) as “Porncouver”, so Kim and Briana did their best to live up to that nickname. Richard, who usually hosts the Creation Supernatural conventions, was busy filming, but I’m pretty sure Kim and Briana succeeded.

One of the reasons that Supernatural conventions are not like any other fan conventions is because we’re lucky enough to have a house band – and they happen to be amazing. Louden Swain, fronted by actor Rob Benedict (Chuck/God), plays every convention. I’ve been a fan since the first time I heard them play years ago, and have only been more impressed by their talent as time goes on. That means that every actor who takes the stage gets a theme song for an introduction, and there’s never a dull moment with the band onstage.

Only a Supernatural convention would kick off with Death. As in, Julian Richings, who plays Death himself on the show.  Julian shared some fascinating insights about filming Supernatural and creating his character. For example, he learned from that first scene he did with Dean (Jensen Ackles) in the pizza parlor that Death liked junk food, and that told him that he could play the character as a bit more human than you might expect. He also gave props to Ackles for being so good at playing Dean’s fear in that scene, which made the entire scene work. Julian endeared himself to the crowd with plenty of amusing stories.

Julian: You know how usually when people recognize someone on the street, they walk towards them? Well with me, they sort of just back away…

Next up was Jason Manns. Jason is a musician whose music has been featured on Supernatural and is also one of lead actor Jensen Ackles’ best friends. That means he both plays beautiful music during his panel and can tell some great Supernatural-related stories. Manns’ new album, Covers With Friends, features many Supernatural cast members making beautiful music with Manns.  Release date later this week!

Osric Chau (Kevin Tran) also appeared on Friday. Osric is a fan favorite because he identifies as a fan himself. He often comes to conventions in elaborate cosplay, and makes no secret of his obsession with Pokemon Go. (One of his funnier stories involved running out of the house in the middle of the night to play Pokemon Go and being stopped by the Canadian police – who then asked him for tips on playing the game in Canada. Good thing that wasn’t the time he ran out of the house to keep playing, only belatedly realizing he was in his underwear.)

Osric has a more serious side too and is quite an inspirational speaker. He told the story of how his agents and manager sternly warned him NOT to wear a dress to the Leo Awards; which means he felt he HAD to wear a dress to be true to himself – and to make a point that we shouldn’t judge each other by what we wear or what’s on the outside. He then went all out and absolutely rocked it – and won the Leo Award too!

Kim Rhodes and Briana Buckmaster, who were our hosts for the weekend, also did a panel of their own on Friday. Kim and Briana are much beloved by the fans because they are much LIKE the fans – irreverent, funny, passionate, caring, and not afraid to be real. The fans in attendance at a con are about 90% female, so having Kim and Briana to relate to makes the entire convention inspirational. And a hell of a lot of fun.

For the second half of their panel, Kim and Briana invited two surprise guests to the stage – Katherine Ramdeen, who played Alex on Supernatural (one of the ‘Wayward Daughters’) and Tyler Johnston, who played Matt in Season One’s classic ‘Bugs’ episode and the angel Samandriel in Season 8.

Fans cheered their approval and got to ask a few questions, and then Kim and Briana appointed Tyler the judge for a raunchy game of more-or-less Supernatural Cards Against Humanity. The game headed into NC17 territory almost immediately – much to the audience’s delight. Tyler spent half the time blushing, but he looked adorable anyway, so another win.

Friday evening meant more dinners and drinks with fellow fans, and then we all headed back to the hotel for another Supernatural con tradition – karaoke. Now karaoke is a part of lots of conventions, but at Supernatural conventions, we do it a bit differently. For one, there are usually a thousand people there. Many of them in whatever costume the night’s theme calls for. And perhaps most importantly, it’s not just fans onstage singing along to “Highway to Hell.” It’s most of the cast too. Not only were convention guests Kim Rhodes, Briana Buckmaster, Rob Benedict, Osric Chau, Jason Manns and Matt Cohen onstage, but they invited some of their local Vancouver actor pals too. Brendan Taylor (Sheriff Doug), Erica Carroll (Hannah) and Tyler Johnston also joined in the fun. The night ended, as it always does, with the entire audience singing along to Supernatural’s unofficial theme song, “Carry On My Wayward Son.” Even Kansas are Supernatural fans, by the way. One of these days, I fully expect them to join in the rendition too – which will undoubtedly result in a room full of fans passed out from the sheer joy.

supernatural convention jared and jansen ackles

Saturday: Day 3!

Saturday started a little earlier, or perhaps the problem was that most fans were living it up at karaoke until the wee hours of the morning the night before, so it just felt that way. The cast was having the same struggle though, so we all woke up together.

The first guest of the day was Sebastian Roche (Balthazar), who has been away from the Supernatural con circuit for a few years after being an early regular. (He’s been busy with The Vampire Diaries). Sebastian’s panels are mostly song and dance improvisation and pretty much zero answering of questions, but nobody minds because he’s so damn entertaining. The panel comes with a no kids advisory with good reason, as we were once again in adults-only territory for most of the hour. And once again, I don’t think anyone minded – they were too busy laughing so hard it was literally painful. Sebastian, for all his bawdy sense of humor, is a smart and well-informed man who interjects some social commentary into all those dirty jokes and dirty dancing.

