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EyeCon 'One Tree Hill' Post-Mortem: Reviewing the panels, events and more

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A little over a week ago, on Friday, August 7, Wilmington, North Carolina was flooded with people from all over the U.S. and beyond. They came from Indiana, Florida, Texas, Missouri, even Germany and Australia, among other places. What brought everyone — mostly females, ranging from pre-teens to women in their 30's or older — to Wilmington? A convention devoted solely to the beloved, long-running teen drama show on WB (now the CW), One Tree Hill. It was the second ever convention organized by EyeCon, and it was aptly dubbed Return to Tree Hill 2; the first was held in March of 2015. According to a post on EyeCon's website immediately after the weekend ended, they received inquiries about when the next convention is. Thus, for anyone who loves One Tree Hill but didn't make this year's events, here's a review so that should you want to go next time, you know what to expect and how to do it right to get the best bang for your buck. After all, it's pricey, but if you do it right, it's worth it. Let's start with the night-time events. On Friday night an "End of summer bash" was held at the convention center. Priced at $85, the event was billed as a party at which several celebrities -- including Antwon Tanner, Lee Norris, Paul Johansson and Michael Trucco — would mingle up close and personal with attendees. The party part was a bust. Other than the bar serving alcoholic drinks, the most party-like components were leis, drink umbrellas and casual hula hooping. But as far as the celebrity immersion part, that was better than expected. You couldn't take photos with them, even if you were standing back at a distance, so that was annoying, but otherwise people really got to interact with the stars. They walked around (trailed by handlers) for at least an hour. Groups would form around each star and they'd take the time to share a hello and a few words — if not lengthy conversations — with the group, before continuing their way through the crowd. With the number of stars participating and fans present, it worked out well. Fans could easily get time with each actor, and the actors never got too bogged down. After that, fans could continue the night by heading to a local bar called Ziggy's by the Sea to enjoy a "Battle of the DJs" hosted by Antwon Tanner (an event technically independent of the convention). The $30 event wasn't quite as advertised. There were issues: it was supposed to start at 9 p.m. but nothing happened until 10:30 — which was especially frustrating for the girls and women standing around in painful heels, with no seats to lean on unless they were in the VIP area — and when Antwon Tanner finally arrived, he announced it wasn't really a DJ battle — instead two DJs just took one shift each playing music. But Tanner made up for all those issues in some capacity. For one, he charmingly explained that he was late because he thought the event started at 10 p.m. He then spent about an hour working his way through the crowd meeting fans and taking selfie after selfie with them. They loved it. All in all, I'd say if not for decent music and Tanner's charisma, this event would've been a bust. On Saturday the first event of the evening was a banquet at 7:30 p.m. At $150, it's no cheap additional ticket, but from what attendees told me, it was worth it. As billed, the event offered an opportunity to dine with the actors in an hour-long meet and greet-type session. It featured an all-you-can-eat buffet and each table of about ten people was joined by a specific actor, whom they took a group photo with. Participants lined up in order of ticket level and then time of order and got to decide who they wanted to sit with (so long as that table hadn't filled up). From what I was told, the event went pretty much as was expected and everyone was giddy over the experience. The second event of the night was a "masquerade at Tric" party. Held at Ziggy's by the Sea, it cost $140 and the site claimed there would be "music, games, drinking and celebrities." This was the biggest disappointment of the entire weekend. For one, it started about an hour late. Chad Michael Murray didn't even show up as was advertised. And with the exception of Antwon Tanner, who stuck around for the night, the ones who did show up — Hilarie Burton, Lee Norris, Brett Claywell, Cullen Moss, Craig Sheffer, Paul Johansson and Michael Trucco — simply came on stage, chatted for about 10 minutes, hit the VIP section for a bit and were gone. What's more, before they left they introduced Michael Grubbs, who'd performed on the show, to perform a live show for the audience. Well he was talented and cool, but it wasn't exactly very lively music and he only went on for maybe half an hour before departing the stage and heading to a merchandise/ autograph table. His departing the stage pretty much killed the party. So, the event that was meant to go from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. started late and ended around 12:15 a.m. It was an incredible let-down. I'd either recommend not going, springing for VIP admission, or simply bite the bullet and go, but limit your expectations. --- As far as management goes, Saturday was two-hours behind schedule and the volunteer staff members were rarely on the same page with one another so disorganization was a problem. However, I'd chalk this up to it being only the second convention. If they learn from this experience — adjust scheduling and train volunteers better, these issues might be minimized. As for the emcee of the event, Joshua Reid-Davis... he was definitely charming. He was a good voice of the event because he was very friendly — at every event he was there, working the room, befriending the fans, clicking with the actors. But he was hard to understand on the mic, particularly when he was trying to kill time before the panels. This was due in part to the poor acoustics of the room, but also because he'd sort of half talk into the mic. He'd ramble on half-audible about personal stories no one was interested in. There were times where it would've been better if he just didn't talk. But again, I