History of Concave

A History of Concave
(written in 1997)
by Gary R. Robe

In late February for the last 15 years, something strange has happened in the sleepy little country town of Park City, Kentucky. On one particular weekend, every hotel room in the town has been full, and cars from as far away as Texas have lined the parking lots. This is not unusual in the summer when the Park Mammoth Resort is the closest hotel to the Mammoth Cave National Park Visitor Center. In the waning weeks of winter, however, it can only mean one thing. It's Concave weekend.

The history of Concave is closely connected with that of the early days of the Western Kentucky University Speculative Fiction Society. In 1978 as the WKUSFS was getting organized, Rickey Sheppard got a copy of one of Meade Frierson's last SFC Bulletins, and in it was a listing for the Falls of the Ohio SF Association in Louisville, and giving Cliff Amos' number as the contact. Rickey called Cliff to introduce himself and to inform him that a fan group was forming in Bowling Green. Cliff was unimpressed, and told Rickey at that time, "that's OK, come to Rivercon, and don't start a convention of your own for at least five years." That was good advice, but later events sort of changed things.

In early 1979, Cliff Amos and Shelby Bush were returning to Louisville from a Chattacon committee meeting, when Cliff's car broke down at Exit 22 near Bowling Green. As he waited for his car to be repaired, Cliff noticed a sign — CONVENTION SPACE AVAILABLE — at the nearby Executive Inn. That's a sign that no SF convention organizer could resist, and Cliff decided to check it out. The hotel was an excellent site for a small SF con since it was halfway between Louisville and Nashville, and it was available. Cliff decided to resurrect an old idea of Irv Koch's, the southern regional relaxacon, UpperSouthClave. Irv had started the idea eight years earlier with two USC's in East Tennessee, and then Ken Moore bid for USC #3 for Nashville. Ken dropped the idea of the USC as a moving convention, and simply renamed it Kubla Khan. Cliff hadn't forgotten Ken's corruption of Irv's idea, so on the Sunday afternoon of Kubla Kahn 7, Cliff and Shelby convened a business meeting in an empty program room without telling anyone else, and voted unanimously to have UpperSouthClave 9 in Bowling Green in March of 1980.

We were somewhat taken aback in Bowling Green when we saw fliers announcing the convention as a done deal without our even having been asked about it. Shelby was listed as the contact person, and we dutifully sent in our registration money and a letter asking if we could work on the convention. Shelby wrote back a rather huffy letter telling us that USC 9 was his show, we were not on the committee in any way, but we could volunteer as gophers. A little later, Cliff found out about this letter, and called us to try and smooth relations a little. Pat Molloy and I went to Midwestcon to meet Cliff face-to-face and discuss plans for USC 9. Even then, because we had no experience working on conventions, Cliff was not going to let any of the Bowling Green fans on the committee. He suggested that if we all came to NorthAmeriCon, worked our butts off, and didn't embarrass anyone, he would consider giving us staff positions. This we did; however, the situation didn't change much until Chambanacon.

Four fans from Bowling Green had made the drive all the way to Champaign, IL on Thanksgiving weekend of 1979, our farthest road trip to date. At the convention, Ken Moore pulled us aside and gave us some news. Cliff and Shelby had fallen on hard times. Both had lost jobs, and neither had a working car. They were not going to be able to run USC 9 in March. Regardless, the convention had been publicized, and they had taken memberships and had arranged for guests. We were now supposed to take over and run the convention on three months notice! We proceeded to get spectacularly drunk that weekend.

We arranged for a secret meeting with Cliff the next weekend. Cliff didn't want Shelby to know that he was handing off the convention to us. Actually, Cliff was covering for some indiscretions. It seemed that the money that had been collected had disappeared. (The fans from Bowling Green were about the only ones who had sent in money before then.) Furthermore, Cliff had talked to the hotel nine months earlier, had found open dates, but had never executed a contract with the hotel! Cliff gave us a short course in convention running over lunch at a Denny's that afternoon, and sent us on the way. In retrospect, we probably should have thrown our hands in the air and walked away at this point. Instead, we chose Pat Molloy as our chairman (since he had attended one more convention than the rest of us at that point), and began to plan the convention. We sent out fliers, bought bus tickets for the guests, and crossed our fingers.

The convention was billed as UpperSouthClave 9, subtitled Concave. At the time we merely wanted to get through the one convention, and had no pretensions of having a Concave 2. Pat Molloy and I had enjoyed Midwestcon and Chambanacon greatly, and decided to use them as the model for our style of convention. We drew 86 fans to that first Concave, ended up only about $50 in the red, and most importantly we were all still on speaking terms by the end of the convention. We convened a site selection meeting on Sunday afternoon to see if anyone else wanted to carry on the UpperSouthClave semi-tradition. Nobody else bid for the USC, so we decided to do it again. The site selection meetings have been a part of the Concave tradition ever since; to date, no other bid, either joke or serious, has edged out the Bowling Green group, and Concave still retains the USC as a subtitle.

At this point, there was a very important committee meeting at which we decided on the direction for the convention. We could see that the very successful conventions were the ones with professional guests of honor and programming. We, however, more enjoyed the simpler relaxacon format. There was some discussion about going for the big time, but after much discussion we realized that we didn't have the money to bring in pro guests, we didn't have a big enough group to staff a more complex convention, and we enjoyed relaxacons more that the big ones anyhow. We decided to stay small and invite Ken and Lou Moore as our second guests of honor.