Osric Chau returned for another panel after Sebastian, who is admittedly a hard act to follow. No pun intended. Osric shared that the very first convention panel he ever saw was Sebastian. He left thinking “Ohmygod, I don’t think I can do that!”  Osric has just had his busiest professional year ever, including booking multiple jobs and taking the first acting classes of his life!

After a short break, with many fans either a) taking a nap or b) walking around the seawall and enjoying a beautiful sunny day in Vancouver, Mark Sheppard (Crowley) took the stage. Mark has a reputation for being snarky and irreverent and not taking any crap, but he is also eloquent and passionate when it comes to fandom. He can make you laugh one minute and then have you tearing up as he talks about what an honor it is to have fans in the gender reassignment process dress as Crowley or how impressed he is by the way fans get behind the actors’ charitable causes and make things happen. His wife, Sarah, brought their new baby Isabella by and Mark introduced her to the fans, causing a mass meltdown from the overdose of cute. The King of Hell with a pacifier in his mouth and his baby in his arms? Nothing more adorable.

Saturday also included a panel with Matt Cohen (young John Winchester) and Rob Benedict (Chuck/God). Usually, this panel also includes Richard Speight, Jr. and the three of them together are so funny that everyone is clutching their stomachs from laughing so hard. With just Matt and Rob, the panel was a little more serious and a little more emotional, which was lovely. The three are fast friends thanks to Supernatural, and it shows. Matt and Rob were asked to describe each other in three words, and they took the question seriously. Handsome. Beautiful. Talented. Passionate. Friend. This is why I always bring tissues to conventions.

Matt is currently wowing fans as a regular on General Hospital, and Rob and Richard are about to have a new show released on Comic Con HQ called Kings of Con – a fictional show loosely based on their convention experiences over the years. We can’t wait!

The headliner for Saturday is Misha Collins (Castiel). Many fans are drawn to the unique character he plays on the show, an angel who doesn’t really fit it in with other angels but isn’t human either (except for that one time, but that was only temporary…. Hey, it’s Supernatural). Castiel has struggled with how to relate to others and how to do the right thing, and it’s a struggle that many fans can relate to. Misha himself is an inspiration to fans (and to his fellow cast) with his charity, Random Acts, which has allowed him to harness the tremendous power of fandom to do good in the world. If anyone has done his international scavenger hunt, Gishwhes, you know what I mean about how random acts of kindness can change the world – and can change you. I’m looking forward to my third year of participating next year – where else can you launch a flying Christmas tree or wear a hat made of kale to a fancy restaurant with a friend?

misha collins castiel at supernatural convention 2016

Misha’s panels are always a lot of fun, but he can get serious – and inspirational – too. To a fan who’s an aspiring actor, he said that the most important advice he had was not to listen to discouraging things, and to try to enjoy the entire process. Pretty good advice for life in general.

There was the traditional costume contest on Saturday afternoon, as well as some Supernatural Trivia games and charity auctions, and then most fans headed out to sample some more of Vancouver’s amazing cuisine. (We opted for Chinese with a group of other fans). But when 9:30 came around, fans flooded back to the Westin Bayshore, because Saturday night at a Supernatural convention is special.

The tradition on Saturday nights is a concert, headlined by house band Louden Swain. Over the years, most of the Supernatural cast has been persuaded to join the band onstage, some of them daring to sing (in front of a packed hall of thousands, no less) for the very first time. They call it the ‘Saturday Night Special’ because it always is, but this concert was invested with a special energy, because series star Jensen Ackles was singing. Every time I’ve heard him sing, he’s brought the house down. This time was no exception.

Jensen joined Louden Swain lead singer Rob Benedict for a hauntingly beautiful duet of ‘Fare Thee Well’, the song Rob sang on Supernatural last season. Then Ackles strapped on a guitar (which resulted in an entire giant ballroom screaming at the top of their lungs) and, along with Rob, Louden Swain and Jason Manns, sang an acoustic version of ‘Simple Man’ – one that Ackles himself helped to arrange. To say that the audience was mesmerized would be an understatement.

jensen ackles guitar bulge on supernatural

Louden Swain also played some of their classics, like Eskimo and Medicated (complete with audience participation, as many fans bring kazoos to their shows to join in) and the emotional songs that Rob wrote for his mom after his dad left – the heartbreaking ‘She Waits’ and the angry and triumphant ‘Mama’s Jam.’

Matt Cohen urged fans to “fight for your right to party” and Osric Chau (rocking a beautiful suit) brought the audience to their feet with some Eminem.

matt cohen fighting for right to party bulge supernatural

Sebastian Roche sang one of my all-time favorites, Ziggy Stardust, in a tribute to David Bowie.

Briana Buckmaster, who has an amazing voice, joined Rob for a few songs, and Kim Rhodes channeled her inner Debbie Harry with a Blondie classic.

The entire cast took the stage for the final song, ‘Purple Rain’ in tribute to Prince. Fans swayed to the music, cell phone lights held high, which was an amazing sight to see.

