- City Guides
“Elementally, My Dear Steampunks”
A report from the 2019 Brass Screw Confederacy steampunk festival in Port Townsend, Wash.
Monday, July 22, 2019
The Brass Screw Confederacy, which just concluded its eighth year June 12-14, is sometimes referred to as “the little Steampunk Con that could.” It’s held in the charming, but relatively twee, community of Port Townsend, Washington (pop. 9551), on the Olympic Peninsula. The town was a prosperous seaport until the 1890s, when the railroad chose a different terminus and the economy collapsed. Thanks to benevolent neglect, Port Townsend has a wonderful downtown district, two streets of Victorian high-ceilinged handcrafted brick-and-wood structures that create the perfect setting for a 19th century that never was.
This year it was also practically the Last Steampunk Standing in the Pacific Northwest. With Seattle’s Steamposium and Bellingham’s Fairview Festival cancelled and Portland’s Gearcon postponed, steampunks from throughout the region flocked to the 2019 Confederacy, bringing it to its highest attendance ever. Brass Screw creative director Nathan Barnett also noted with satisfaction that vendors had reported strong sales throughout the three-day event.
It is much more festival than convention. There is a Chautauqua that features lectures and presentations on steampunk topics, as well as a Bodger’s Hall and curated film series. But most of the event takes place out and about in the bars, restaurants and promenades of the town’s waterfront.
A Steampunk Fashion Show brought in the crowds to display some home-created finery. Friday night featured a variety show with live music and a burlesque performance, as well as this correspondent’s favorite feature, an Absinthe Tent, where the specialist bartenders talk you through a masterful selection of hand-crafted homages to the Green Fairy.
This year’s theme was Mad Science, celebrated with decorated chalkboards at the Hootenanny and demonstrations in the Bodger’s Hall. The latter included home-built lasers; extravagant (if imaginary) technologies; and a 50th anniversary celebration of our history’s moon landing through the speculative (and very steampunk) form of Méliès’ silent masterwork A Trip to the Moon.
Appearing in the Chautauqua and headlining the Saturday night show was British chap-hop sensation (we can have sensations in steampunk, yes?) Professor Elemental, who added a kids’ show to his visit, proving his mettle as one of the hardest-working performers in steampunk.
The festival has already set its 2020 dates of June 12-14, with special musical guest Abney Park on the slate. In a year when some steampunks have suggested an existential crisis to the movement, the Brass Screw offers counter-evidence that at least in quaint Victorian seaside ports, the world of Victorian science fantasy is alive and well.
For more on the Confederacy, go to https://www.brassscrew.org.
Check out the photo gallery below for scenes from the event. All photos are by John Longenbaugh/Battleground Productions unless otherwise noted.
John Longenbaugh is a writer and director in the Pacific Northwest. His latest project is BRASS, a multi-platform steampunk adventure serial following the adventures of a family of science geniuses as they match wits with a criminal mastermind. You can download the audio series and see the films on the Battleground Productions website. The podcasts are also available on iTunes and Stitcher. He describes himself as an avid Sherlockian, an enthusiastic pugilist, and a decent cook.