can't deny that he had passion for the show and charisma, so perhaps he just needs to work on his entertaining and speaking-into-the-mic skills. As for the photo and autograph sessions... it seems the better choice, if you're picking between autographs or photos, was photos. People came out crying tears of joy from the photo sessions, sharing stories of quick but sweet, sincere moments they shared with the actors. The autograph lines were swiftly moved along — some got to have a few words — but it felt pretty rushed (not to mention autographs always end up looking like illegible scribble anyone could have done). The panels exceeded expectations. The central room of the convention center, in which the panels were held, was absolutely freezing and the poor acoustics of the space made it hard for the actors to hear the fans and vice versa at times. But aside from those kinks, the panels were great. Despite there being hundreds of people in the giant space, it felt intimate and very organic. They were entirely audience-dependent, as there were no moderators. The questions came solely from the audience (and the actors themselves). The actors were playful, honest with their answers, catered to every "recite this" request, and weren't afraid to get interactive with the audience — Murray held a fan while reciting a love line, Paul Johansson went out into the crowd to better hear an audience member, etc. The actors didn't shy away from any questions and offered answers that were funny, wise, sincere — they were all charismatic and endearing. The 45 minutes-to-one hour-long panels were really a success. In terms of setting, you couldn't ask a better place for a convention. Wilmington is a beautiful, small city. There's a river walk to enjoy, a beach across town from the convention center, the people demonstrate southern comfort, the dining in town has a lot of variety and local flavor to offer, there's great souvenir shops, and museums to visit in down time, like the Carolina Battleship and Cape Fear museum. Wilmington is especially great for an OTH convention because it's where the show was shot, so fans can journey through the city visiting show locations, like Peyton, Haley, Lucas and Brooke's houses, Karen's Cafe (not an athletic store) and the river court (now a patch of grass). The vendors at the convention were great. They offered OTH jewelry, clothing, pictures, etc, and one woman was printing custom OTH-themed T-shirts on the spot, including ones designed like Lucas or Nathan Scott's basketball jerseys, all for reasonable prices. --- That's the breakdown of the different sections... now hear the opinions of other attendees. Laci Carnes skipped her college graduation and drove nine hours solo from Orlando, Florida just to be at the convention. Her family and friends pooled their money to purchase the highest level ticket, the Diamond pass, as well as a rental car and hotel room as a graduation gift for her. Carnes, who wore a graduation cap and gown Saturday to acknowledge what she was missing that day, said the reason she loved the show so much that she'd make that sacrifice is because it taught her a lot of life lessons. About whether the convention was worth the sacrifice, Carnes said it was. As of Saturday afternoon she thought the convention was great. "The people are wonderful, it's so family oriented, everyone (the fans, actors, etc) seem to know each other, it's been wonderful," she said. A group of people consisting of Emily Meara, her parents and three friends went to the convention from St. Louis, Missouri for Meara's 15th birthday. The teens all love One Tree Hill and Chad Michael Murray. About what they thought of the convention, one friend said her favorite part was meeting Murray. Meara's father said he was surprised by how nice, friendly and talkative the actors are. Then Meara and her friend Emma Walsh came out of a photo session with Hilarie Burton crying. When Walsh had told Burton that she's the Peyton of her group of friends, Burton joked about her being dark and gave her a comforting hug. Needless to say, the girls loved their convention experience. Even Meara's mother Karen, who, like her husband, saw her first One Tree Hill episode on the plane ride over, was happy. "It's worth coming here, just to see them come out of these photo sessions," said Karen Meara. Karyssa Symons, 19, from Wisconsin had a similar reaction to her Chad Michael Murray photo session — she came out crying tears of joy. "My shoulder still smells like Chad," she joked, noting that she got to hug him. Symons only became a fan of the show within the last year, after her friend told her about it, but she immediately took to it because, as she said, "it's a real show that makes you feel like you're part of it... you see the characters grow, who they are, what they believe in." As for her thoughts on the convention, Symons was disappointed the Friday night event wasn't very party-like but she agreed that the actors' participation was better than expected. Overall she thought the convention wasn't as interactive as she'd hoped, but still enjoyed it. She was most excited going into it about meeting Chad Michael Murray and she did. "It was beautiful," said Symons. "...and it's fun meeting people, that's awesome." For Symons' reasons and more, if you love One Tree Hill and its stars, this is a great convention to go to — if you do it right. If you can, get a Diamond pass. It gets you best seating, the most access at events, photo and autograph sessions, etc. If you can't, go for the general weekend admission and a banquet ticket. I don't know if the summer bash and masquerade party will occur, or if they'd be different next time, but try finding out as much as you can about those before buying tickets. Then, like I said, take the gamble but limit expectations. Overall, though it may not be as perfect as you imagine, if you go to EyeCon One Tree Hill, you're bound to come away feeling at least a little satisfied and happy — after all, at the end of the weekend, you've spent three days amid stars of your favorite shows and fans who are just as passionate as you are. It's a beautiful weekend of sharing nostalgic bliss with strangers that you'll remember, in the words of Naley, always and forever.