It took me and my friends hours to calm down after that high, which meant we didn’t get nearly as much sleep as we should have, but it was entirely worth it.

supernatural convention jared palecki and jensen ackles talking

Sunday: Day 4!

Sunday at a Supernatural convention is ‘J2 Day’ – the day that series leads Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles (Sam and Dean Winchester) headline. Vancon was extra exciting because it was ‘J2M Day’, with Misha Collins also returning for another panel. That meant a jam-packed hall with zero empty seats and a lot of anticipation.

Jared and Jensen do a morning panel for the “Gold” customers, which woke everyone up very effectively. The two actors are always entertaining, largely because they entertain each other. After working together almost every day for nearly 12 years, and often spending weekends together (they both live in Austin with their families), Jared and Jensen have a uniquely close friendship. And they’re clearly not tired of each other yet, often sharing a private joke onstage or talking in sync – just like their alter egos, the Winchester brothers! In fact, both refer to the other as ‘my brother,’ and they’ve demonstrated their mutual support in good times and bad. That makes their panels a lot of fun to watch – their enjoyment is infectious.

supernatural secret for jensen ackles and jared palecki
Jared and Jensen share a secret onstage

There were a few interesting show-related questions, of course. Jensen gave us some inside information on that scene in the pilot episode where Dean drops Sam off at college but then turns around and goes back for some reason (getting there just in time to save Sam). How did he know to go back?

Jensen said that originally it was because of what he called “brother’s intuition” – Dean just knew there was something wrong and went back. Later, they filmed a short scene that showed Dean’s watch stopped and static on the car radio, so they’d have it “just in case” but it was never used.

Kim and Briana helmed the Sunday panels too, which meant most of the day was not exactly G rated. While we waited for Misha’s afternoon panel, someone brought a life-size Misha cut out onstage. I hope nobody was planning on taking him home, because Rob, Kim and Briana had way too much fun with the hapless Misha stand-in if you catch my drift.

Needless to say, the crowd was already riled up when actual Misha took the stage, making for a lively panel.

Misha: I was nuts in college.

Fans: (incredulously)  WAS???

Misha: What has happened to you people??

He told an amusing story about running around campus naked with some friends during college.

Fan: Oh yeah, it’s online.

Misha: (looking rather shocked) Wait, it’s online? How do you people find this stuff??

Never underestimate the resourcefulness of a fan, Misha.

That lively mood remained for Jared and Jensen’s afternoon panel. Fans had some great questions for the two, including asking the actors to share some of their fanboy moments. I love when they do that because they are completely and utterly comfortable with letting fans know that they are just like us – and perfectly capable of making a fool of themselves in front of a celebrity.

Jensen told the hysterical story of Jared meeting his idol, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, for the first time at a party. Unfortunately, as happens to many of us when we’re trying to calm our nerves in front of an idol, Jared had already imbibed quite a bit, so his meeting with Eddie didn’t exactly go smoothly. (Jared and Jensen helpfully acted this out, Jared stumbling over to an eye-rolling Jensen, much to fans’ delight).

Jared randomly asked for a sip of Eddie’s drink, and Jensen protectively got them out of there before Jared could embarrass himself further. I’m pretty sure every single person in the ballroom could relate – how many times have you rehearsed what you’d say to a celebrity and then blurted out something ridiculous when you’re finally having a conversation with them? That’s what makes these guys so special – instead of setting themselves apart or standing on a celebrity pedestal, they’re willing to share their own fanboy embarrassing moments. The next time a fan goes tongue-tied meeting Jared and Jensen, they’ll feel a lot better if they recall that story!

Jared and Jensen also got more serious for a little while to compliment each other, when a fan asked what each of them has brought to their characters.

Jensen: Jared has brought so much intelligence to Sam, which has really enriched the character.

Jared: Sam and Dean were Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, so Dean is the swashbuckling hero, but Jensen has brought so much vulnerability to Dean that you don’t often get to see in a character like that.

Filming for Season 12 is already four episodes in, so while Jared and Jensen couldn’t give any details, they did tell me that they’re excited about Season 12 and whatever the new ‘big bad’ for the season is.  The anticipation is killing me!

In between the main panels, there were photo ops and autograph sessions and meet and greets with the stars. If you ever want an instant feel-good moment, stand outside the photo op room and watch fans walk out after an up close and personal moment with one of the actors. The pure joy on their faces (often mixed with tears) is wonderful to see.

The last panel of the day was Rob Benedict, much beloved by both the Supernatural cast and the fans. There’s an emotional connection to Rob both because as lead singer of Louden Swain, he wears his heart on his sleeve and allows himself to be vulnerable, and because we almost lost him at a con three years ago. He had a stroke at a Toronto convention, and is here today literally because of his ‘SPN family’.

Most fans ended Sunday night with good food, perhaps some good wine, and lots and lots of good conversation. Fans admired each other’s photo ops, swapped stories, took a lot of selfies, and tried to stay awake to make the experience last. As always, many fans ended the night with a question: So, when is the next convention?