The now-annual Blue Jackets' fan gathering not only featured a broad selection of fan created videos, memorabilia, and prizes, but included a special visit from a very important guest!

Boy, what do I say?

A little over four years ago, I talked to Tom Felrath of The Dark Blue Jacket, and we started thinking about having a cookout for some Blue Jackets bloggers. When the guest list got to 40 or 50 people, we realized we needed a bigger place than my backyard to hold it, and that's where Greg May came in.

A few short emails later, Cannonfest had been born.

This year, we needed a larger spot to set up shop after overflowing the gathering's long time home at BW3 Grandview, and Greg suggested the more spacious Bethel Road restaurant as an alternative.

We were excited about the larger space, but concerned that the move might affect attendance, or make people feel like it was more difficult to connect with other fans.

With the restaurant filling up more than a half hour before the event began, that was clearly not an issue. Even better, we partnered with the Sedona Grace Foundation to offer discounts on food and drink to anyone who brought a donation. By 1pm, the bin they had brought to take dry dog food and other goods was full. By 3pm, it was overflowing.

We wanted to make sure the event would continue to be a fan run, fan supported, fan created show, and the community did not disappoint. In addition to this year's amazing contributions by Skraut (but more on that later), we saw a beautiful display of Jackets memorabilia assembled by John Wooten, Dave Cottone, and others that included jerseys from each year of the team's history AND junior club jerseys from Kerby Rychel, Oscar Dansk, Ryan Murray, Boone Jenner, and Nathan Horton. Past, present, and future were beautifully represented.

The Arch City Army ran a fun NHL 13 tournament all afternoon, and also ran a quarter season ticket giveaway raffle that raised $130 for the Ryan Salmons fund. At the same time, the Jacket Backers ran a series of raffles that raised over $1,500 for the Blue Jackets Foundation.

Tilly Hockey attended the event and sold some merchandise, with a portion of the proceeds also going to the Foundation, and both our own Dan P. and the DKM Hockey guys produced podcasts from the event which should be showing up online very soon. (Oh, and the folks from DKM also contributed a video of their own.) Update: Dan's podcast is up here.

Oh, and did I mention that Dancing Kevin was there?

And then, as things were really heating up, this happened:

Yes, that's Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen showing up. Not only did he show up and say a big hello to the crowd, he spent nearly an hour at the event talking to fans, posing for photos, and soaking in the atmosphere, which clearly made a big impression. By his own admission he didn't expect to see an entire restaurant filled with fans cheering for him.

Stinger also made an appearance, along with several members of the Jackets' media team and local news (expect to see footage on both Channel 10 and Channel 6 tonight), but the highlight (after Jarmo's visit) for most fans was seeing how Tom Larrow, aka Skraut, would celebrate the season that has passed, and pump us all up for the season to come.

He did not disappoint.

First, he offered a beautiful tribute to George Matthews, the departing "Voice of the Blue Jackets". As Tom pointed out, for fans whose access to TV coverage is not always assured (particularly in Dayton, Cinci, or Cleveland), George Matthews WAS the Blue Jackets, and the soundtrack to some of their greatest moments came from his work on the radio.

After that, it was time for a tribute to the team as a whole. Not surprisingly, the video had a clear narrative, and as Tom put it, this was a salute to the heroes who came through so many times to win games well after most fans had gone to bed, particularly on the grueling West Coast / Western Canadian road trips..and perhaps a few hints of what we hope to see in the future, with previews of guys like Nathan Horton, Jack Skille, and Marian Gaborik.

The mood was excited, hopeful, and joyous. This has become an event where the fans become a family, and we all get to share some love - sometimes even in unexpected ways, as one attendee told me that she'd almost not come, because she was dealing with the unexpected loss of her husband, who had also been a Jackets fan. Attending the gathering, she saw his old custom Blue Jackets license plate in one of the videos, and she said that it made it worth attending.

That's a powerful, powerful thing.

Cannonfest has grown so far beyond a cookout, a get-together, a little party. It's an event now. One that the whole community has embraced, and made bigger and better each successive year.

I'm stumped on how the heck we're going to top this, but I'm sure all of you will help us find a way to make it happen.

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