Concave 2 drew over 100 members, and actually ended up in the black. Concave 3, however, posed a problem. A dispute had erupted with the Executive Inn hotel, and we were most definitely not welcome back there. There were other hotels in Bowling Green, but the one that attracted our attention most was the Park Mammoth Resort located about 20 miles out of town. The PMR had great facilities for a meeting of our size, but was in a dry county. We really didn't know if we could handle the logistics of setting up so far away, and didn't know how the hotel would react to our group. We decided to test the waters with an Octacon-like mini-relaxacon in December of 1981. We called it Concave 2.5, and had only a consuite. We drew about as many members to Concave 2.5 as we did to Concave 2. The logistics didn't seem to be too bad either, so we booked ourselves into the PMR for Concave 3 in March of 1982. Concave is still being held there, with bookings already in place to take us through 1998.

The Park Mammoth Resort is an exceptional location for a convention. It is remote, located on over 1,000 acres of central Kentucky hill country. It's a small hotel with 93 sleeping rooms and three function rooms. The room we use for the consuite has a panoramic view of the countryside below. There are several caves on the property, as well as golf courses, a miniature train, playgrounds, miniature golf course, tennis courts, and a sauna. Although the hotel is located in a dry county, they allow wet private parties. After 15 years of dealing with each other, Concave and the hotel staff know each other well. One year, the kitchen staff noticed Ken Moore pigging out on the Friday night buffet of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, peas, and pork chops. Without anyone reminding them, the same menu appeared the next year, and has become the standard Friday night buffet. Most of the staff knows our regulars by name, and when Corlis and I got married in 1988, I noticed our wedding announcement posted on the office bulletin board the next February.

The core group of the committee has remained through the years. As mentioned before, Pat Molloy was the first committee chairman, and he did the job through Concave 5. Once Pat started working for NASA in Huntsville, AL, he felt he couldn't continue to run Concave by long-distance, so Rickey Sheppard stepped into the leadership position. Rickey stayed in charge for three years, but financial and personal problems forced him to essentially gafiate, so I took over the chairman's position from Concave 9 to the present. The situation changed again in 1992 when I accepted a job in Kingsport, Tennessee almost 300 miles away. Instead of handing Concave over to someone else (since nobody was anxious to take the job anyhow), I decided to do the planning from Kingsport. It really wasn't that difficult. After 12 years of running the convention, we had it down to an art, and the pre-convention planning turned out to be almost as easily done from east Tennessee as Bowling Green.

Besides the chairmen, one other committee member deserves special mention. Annette Carrico has run the consuite almost from the beginning. Annette's contribution cannot be understated. Since the success of a relaxacon revolves around the quality of the consuite, Annette's tireless shopping, hauling, and food preparation has been central to the Concave's deserved reputation as having one of the greatest consuites in all convention fandom. This would not have been possible without Annette.

Other long-time workers who deserve mention are Steve and Sue Francis, who have respectively run the huxter room and backed up Annette in the consuite for many years. Pat Molloy has continued his involvement, and today runs the art show along with Naomi Fisher. John Hans and Patty Teague have run the gaming program for the last six years. Others who have come and gone include D.P. Shaw, who created the look ofConcave's artwork and ran the art show during the first years. David Shockley ran the art show for five years after D.P.'s departure. Randy Fox ran the game program and created the publications during the middle years. Debra Hussey handled the registration desk for the first half of Concave's history. Jim Woosley ran security and took the night shift for at least half of Concave's run. And last-but-not-least, my wife Corlis has handled registration and hundreds of other little details for most of my tenure as chairman.

One of the principles we have tried to maintain with Concave is to let the convention be a salute to SF fandom, and to choose fannish guests who have labored for years with little recognition as guests of other conventions. Our guest list has been: P. L. Caruthers, Ken and Lou Moore, Cliff Amos, Dalvin Coger, Irv Koch, Doc Barrett, John Hollis, Mike Lalor, Nancy Tucker, Pat Molloy, Lynn Hickman, Jane and Scott Dennis, Howard DeVore, Peggy Rae Pavlat, Ben Jason, Judy Bemis and Tony Parker, Bob Roehm and Toni Weisskopf. All of these people have made contributions to fandom that have been significant, and scarcely recognized outside of their local area.

One other notable aspect of Concave has been steady growth of the convention over the last ten years. In the early years, as always, there was some tension between fans and mundanes in the hotel. In the late eighties the convention grew to the point where it was possible to block the hotel. For several years there were some unclaimed room-nights Concave had to pay for. About four years ago, the hotel sold out two weeks before Concave. The sell-out date kept moving back for several years until Concave 16. At check-out time on Sunday afternoon of Concave 16, I began to take reservations for Concave 17. By 2:00 p.m. I had reservations for all 88 available rooms and had to start a waiting list before the dead dog party got started. For Concave 18, the only way to handle the demand for rooms has been to take names and award rooms in a lottery.

In 1980 we decided to keep Concave a small, fannish convention. We have tried to maintain a connection between fandom's roots in First and Second fandom while reaching out to young neofans through gaming and video programs. We have apparently succeeded. Concave 17 in 1996 drew 315 members, the Park Mammoth Resort was full, and a small roadside motel with 23 rooms about two miles away. There are no plans to move to a different location. This may be heresy, but Concave has a certain style, and only so many volunteers to run it. I feel that I speak for the Concave committee when I say that we would rather serve a small group well and with style than a large group with mediocrity.

Does anybody out there want to take a chance in the room lottery?