NerdFest: sword-fighting, burlesque and musical medleys

Musical Mario medleys, burlesque, sword fighting, cosplay and yo-yo shows – if any of these piqued your interest, head on down to NerdFest, the brainchild of UBC alumna Morgan Zentner. 

NerdFest is celebrating its fifth year this year on Saturday, November 14 at the Rickshaw Theatre. Originally conceived as a Renaissance music festival of sorts for Zentner, her bandmates and other musicians, it has evolved into an eclectic variety show featuring a wide range of acts.

A graduate of the UBC master's of music program specializing in oboe, english horn and orchestral performance, Zentner took her talents to a folk-metal Band. As their genre of music was quite rare, they founded NerdFest and used it as an outlet to showcase their distinct sound. When the band dissolved, Zentner stayed in British Columbia and continued NerdFest. Since then, NerdFest has grown to include so much more than just music. Zentner credits UBC for providing her with the inspiration for NerdFest. For her, an important part of NerdFest was about fostering a community of musicians. 

“I wanted to support local talent ... because I feel that the community in general in Vancouver is very small," she said. "Spreading the word of each other's' talents is important. We’re very much a community that helps each other out. I definitely feel that started for me at UBC.”

What sets NerdFest apart from run-of-the-mill Renaissance fairs is the diversity of acts, which include sword-fighting. After a successful showcase that involved an impromptu sword battle last year, Academie Duello (a school of swordplay) returns to NerdFest this year. A completely dissimilar segment — and one of Zentner’s favorites — is the yo-yo act. This segment involves two yo-yo champions – one dressed as Frank Sinatra, the other cosplaying a Heavy Metal sort of character proceeding to yo-yo battle one another. Zentner recalls that they “blew her mind” the first time she saw them, insisting that they return this year.

Music is still a core part of NerdFest as there is a range of genres present. Take The Runaway Four for instance, a group specializing in video game medleys. Their unique set involves video games playing on screen behind them while the band syncs their music accordingly with a matching melody, lyrics and all. If that isn’t one’s taste, there’s also The Still Spirits who have an “old-timey-bluegrass” sound and come with costumes to match.

For some, burlesque may not be the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of “fantasy.” However, Zentner clarified that fantasy can be pretty much anything. “Nerdlesque” is the name of this sub-genre with examples like sci-fi burlesque and Lord of the Rings Burlesque. Going for the best, NerdFest has one of the girls from Vancouver’s famous Burlesque group Screaming Chicken Society performing.

Highlighting the broad NerdFest spectrum are the unique vendors. They sell a range of products from chainmail jewelry and shirts to dragon paraphernalia – a good place to do some early holiday shopping for that nerdy relative.

NerdFest is very interactive — there are lots of (free) prizes to be won both through the costume contest and quests.

NerdFest is a fusion of different aspects of Nerd-dom. It's a welcoming atmosphere for “light hearted good time [and] adult-y nerdy fun.” The one thing in this interactive event you can be certain of is discovering something new and unexpected.