The first Chicago VeganMania festival is now history, and it is the general consensus among the organizers, participants, and attendees that it exceeded everyone's expectations! First, let's talk about the crowd. When the doors first opened at 10:00, the line of people waiting to get in stretched for more than two blocks, and there was a steady stream of people coming in all day until a few minutes before closing. We're still gathering the numbers, but all fours rooms werye pretty packed all day. The crowds overwhelmed the food vendors, many of whom had been expecting this to be a much smaller event (we tried to tell everybody it would be big, but no one predicted how big it would be), and several vendors ran out of food, some even before noon. Thanks to some heroic effort by several of them, notably Soul Vegetarian (who made three trips back to South 75th Street to load their truck full of more food!) everyone was eventually fed, and most were happy despite the long lines. As far as the food itself, there was a great variety from raw foods from Cousin's Incredible Vitality and Raw Creations, comfort foods from Soul Veg and The Chicago Diner, quick treats from Veggie Bite, Upton's Naturals, Great Taste Café, Cru Cacao, and Delicious Café, and a wonderful sampling of delectable goodies from Ste. Martaen vegan cheeses, Match (vegan) Meats, and Vega smoothies.
Then there was the entertainment! The mainstage was alive all day starting with pop punksters Circular Convention, a trio of 13-year-old girls who played with enough enthusiasm to set the whole place ablaze. Next, everyone was treated to an amazing performance of belly dance from Deserae, who, at one point, danced with a sword on her hip and another on her head. She was followed by the great singer-songwriter Bryan Harrell, who peppered his act with songs from his CD about our relationships with animals, "A Rare Breed of Love." He was followed by an electrifying performance of electronica from synth artist dreamlogicc, whose snakelike contortions matched the twist and turns of his music, and then the dance troupe Pyrotechnic, whose acrobatic spinning performance held the crowd in rapt attention. The day was brought to a close by the powerful funk-influence rock of Darmata, whose tight instrumentation and tongue-twisting vocals brought down the house.
Nearby, in the Gallery Hall, attendees enjoyed a gallery filled with the stunning works of six different woman artists, as well as a beautiful display of cruelty-free couture in the Compassion Fashion Gallery. They also strolled around tables bedecked with the wares of fashion, jewelry and bodycare vendors, all enveloped by a hypnotic bed of music laid down by DJs Peter Propaganda, Scarylady Sarah, and Veganinblack.
And across a hallway filled with tables manned by our sponsors and speakers, the Exhibitor Room hummed with the activity of dozens of booths from progressive companies and a vast array of nonprofits. One visitor from out-of-state couldn't believe his eyes, "You mean you have several vegetarian, vegan and raw communities?" The far side of the room was filled with the laughter of happy children as they built musical instruments and played games in the Children's Center.
Meanwhile, upstairs, the Speaker's Hall drew large audiences to hear wonderful presentations from EarthSave International's Caryn Hartglass, Nathan Runkle from Mercy for Animals, author and activist Dr. Will Tuttle, Dr. Michael Greger from the Humane Society, and Rae Sikora and JC Corcoran from Plant Peace Daily. I was working the mainstage all day, so I didn't get to catch much of the activity upstairs, but I've heard only great things about it. One man who followed family members into Dr. Tuttle's speech before planning to get a Salisbury steak from one of his favorite restaurants in the neighborhood, found himself suddenly ready to convert to a vegan diet.
All in all, it was an amazing, uplifting, and incredible day. There will be a lot more stories and photos to come as we all process the information from the day. In the meantime, we'd love to hear your reactions. Please feel free to comment about your impressions of the event.