Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Sideshow Gathering 2011 is coming!

A decade ago, Franco Kossa presented the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania with a gift. To his already-established Inkin' the Valley Tattoo Convention, he added an amazing side offering: the Sideshow Gathering, a one-of-a-kind gathering of sideshow performers from all over the country - held in, of all places, Wilkes-Barre, PA! Since that time Franco has persevered to present this area with what I have called an annual once -in-a-lifetime event, as an ever-changing array of sideshow performers and members of what is known as "the variety arts" gather to swap stories, put on shows, and mingle with fans and each other in a way that simply isn't possible throughout the performing year.

This year marks two milestones: it is the Tenth Annual Sideshow Gathering, and it is the first Sideshow Gathering to be held without Franco at the helm. Franco passed away earlier this year, and management duties passed on to his widow, Kim.

The Sideshow Gathering is being held this year on November 4, 5, and 6 at the Woodlands in Plains Township, PA, just outside of Wilkes-Barre, as it has been held for the last several years.  For full details and a roster of performers, see the official press release here.

Text from the press release:

CONTACTS: Kim Kossa (855-570-4653) or Jill Fisher Fleet (202-459-1148)
The Woodlands Inn & Resort, 1073 Route 315, Wilkes-Barre PA



WILKES-BARRE PA – The Annual Sideshow Gathering — the world's only sideshow convention — returns to northeastern Pennsylvania with its unique and shocking blend of weird, wonderful, and wacky entertainment. From November 4th through 6th, the strange takes center stage when showmen and genuine sideshow freaks from across the country descend on Wilkes-Barre's The Woodlands Inn & Resort to celebrate the giddy thrills of the carnival sideshow. Over the course of three days, many of today's best sideshow performers will walk on glass, swallow swords, eat light bulbs, put hooks in their eyes, attempt to break a world record for the largest simultaneous ten-in-one sideshow, and otherwise risk bodily harm for the sake of twisted entertainment. The Sideshow Gathering is the premier networking event for performers, fans, collectors, and historians. The Sideshow Gathering has steadily drawn increased attendance year after year, and is an unsurpassed weekend of gasps and laughs.

This year, the Sideshow Gathering’s 10th anniversary, is especially poignant as it also marks the passing of its founder Franco Kossa, who died suddenly last May. With Franco’s tragic death the future of the Sideshow Gathering looked uncertain, but a dedicated group of friends, performers, and volunteers have worked steadily to ensure the event will continue this year in grand style. “Franco himself will be present, in spirit and body,” said artist James Mundie, who has designed a special memorial banner to be unveiled at the Sideshow Gathering. “Franco’s ashes will preside over the event, and patrons will have a unique opportunity on Friday night to ‘visit’ with them. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s perfectly appropriate for this event and Franco would have loved it.”

Attractions at the 10th Annual Sideshow Gathering will include:

The weekend's emcees, Tyler Fyre and Thrill Kill Jill of The Lucky Daredevil Thrillshow — named “Best Sideshow Duo” by Washington City Paper; FreakShow Deluxe, Hollywood's own and only carnival-style sideshow; Coney Island Chris, the hilarious one-man ten-in-one seen on America's Got Talent; Philadelphia's Olde City Sideshow, featuring Danny Borneo, Martin Ling the Suicide King, Reggie Bügmüncher and special guest GiGi Holliday of Baltimore's Sticky Buns Burlesque; the incomparable Harley Newman, professional lunatic; Cheeky Monkey Sideshow, featuring Swami Yomahmi, Sally the Cinch, Mab Just Mab, and tantalizing guest Cherríe Sweetbottom; Keith Bindlestiff, co-founder of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus and alter-ego of presidential candidate Kinko the Clown; Knotty Bits Sideshow, and many more! Additionally, vendors such as Col. Hunsley's Freaks and Oddities and James Taylor's Shocked and Amazed! will display genuine freak animals, memorabilia, rare books, and original show banners. Step right up to the Sideshow Gathering for a weekend of entertainment and diversion you will never forget!

