Stop me if you've heard this one before: Maybe it would be fun to get a bunch of Blue Jackets bloggers together for a cookout.
That's how it started. Or so we like to say.
The truth is, like most successful things, Cannonfest had a lot of people who helped to make it happen. Tom Fellrath, who at the time was better known as the original Dark Blue Jacket, had the idea of getting bloggers together. I suggested a cookout, because it was summer - and when it became clear that things were going to be a little too big for my backyard, it was Greg May who offered the space at the BW3 in Grandview.
Tom came up with the "Cannonfest" name, and the graphics. I reached out to some people to invite them personally, a few blog posts went up, and from there...well, away we went. But we weren't the only people who helped to make things so successful.
Julie Maurer and the Jacket Backers helped us with the first of many raffles and silent auctions to help raise money for the CBJ Foundation. Rick Gethin was our original MC, and you may have heard of a guy named "Skraut", better known these days as Tom Larrow, who brought some amazing videos for us to show - one of which he actually finished mastering on his laptop while his wife drove them down to Columbus from Cleveland!
Oh, and of course, there were the folks who took a gamble and decided they'd show up on a hot August afternoon to hang out and see just what we could deliver for them.
The Blue Jackets organization also deserves a lot of credit - I suspect they were more than a bit skeptical about the whole thing, but Todd Sharrock and Larry Hoepfner showed up, talked to some of the assembled bloggers about the team and the off season for a bit before things really got moving, and spent time getting to meet fans through the afternoon.
Since that time, the Jackets have been involved at one level or another - usually by sending a few official representatives to check things out, and facilitating some of those "surprise appearances" that have made the event so special in the last few years. This is not to say that we got everything we ever asked about - in fact, they've said no to plenty of ideas! - but there's always been a strong sense of goodwill and a desire to give support to the fans, which I've always appreciated.
Unsurprisingly for anything that's lasted more than a few years, there have been changes. Guys like DBJ and Skraut have found the demands of their day to day lives (particular becoming fathers!) called for them to step back. People like Alison Lukan, Adam Heineman, Shane Gullifoyle, and others have stepped up - with Shane in particular picking up the torch of creating some beautiful videos that captured the highlights and heartbreaks of the previous season last year, and I can't wait to see what he's done this year. John Wooten and a group of fellow collectors added the display of CBJ memorabilia and rare collectibles two years ago, and it became an instant hit - not just for the jerseys or pucks, but for the chance to share the memories that so many of us attached to them.
We've gone through three different venues at this point - four if you count this Sunday, when we'll be at Dick's Last Resort. Each time things have gotten bigger, more popular, and more exciting. I think that perhaps, between Dick's, their patio, and the Front Street Plaza, we may finally have gotten enough room to hold everyone - but I've been wrong before!
The growth is one of the great, if scary, parts of the whole thing. Every year, more and more people show up. More people ask what we have up our sleeves. More drive from Cleveland, Cinci, Dayton - or even farther afield! Each time you blow me away with your enthusiasm and generosity as we raise money for charity and celebrate our shared love for this team, and each year I'm left wondering how the heck we can top the previous one. (We have our own BEER this year. How crazy is that?)
Greg and Alison get a lot of credit for their ideas, their energy, and their enthusiasm, by the way. A lot of people have made me the "face" or "founder" of Cannonfest, but in truth I spend half the time just pointing the wheels in what I hope is the right direction while they both furiously work the pedals. Without their help (and so many others!), there's no way that Cannonfest would be what it is today, and I am incredibly grateful.
It's amazing and a bit scary that what was going to be a backyard cookout has turned into a big part of the Blue Jackets' offseason experience. My biggest fear is something I've heard a few times this year - that it's gotten so big that it's not about the fans anymore.
I don't believe that's true. I hope most people don't feel that way. We've always done everything we could to make this an event that's done by CBJ fans for CBJ fans - but I admit that it's kinda tough to find indoor spaces that hold 300+ people for several hours without having to get SOME kind of businesses involved. (Well, I guess technically Ohio Stadium or Nationwide Arena might be available if we could come up with enough money for the rental - maybe we could do a Kickstarter for that?)
With any luck, people will get a chance to see what we've come up with this year and still feel that it's for them - because that's the goal that Greg and I have had since the beginning, and I know everyone else who has helped us feels the same.
So after all this, what happens next year? How do you go beyond an event that's right on the literal doorstep of the arena?
I have no idea. But I hope we'll all get to have fun finding out.
For now? I'm doing my best to keep pointing the wheels in the right direction, and we're all really looking forward to seeing it all come together this Sunday.
I hope I'll get to see you there, too.
Sunday, August 23rd
Dick's Last Resort (343 Front St, Columbus OH)