My First PAX: PAX East 2012

I've been waiting three years to write a My First PAX article. I've edited articles from Thrasher and thebeststeph and others, and always thought PAX sounded like the most fun event to go to. Watch people play Rock Band all day? That sounds awesome. Even though I knew people came home exhausted and often with the PAX Flu, it still sounded like an awesome time. I finally got my shot when PAX East rolled around this year. I was prepared to be tired, to have sore feet, and to need a ton of hand sanitizer to avoid the PAX Flu, but I wasn't prepared for just how awesome the fans are…and just how quickly I'd lose my voice.

Let's start with the pre-PAX events…

Tuesday, April 3

On Tuesday, G4 announced Rock Band Blitz on X-Play with an interview with Project Director Nord. It was a crazy exciting day at the Harmonix offices, and we were so happy to see the game out in the world.

Wednesday, April 4

HMXHenry recording his wrestling-style promo

On Wednesday, we hosted our Pre-PAX East Livestream from the Harmonix basement, featuring a bracket-style Rock Band Blitz tournament between Aaron Trites (HMXHenry), Eric Pope, Nick Chester, and John Drake. Our good buddy HMXSean stopped by to host the craziness and guide the competitors to the Blitz Championship Belt. It was the first time we showed the competitive gameplay between players, and our four challengers got a little lost in the competition, even recording professional wrestling-style promos for the show. The competition was fierce and showed off the asynchronous multiplayer aspect of Rock Band Blitz. We had a surprise challenge at the end of the show from Pope, but Harmonix Publicist Nick Chester won the coveted Rock Band Blitz Championship Belt.

Thursday, April 5

On Thursday, we hosted a Rock Band Night at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square. It was my VERY FIRST Rock Band Night! Every time the Community team has ever done them before I've been in class for my grad school program. I was psyched to finally be attending one, and then I was told I'd be managing the band signup sheet! I got to talk to fans all night and help them pick their song and band name. Best night ever, right? The bands were crazy and the guest judges from Giant Bomb were crazier. At one point in the show, the band on stage got so crazy that HMXHenry had to hold onto one of the TVs so it wouldn’t fall off the stage.

HMXHenry saving the TV

At the end of the night, we gave away a ton of Astro Bags off the back of our rental truck. It was a crazy night. Check out Community Manager Annette's album on Flickr.

Friday, April 6

Friday was the kickoff of PAX East, and my VERY FIRST DAY on the show floor. The day started with setting up swag to be handed out. Dance Central Community Manager Annette had piles of DC swag to give out – bags, bandanas, slap bracelets, sunglasses, and more. Over at the Rock Band stage, we had Rock Band Blitz t-shirts, RB wristbands, and Rock Band Blitz patches. We set up the Rock Band 3 instruments, plugged in all our custom Rock Band Blitz controllers and headphones at the six Rock Band Blitz kiosks, and were ready to go. Fans started pouring in and the show started. I spent Day One of PAX at the side of the Rock Band 3 stage – talking to fans about Rock Band Blitz, giving them RB wristbands, and helping HMXHenry get bands set up to play. Not to mention singing along at the side of the stage (more on that later…). For my first day ever at PAX, I think it went pretty well.

Saturday, April 7

Saturday felt like I finally knew what I was doing. We got the RB booth set up with swag, plugged all the controllers back in or synched them, and got ready to roll. This time I managed the line on the other side of the stage – asking people what song they were going to play, helping them form full bands, and subbing in when someone was missing a band member. I had the best time. I talked to fans all day about Rock Band Blitz and about their favorite Rock Band songs. I sang along with songs all day (you see where this is going, right?) and watched some crazy performances (lots more on that later).

Saturday night we went out to do karaoke. Unfortunately it was crowded, and only one of us was able to perform. Folks that witnessed Nick Chester’s performance of Slayer’s “Raining Blood” at the Rock Band stage may be surprised, but he killed it at karaoke with “Take These Broken Wings.” By this point, my voice was completely gone anyway, having sung along with all the bands playing my favorite Rock Band songs all weekend.

Sunday, April 8

Sunday was a super high energy day, despite us having been going nonstop since Wednesday night. I started the day with no voice, and it only got worse as I talked to more and more fans. I’m still recovering with cough drops, throat spray, and lots of hot tea.

Jessa, Nick, Annette, Pope, Aaron, and Drake at the Podcast LIVE Panel - Photo By Kyle Mercury, @dropslash

The Harmonix crew had their LIVE podcast panel in the morning, and I was working the Rock Band booth with Adam Cardoza. Cardoza is THE BEST. Some of you might know him as the drummer for DnA’s Evolution, others as the winner of our internal Harmonix Dance Central fitness challenge, but this was my first time spending time with him. We managed the crowd, getting bands up on stage to play, filling in as necessary, and talking to people about Rock Band Blitz. Cardoza is a machine when it comes to Rock Band. He’ll fill in on any instrument, including singing vocals for a Dead Kennedys song while the Easter Bunny danced around.

Easter Bunny rocks out with HMX's Adam Cardoza on vocals in the background

We had some insane performances and fun times throughout the weekend. Some highlights are:

  • The zombies from Plants vs. Zombies stopped by the Rock Band stage every day. They played “Another One Bites the Dust” and subbed in “brains” for half the lyrics on Saturday. (We also saw them breakdancing over on the Dance Central 2 stage!)

  • The Easter Bunny came by on Sunday, courtesy of Gearbox, and handed out secret codes for a Gearbox thing. He happened to take the stage as a band wanted to play the Dead Kennedys, which was awesome.
  • “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” and “Bohemian Rhapsody were easily the most-played songs of the weekend.
  • No matter how many times they were played, “Everlong” and “Welcome Home” never get old. Ever.
  • We had one woman who performed Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire” on Friday and on Sunday. I’m not a huge Kings of Leon fan, but she was awesome.
  • Bands loved picking the Rick Astley song, and one band on Sunday had a vocalist that KILLED it. He was so good we stopped mid-conversation to watch.
  • I was disappointed by the lack of Shinedown, Slipknot, Breaking Benjamin, and Stone Sour throughout the weekend. However, I was psyched that bands wanted to play A Day To Remember’s “The Downfall of Us All.” I apologize to the band that wanted me to sing with them on Sunday. I had already lost my voice by this point and singing was probably a mistake.
  • The most adorable little girls took the stage to sing “Still Alive” and we had another kid sing Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright.”
  • HMXers Nick & Pope - Photo By Kyle Mercury, @dropslash

  • Harmonix folks got in on the fun – Publicist Nick Chester was a special request vocalist for the unreleased Slayer DLC, twice. Manager of Community Development HMXHenry and Community Manager Eric Pope subbed in on lots of songs and did backing vocals for a lot of bands. Pope even completed singing a Smashing Pumpkins song with a bucket on his head. Director of Communications and Brand Management John Drake then played drums on “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” with the same bucket on his head and still managed an 85%+ score. Dance Central Community Manager Annette jumped up on stage to headbang to Slayer. All in all it was a successful show.

John Drake on drums with a bucket on his head

I had the best weekend, talking to fans and listening to Rock Band songs all weekend. Can’t wait to do it again at the next event.

Select images provided by HMX Alum Kyle Mercury. You can see the full set of his PAX East photos on Flickr. For more information on Rock Band Blitz, check out the official page.