There are times when I feel like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole in Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, and I would have to say that STEAM Fest can be counted as one of those times. A two-day steampunk festival held at the Academy Theatre in Avondale Estates, S.T.E.A.M.Fest (Steampunk Theatre, Entertainment, Arts, and Music Festival) celebrated all things founded in alternative history and retro-futurism, which means that STEAM Fest just got “curiouser and curiouser” for me at every turn!

For those in the know, steampunk is a community of open-minded individuals, artists, entertainers, musicians, writers, hobbyists, and friends, who enjoy each other’s company and cos-play (costume play or role playing). Steampunks revel in anachronistic technology, societal decorum and formality, and being part of a subculture that believes in a steam-powered society. For those who are confused, this subculture loves trains, airships, leatherwork, goggles, top hats, cravats, corsets, bustles, guns, and machines made of brass, gears, keys, clockwork parts, and other items.

The two-day Atlanta STEAM Fest started at noon on Saturday (going until 2 a.m. late night) and then again from noon until 6 p.m. on Sunday, so this was a full-on, large scale steampunk festival sponsored by Atlanta’s own The Artifice Club, an open yet exclusive social club for steampunks. Originally planned to be a completely indoor event, a snag in plans turned it into an indoor/outdoor event. Vendors were set up outside, along with tents for the Laboratory (panelists and symposium tent) and The Odditorium (music space venue). There was just so much to see and do that they couldn’t contain it all inside the Academy Theatre! Inside the theatre, there was a Tea Parlor, Engine Room, and Performance Hall.

Whether you needed new gear or merch, wanted to watch some interesting steampunky shows, desired to learn something new at a panel, or thought it would be cool to check out the exhibitor’s intricate designs – this festival had just the thing to tantalize your eyes and ears! You could even just opt to chill out and watch movies that fit into the genre, including Georges Melies’ A Trip to the Moon, a short film that was featured in the recently acclaimed Martin Scorsese film, Hugo.

For me, highlights of the festival (aka “my fall down the steampunk rabbit hole”), included watching the Tea Dueling Competition – an interesting duel involving cookies and tea, where after dunking the cookie in tea for five seconds, the last contestant to get a clean “nom” or full cookie in their mouth before it fell apart won; seeing Awalim belly dancing troupe dance with zills, swords, and fans; and hearing new steampunk novel author Delilah S. Dawson speak about her novel, Wicked As They Come. The festival even included a costume parade on Sunday! Bands played in The Odditorium throughout the festival , and at the steampunk dance party on Saturday night, DJ Doctor Q spun interesting, yet danceable tunes into the wee hours of the morning.

If you are well established in the steampunk community or just a curious observer, the participants in this festival were open to bragging about their accomplishments and discussions about the genre in general. For me, STEAM Fest was a memorable trip down the rabbit hole of curiousness in a community of open-minded individuals, artists, and enthusiasts. I would highly recommend you check it out and see what all this “steam” stuff is about – it may even help open your imagination to creating your own alternative retro-futurist reality.

Photos © 2012 Geoff Millwood Photography