RETRO Innovations Booth
Glenn Holmer captured me talking to friends about something of interest at the ECCC 2014 show

It’s interesting to be a part of the continuing “growth” of the classic computer scene.  And, perhaps it is just me, but it does appear the classic machines are seeing more interest now than since they were first placed on the market.  It has been over 25 years, which is a common metric for “classic” status in other arenas (cars, coins, etc.), so perhaps this is the new reality.

Back in the day, I lived too far away from a metropolitan area that held computer shows, so I missed out on the thrill of those years.  And, after passing into adulthood, I had only previously attended 1 show, around 1997, put on by a Commodore user group in Lansing, MI.  While Maurice Randall showed off GeoFAX or some new GEOS app, another exhbitor showed off a way to control audio CDs from the 64, and everyone picked through the consignment table, I hawked printed copies of “Commodore Hacking”, an online magazine I was editing at the time.  As I recall, I did not sell many, and for good reason.  Why buy something you can dload online for free (true, the Internet was not as ubiquitous as today, but Compuserve, Delphi, GEnie, and others had copies, and the mag was in ASCII text, a mere few hundred K of data).

Yet, as I re-invested myself in these machines around 2004, I was invited to attend Commodore computer shows, including the World of Commodore 2004 in Toronto, ON, CA, LUCKI Expo 2005 near Louisville, KY, the C=4 (CCCC) Expo south of Cincinnati, OH, and SWRAP Expo 2005 in Chicago, IL.  As a new attendee, I was surprised so many people remembered me from the Commodore Hacking and even earlier Commodore FAQ days.  I also met luminaries like Jim Butterfield and Jeri Ellsworth.

Sadly, it appears some of the shows were not to continue.  LUCKI shut down first, as I recall, while SWRAP discontinued its show soon thereafter, and CCCC continued on for a few years and then folded when their “castle” venue closed its doors.  I worried I had witnessed the end of the show scene, just as I was starting to enjoy the friendships and witness all of the great hardware and software projects.

Luckily, World of Commodore continued on, while Jason Compton and a group of friends decided they needed to have a time each year to come together and enjoy friendship over Commodore computer discussions, and so the Emergency Chicagoland Commodore Convention (ECCC) came into being on the heels of SWRAP’s decision to forego another show.

ECCC, in particular, was somewhat the “anti-show”.  No table fees, no concrete organization, owing to the primary goal of just having a place for Commodore enthusiasts to hang out and enjoy company.  But, all things change, and a few years back, Jason Timmons asked if other computing platforms could co-located with the ECCC show under the Vintage Computer Festival – Midwest (VCF-MW) banner. There was already a well established VCF-East show in New Jersey, and there had been previous attempts for a VCF-MW in Indianapolis, as I recall. West Lafayette. But, VCF-MW had withered, and so it came to Chicago.

At first, VCF-MW was a small portion of the complete show, but each year, the VCF-MW contigent grew and brought more exhibits and attendees to the combined event.  At other shows, I suspect the primary sponsors would have either disallowed sharing the event date and location, or the organizers would have grown significantly concerned about the changing dynamic of the show, but Jason and the initial contributors seemed unconcerned about such things, probably owing to the fact that the ECCC show was created to enable a meeting place for enthusiasts, not as a formal marketing effort or a club sponsored idea.  I’m not sure a dual show idea would not have been as successful elsewhere, but it thrived in Chicago.

For the last few years, VCF-MW has continued to grow, but there’s still a significant Commodore presence.  While there’s value in having single-platform shows like World of Commodore, KansasFest, or CocoFEST!, such shows can be somewhat insular, as all of the attendees are already aligned with the platform.  And, though one hopes we’ve all matured a bit, there’s some fun in crowing about platform features or enduring a bit of ribbing over platform weaknesses among friends who own competing systems.  More importantly, there are some classic machines too obscure to command a full community, and shows like VCF allow those folks to show off these all-but-forgotten gems (or stinkers, but they are always interesting).

Thus, my hat is off to those who organize the various shows; truly unsung heroes doing lots of work so lazy bums like myself can drive in, grab a room, shoot the breeze, sell a few things, pack up, and leave.  And, thanks to those folks who take the time to document the events, via photos or video, or both.  It’s nice to be able to look back and see how far we have come. Finally, thanks for Jason Timmons and Jason Compton, for ensuring VCF-MW/ECCC continues.

RETRO Innovations will be once again exhibiting and offering products for sale at VCF 12, September 9-10, 2017

Glenn Holmer’s Galleries:

VCF-MW Galleries: