The Gilmore Girls Fan Fest was a weekend event held in Washington Depot, CT in October of 2016, attended by approximately 1,200 fans, plus volunteers, plus multiple cast and crew members from the show. It was the brainchild of Jennie Whitaker and her husband Marcus of Austin, TX, now living in my home state of Maine. I can say without reservation that Jennie is the absolute sweetest person I have met in many years. Good thing, too, as the rest of us fans would be tempted to hate her for being the one to dream up and carry through such a spectacular idea. (Kidding/not kidding.) I’d like to thank three people especially for enabling me in my GG passion: my husband Matt, who said, “We don’t ever do anything for ourselves. Don’t think about it– just go.” my generous mother-in-law Pam for watching my boys; and my friend Elizabeth Allen, who invited me to stay in her home after only spending about 2 seconds together last year at the ATX Television Festival in Austin. Thanks to all of you, I was an honorary townie of Stars Hollow for three days!
Act One: Friday, October 21st
STARS HOLLOW! No, really. So, here’s the premise of the weekend: the little town of Washington Depot, CT (pop. ~3,500), which was Amy Sherman-Palladino’s inspiration for the fictional town of Stars Hollow, opened its arms and doors to the fanatic fans of the iconic show Gilmore girls– at least to those of us who were lucky enough to score tickets in the approximately 12 hours they were available. Goal? To feel as close to Stars Hollow as possible. The town itself is quintessential small-town New England. To the critics of the show who say that Stars Hollow is completely unrealistic, I say, stay a week or two here because AS-P nailed it. (And I have a little bit of cred here, as I grew up in a similar small New England town.)
Warm, humid, overcast. If you only have one chance in your life to visit Connecticut, go in October. Although the weather can always be unpredictable, fall in New England can’t be beat. The foliage this year wasn’t at the zenith of beauty, but it was still a far cry from what I left in Texas (enough said about that). Narrow, winding roads covered in leaves, natural lakes and streams, water wheels, 19th century homes around every turn… you couldn’t ask for a better place to escape to for a long weekend in the fall. The townspeople couldn’t have been more inviting. Even those who had never heard of the show before threw themselves into the roles of Stars Hollow townies. There were welcome signs and smiling faces on every corner; a “Luke’s Diner window” set-up for photo ops; we had a Luke impersonator serving coffee in the hardware store (apropos); the local shops had speciality menus and even tailored their merchandise to fit the show (business-savvy, too!).
- Pilot screening in the big tent with the amazing A/V setup! Time to connect with old and new friends and plan out the must-do agenda.
- Cocktail hour with Kirk’s Yummy Bartenders and my first taste of Founders’ Day Punch!
- Panel with some of the amazing behind-the-scenes peeps of Gilmore girls, moderated by the king of the inside scoop, Michael Ausiello of tvline.com!
Cast of Characters:
Friday night’s panel was perhaps the highlight of the whole weekend for me. We were regaled with stories by Stan Zimmerman (producer and writer), Sheila Lawrence (producer and writer), Mara Casey and Jamie Rudofsky (casting directors), Valerie Campbell (key costumer), and George Bell (dialogue coach). Their excitement about the event and being together again was palpable. As Sheila told me after the panel: “I was locked in a room writing so much of the time, most of these stories are new to me, too. I loved it!”
The cast was not absent. Not long into the panel, from the balcony behind us, we suddenly heard a very familiar voice saying, “Can I interject?” The crowd erupted into cheers as Liz Torres (Miss Patty) did just that, embarking on a monologue of her own stories about this brilliant crew. (She was so enthusiastic about her message that all I could think for a bit was, “Oh, dear God, please do not fall over that balcony railing!”) Michael Ausiello bantered with her, saying, “You have one more outburst, Liz– use it wisely.” I also saw Sean Gunn (Kirk), Keiko Agena (Lane), and Biff Yeager (Tom) lurking in the shadows of the peanut gallery, obviously highly enjoying the panel along with us.
Two special guests, Star and Emma Herrmann (Ed Herrmann’s wife and daughter, respectively) joined the panel near the end. Star set up photos for all to see and feel Ed’s presence. I love how she talked about him in the present tense, sharing his love for the show and its fans.
Dialogue: (I own up to any slight misquotes– I’m relying on memory, as I basked in the experience rather than take copious notes.)
“That was good. But now you need to Gilmore-ize it.” ~George Bell on his role as dialogue coach. He had to practice what he preached when he was told that he would have a role as Professor Bell… the next day. He was given his lines– a page-long monologue– less than 12 hours before filming. “Needless to say, I got no sleep that night.” Once the crew realized how much overtime they got due to the long days and multiple takes, they would chant his name when he interrupted the filming due to dialogue mistakes. “George, George, George, George, George!”
“I would hug the cast members after each season break to see how much weight they had gained/lost. We costumers can judge your size just from that!” ~Valerie Campbell (Note to self: don’t hug Valerie Campbell.)
“There were two guys waiting to audition for the part of Logan Huntzberger. I went in the room and said, ‘Cast the blonde one. He’ll look so good next
to Alexis.'” ~Stan Zimmerman on why we should
credit him for the awesomeness that is Matt Czuchry (Team Logan forever!)
Act Two: Saturday, October 22nd
Stars Hollow! (formerly known as Washington Depot and New Preston, and cameo by the Independence Inn, aka The Mayflower Grace)
“It’s cold, rainy, and miserable, and I LOVE IT!” (text from me to my husband midday). What can I say? I freakin’ miss New England. The buckets of rain didn’t have a chance of raining on my parade. I had boots, warm coat and hat, and an umbrella. It really wasn’t that bad, when you think about it– the rain fell straight down, not sideways or anything crazy like that. There was snow the next week! And Stars Hollow in the rain is kind of a novelty. Too bad Luke wasn’t there to hand-stitch a canopy to cover the entire town square.
“Wait a minute– you mean that you spent all this money to go, and the biggest star there is KIRK?!?” ~my husband on the phone. Obviously I didn’t explain the weekend adequately enough to him. You know how in Stars Hollow, there’s something happening on every street corner? Hold that picture in your mind. This little town became Stars Hollow, and all of its beloved townies were there. Keiko Agena (Lane) sold her lovely artwork; Rose Abdoo (Gypsy) dressed in character and sold some of her unique crafts; Mike Gandolfi (Andrew) accompanied his wife Stephanie Storey during her book signing at the local bookstore; Biff Yeager (Tom) had a book signing of his own at the bookshop; Sean Gunn (Kirk) and Rini Bell (Lulu) co-hosted a “Cat Kirk” adoption drive for the local animal shelter; John Cabrera (Brian) and Todd Lowe (Zack) joined Keiko for an impromptu Hep Alien jam session on the town hall steps; Liz Torres (Miss Patty) was everywhere, talking to as many people as she could. She also held court at the local dance studio and imparted her years of wisdom to the young dancers performing. Jackson Douglas (Jackson) was around town, too, and supported some local farmers at a veggie stand. There’s more! Ted Rooney (Morey), sans sunglasses, taught an acting class for a select group of fans; Aris Alvarado (Caesar) co-hosted a cooking demonstration with Kristi Carlson, author of Eat Like a Gilmore; and Vanessa Marano (April) hosted a Q&A for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
Choices had to be made by the fans, due both to overlapping schedules and long lines for some events. For example, as much as I would have loved to meet “Kirk,” the line was so long that during the time my friends waited to meet him, I met “April,” “Tom,” and “Gypsy.” Here are my highlights of the day: (how to choose?)
First, big shout-out to the Washington Food Market. Not unlike what Taylor Doose would have done to capitalize on such an event, this Doose’s Market-like store pulled out all the stops. They set up tents with delightful breakfast and lunch menus and sold reusable logo travel mugs filled with amazing coffee. (If someone from Washington Food Market is reading this, please let me know what kind of coffee you served. I forgot to ask.) I may have visited them for refills all. day. long.
Meeting Rose Abdoo. What a sweet, funny lady! Loved that she wore overalls and pigtails. She seemed genuinely thrilled to be there and meet the fans. She even showed up during the third act (Sunday) to add to the prizes one of her props from the show and a couple of Stars Hollow ornaments handmade by her mother.
Having Liz Torres reenact for me the rain dance she performed the night before. (Effective, but, why, Liz?) She’s a hoot! I could sit and listen to her stories all day.
A serendipitous meeting with Jackson Douglas. Throughout the day, screenings of fan-favorite episodes (people have favorites?) were played in the big tent and commentated on by costumer Valerie Campbell. During the episode of The Bracebridge Dinner, my friend and I decided to go get more coffee. We almost literally bumped into Jackson, who had just arrived on the square. We took pictures, and I was able to ask him about being interviewed for my upcoming post on The Bracebridge Dinner episode, which I had been hoping for. He said yes to the interview, yay! But how cool was that timing?
The cooking demonstration with Kristi and “Caesar.” I didn’t get a signed copy of the cookbook, because of course I had already preordered it, and have even tested one of the recipes. Too big of a book to carry with me from Austin. I wanted to meet the author, though, and congratulate her on such a beautiful cookbook, as well as tell her I may be using some of the recipes for my Friday Night Dinner recreations. She made some yummy Shirley Temples and bruschetta for the crowd while Aris kept us laughing with his great storytelling capabilities.
The Festival of Living Art, performed by a local children’s after school program. This fun event really made me feel like I was in the middle of Stars Hollow. One more example of how the town of Washington threw their hearts and souls into the weekend and greatly added to the magic.
Tea at the Mayflower. Though not allowed inside (not a complaint! I wouldn’t have let 1,200 people traipse through a historic inn with muddy shoes, either), we had tea and scones on the patio, overlooking the lovely grounds and the best foliage I saw all weekend. (Did they paint the leaves à la Alice in Wonderland?)
The hours flew by, and we barely registered the cold and the rain, the magic was that potent. The second act culminated in another panel; this one with the attending cast. It was organized in sections: the ladies of Stars Hollow (Rini/Lulu, Liz/Miss Patty, and Rose/Gypsy); the men of Stars Hollow (Biff/Tom, Mike/Andrew, Jackson, and Ted/Morey); friends of Luke (Aris/Caesar, Sean/Kirk, and Vanessa/April); and Hep Alien (Todd/Zack, John/Brian, and Keiko/Lane).
My favorite part of the panel was when the cast turned the tables and quizzed the audience on Gilmore girls trivia questions that they had brainstormed about beforehand. They did good! Even stumped everyone with one question (“What is Hep Alien’s slogan?”). Doesn’t take much to put a thrill in a fan’s heart that the cast members are just as enthused about the event as we are.
“We had to come– we had no idea if this will be the only time something like this happens!” ~Mike Gandolfi
“Let’s take a picture and make her really jealous!” ~Rose Abdoo when I told her I bought one of her crafts for my sister-in-law.
“When Miss Patty tells you to get out of the rain, you get out of the rain!” ~me on why I skipped out of the line to see Keiko and spent time in the bookstore chatting with Liz Torres instead.
“An old woman in skinny jeans… something isn’t right here.” ~Liz Torres (Me: “Love your boots!”) Liz: “Thanks! Ross, Dress for Less!”
“Okay, then, moving on!” ~Rose Abdoo helping the moderators out during the cast panel when Rini Bell was silently pleading with Liz Torres not to tell a particularly “juicy” story.
“Call me Sean, please, for the love of God!” ~Sean Gunn, after one of the moderators addressed him as “Kirk.” (Okay, this may have been my favorite part of the panel.)
Act Three: Sunday, October 23rd
Still there. Stars Hollow. The bubble hasn’t popped yet.
Crisp, sunny, a bit windy, colorful! In other words, the type of day New Englanders are thinking of when they say how much they love October.
Mostly the big tent. One word: giveaways! There were lots of them! The fest founder, Jennie, was so anxious to make sure everyone had the best time possible that she turned everything she could get her hands on into a prize giveaway– even some items that had been given to her personally. There were lots of local goods, T-shirts from Kindred Handicrafts, books, and bigger items like autographed cast memorabilia and Rose Abdoo’s knitting bag from the Stars Hollow Knit-a-thon! Then a sweet surprise. Emma Herrmann wanted to share with the fans both the compilation video of her dad’s roles through the years (it had been shown at his memorial service), and personal pictures of Halloween costumes and family moments during her childhood. (Can you believe that “Richard Gilmore” had a 4-year-old daughter when he was filming Gilmore girls?)
The last item on the agenda was a screening of the series finale (current finale, that is… we’re getting new episodes in less than 20 days, squeal!!!) I didn’t see the whole thing, because some of the cast was still milling around in the town, and we got to chat some more. Still didn’t get a picture or a chat with Sean Gunn, but I saw him closer up. 🙂 I’ll keep him on the bucket list for another time. Liz Torres channeled Miss Patty again and danced with a (very tall) fan. Morey was there, as was Lulu, Andrew, Brian, and Kirk.
Once it appeared that everything was coming to an end, Elizabeth and I made one last stop: the Hopkins Vineyard. What a beautiful setting to wind down the weekend with a caramel appletini and cheese plate. (You guys. I tried pâté again. And it was so good! I may have to revisit that Friday Night Dinner and try another recipe…)
“We were a little nervous about holding such a big festival in our little town, but if every fan is as nice as all of you, we should never have worried!” (I’m paraphrasing a little, but these were the sentiments of Washington Depot’s First Selectman Mark Lyon, who with his curlicue mustache and jolly demeanor couldn’t have channelled a happier Taylor Doose.) This is good news, fellow Gg fans, because if we made a good impression on the town, chances are high that this could be an annual event. Who’s with me next year?
(Want to know more about the Gilmore Girls Fan Fest? Visit their website at www.gilmoregirlsfanfest.com.)