Concurrent with the 18th Annual Inkin' The Valley tattoo convention at Wilkes-Barre's The Woodlands Inn & Resort, the Sideshow Gathering begins at 3:00 PM on Friday, November 4th, with live sideshow performances starting at 5:00 PM. The convention floor opens again at noon and performances will resume from 3:00 to 6:00 PM and 10:00 to 11:00 PM on Saturday, followed by a special auction of original art and rare carnival and circus items. On Sunday, there will be encore performances from 2:00 to 5:00 PM. Admission for the entire weekend is only $15.

"Legacy isn't the first word that comes to mind when you think of sword swallowers and fire eaters and people who eat broken glass,” said James Taylor, publisher of the journal Shocked and Amazed! On & Off the Midway and someone who has attended the Sideshow Gathering from the beginning, “but it was for the late Franco Kossa when he created the annual Sideshow Gathering, and that yearly convention has shown for a decade that Kossa's heart was in the right place when he had legacy in mind. Hey, I told him not to do the Gathering when he first came to me about it, and his reaction was perfect: ‘Yeah, but...’ And he did it. We're all in debt to him."

Ten years ago, tattoo business owner Franco Kossa wanted to add sideshow entertainment to his annual convention, Inkin’ the Valley. These art forms shared a common history, so it seemed an ideal pairing. “Tattooed people have been exhibits forever,” Kossa said. &lqduo;Sideshow history and tattoo history are conjoined.” However, at the time the popular acceptance of tattooing was on the rise while sideshow was on the decline. It was while talking with legendary showman Ward Hall, co-owner of the World of Wonders, about the wholesale disappearance of sideshows from America’s fairgrounds that Franco hit upon the idea of starting a convention for sideshow performers. The idea was that for one weekend a year showmen and carnies from across the country could gather to ‘cut up jackpots’. It would be like the old showman’s clubs, but the public would also be invited in. From those humble beginnings, the Sideshow Gathering – the world’s only sideshow convention – was born and in time became a much anticipated annual calendar event for veteran showfolk and a training ground for the next generation. Tim O’Brien of Ripley’s Entertainment and Ripley Radio said, “I come every year to find new talent for Ripley’s. This place is a cornucopia of oddities and bizarre acts!”

“Frank was a generous and loving man who created for this group of people a haven where once a year we could gather… to share the love of our different lifestyle, and our respect for one another,” said Ward Hall, who was himself once honored by Franco Kossa at the Sideshow Gathering with an Ambassador of Wonder Award for his many decades in the sideshow industry. “Through his compassion for those who wished to present themselves to the world in unusual ways, Frank provided a method for us to gather together and get to know him and each other as no one else was ever able to do… I expect that he is now working to assemble a Sideshow Gathering in Heaven for all our people who have gone on before us.”

Kossa’s dedication to this art form has proven that public interest in sideshow is in fact alive and well. Over the years, the Sideshow Gathering has attracted a great deal of media attention – especially for the world records that were set there for mass sword swallowing and human blockhead – and attendance has steadily increased year after year. The 2010 incarnation of the event was the most successful to date, and seemed to indicate that the 10th anniversary in 2011 would be its best year yet. But then in early May 2011, Franco Kossa suddenly died and the fate of his beloved event seemed to be in jeopardy. Franco Kossa’s widow, Kim, was left with mounting debts and a considerable ‘nut’ to cover for Inkin’ the Valley. If the Sideshow Gathering was going to continue, it was going to need help. “The Sideshow Gathering for Franco meant bringing something he loved to his home town and sharing it with those around him,” said Kim Kossa. “Cost didn't matter, he just wanted to share the fun. It also was about bringing like minds together. Sideshow acts are on the road so much, they rarely get a chance to see other acts and be among their peers.” Like a big extended family, friends and volunteers stepped in to lend a hand, the most visible effort being several benefit performances held during mid-October in Washington DC and Baltimore under the name “Seismic Sideshow” that helped raise much needed funds to cover the expenses of putting on Franco’s creation.

“I believe in the afterlife here on Earth,” said Tyler Fyre of the Lucky Daredevil Thrillshow, “that a person lives on through the deeds they did, the lives they touched, and the legacy they leave. Franco lives on through the Sideshow Gathering, and by bringing us all together each year his legacy will live forever.”

Don't miss it!

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