Nerd Culture

Keen Halloween 2016: A Field Guide to This Weekend's Event in Downtown Phoenix

To many folks, Halloween is sort of a big deal.

For these die-hards, it's more than just another occasion marking the calendar, and is likely the biggest holiday of the year and something that takes weeks, if not months, of preparation and anticipation. Conversely, there are those who enjoy Halloween, as well as decorating their house and dressing up, but generally tend to be way more casual about things.

The organizers of Keen Halloween hope to offer something to both camps, as well as everyone in between.

The weekend-long festival – which takes place on Saturday, September 24, and Sunday, September 25, in downtown Phoenix – is a celebration of Halloween that’s focused on all aspects of the holiday, particularly the creative side, and with helping folks get into the spirit of things and gear up for the spooky season.

As such, the event will offer attendees two straight days of activities covering everything from crafting costuming and decorations to learning the history of the holiday and how to hunt for ghosts. They’ll also have the chance to walk through a haunted house, participate in Halloween-oriented games and contests, or even learn how to slay some vampires.

Keen Halloween was launched in 2012 by Daniel and Dawna Davis, the Valley couple behind the popular Steam Crow brand, as a way to celebrate the holiday and help fellow locals gear up for the occasion.

Daniel Davis told New Times in 2012 that they have always been longtime fans of Halloween and wanted to share their passion with others.

“We wanted to do something really big to celebrate the culture of Halloween with the community," Daniel says. "We wanted to be a part of that experience, and we thought that it would be cool to also encourage folks to make their own Halloween better, to get involved in making costumes, decorations, and the old-time do-it-yourself Halloween. Since this idea didn't exist, we decided that we had to start it ourselves."

And its first two editions, which took place at Tempe’s New School for the Arts in 2012 and at Metrocenter in 2013, proved to be a success. However, it was becoming too big for the couple to manage along with running Steam Crow. As a result, they were forced to take a break from putting on the event for the last couple of years.

Enter Phoenix Comicon director Matt Solberg, who offered to partner with the couple to revive the event. It’s now bigger than in previous years and will take place at a bigger location, specifically the Phoenix Convention Center.

According to Phoenix Comicon spokesperson Jillian Squires, co-producing the event with Steam Crow seemed like a great idea.

"Matt really likes new adventures, and was like, ‘I know how to put on a convention,’ so they partnered up and brought in the team and now we're helping put on the show,” she says. “It's this great idea and this amazing concept that we wanted to help revive.”

Despite Phoenix Comicon’s involvement, Keen Halloween isn’t just for the geek crowd, but is instead aimed at pretty much everyone who has an interest in Halloween.

“There are Halloween lovers that fit into the geek culture, but there are Halloween lovers who aren't geeks at all,” Squires says. “So this is kind of a new audience for us, but there's still a core audience from our other shows that will be there.”

And there will be plenty for attendees to see and do.

"There's so many different ideas of what Halloween is to each person. To some people it's just dressing up and having candy, which is always great, but for others it's about the decorations or for others it's about the paranormal element, the ghost stories, or this history behind the holiday. We have a couple of panels talking about the history of witches and vampires through the ages and how we got to this point of having costumes.”

In other words, it will be a one-stop destination for anything and everything Halloween.

And if you’re interested in attending, we’ve put together a guide covering every aspect of the event and containing everything you need to know.

Time and Dates: Keen Halloween runs from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Saturday, September 24, and from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Sunday, September 25. Registration will open an hour earlier each day at 9 a.m.

Location: The event takes place inside of the Phoenix Convention Center’s South Building, which is located at 33 South Third Street.

Want to work on crafting and costuming stuff all weekend? A two-day pass is $25 in advance. If you’d rather go for a single day, admission is $20 in advance for Saturday only and $20 for just Sunday. Note: all prices increase $5 if you purchase tickets on the day of the event.

Age Limits:
As you might expect, especially with its family-friendly focus, the event is open to all ages and children are encouraged to attend. In fact, kids younger than 12 get in free.

Getting There: We wholeheartedly recommend taking the light rail, considering there are two stations within walking distance of the convention center, including one just across Jefferson Street. Plus, it's cheaper than a tank of gas, as fares are $2 for a single ride and $4 for an all-day pass.

Parking: If you need to drive, however, there are certainly plenty of parking spaces and structures available downtown, albeit for a price. Street spaces are approximately $1 to $1.50 per hour between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. each day. (The Pango Mobile Parking service offers the option of preselecting and prepaying for certain spots via its mobile app, however.) 

If you’d like to park at a garage, that’ll run you anywhere from $10 to $20 for the entire day. Keen Halloween has some event discounts going at a few nearby structures, including the Jefferson Street Garage next door to the convention center.

Vendors: The 28,000-square-foot exhibitor hall will boast around 40 different vendors, all of which are inspired or related to Halloween in some fashion. “We very carefully curated the [hall] so there are no vendors that are duplicates of each other and aren't going to be selling the same product,” Squires says. “They're all Halloween-themed or connected to the holiday and its themes.”

The lineup includes everything from costume shops and vendors offering decorations to palm readers and face-painters. Various local artists will also participate, particularly those in a Halloween vein.

Special Guests:
Since the Phoenix Comicon staff is helping run the event, there will most certainly be special guests appearing and participating, albeit those who are more befitting of the event and its theme. "It's different from the sort of celebrity guests that you would see at a Phoenix Comicon or Fan Fest. It's more artistically centered and creatively centered,” Squires says. “They're not movie and TV stars, they're about this creativity or this costuming community that we're trying to create.”

As such, Keen Halloween will feature appearances by such guests as the Phoenix Ghostbusters and event co-founders Daniel and Dawna Davis, as well as the Fallen Feathers wildlife rescue organization, which will offer the chance to get a photo with owls or other birds of prey.

Costumes: Given its focus on the biggest costume-oriented holiday of the year, dressing up will very much be a part of the event. Cosplay is encouraged, especially for anyone who’d like to show off what they’ve got in the works for Halloween or get some tips from experts. Costume contests will take place at 6 p.m. on Saturday and at 3 p.m. on Sunday in Panel Room 163, with prizes and categories for both kids and adults alike.

Activities and Events: More than 50 different events, workshops, panels, and activities will be offered during both days of Keen Halloween. The majority will be focused on creativity and crafting, including multiple “make and take” sessions, whether it's making a costume on a budget, making your own personal “zombie fairy,” or transforming your residence into a haunted house.

In addition to all the creative events, there will also be storytelling sessions and book readings (including performances by the members of the annual PoeFest), mummy-wrapping contests, trivia competitions, discussions on the history and science of Halloween, and even a panel devoted to the upcoming 200th anniversary of Frankenstein. (The full schedule of events can be found here.)
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.