After striking up a friendship there, McConnell and Asta decided to head to Milwaukee for the sixth annual Ponyville Ciderfest.
Asta said the conventions bring together people with similar passions.
“Everyone is so friendly,” Asta said. “It’s so hard to have a bad time here.”
Dozens of My Little Pony conventions take place around the world. They started popping up after a revamped incarnation of the 1980s My Little Pony franchise was launched in 2010.
The show, called Friendship is Magic, appealed not only to little kids, but has drawn a cult following of teenagers and adults who call themselves Bronies.
McConnell said just as he was getting out of the military, he was playing a video game online. Suddenly, a post about the ponies popped up.
“It got me curious, so I started watching episodes, and basically got hooked and here I am, decade down the road almost,” McConnell said.
Matthews is one of the 1,300 men, women and children who attended the Milwaukee convention. According to Visit Milwaukee, the three-day event brings in more than 500 thousand dollars to the city.
The crowds come for the music – there are dance parties nightly.
And the vendors. So many of the fans are artists who sell handmade t-shirts, posters and wood carvings.
But the real draw is the talent. At this year’s Ponyville Ciderfest, actors from the show, directors and cartoonists held panel discussions.
Plus, there are some after-hours adult-themed events.
Cody Miller, who also goes by the name Vivid, is the programming director for the Milwaukee festival.
“In any fandom, when you have adults, there are going to people going to have some sexual representation with some of it. I think with the vast majority of the fandom, that is not the case. But people are going to enjoy it in all sorts of different ways.”
Miller says the conventions are an escape from the daily grind. And a place to find mutual support.
“There are so many terrible things happening in the world, that it’s nice to be in a place where people genuinely want to be better,” Miller said.
That’s evident watching the show, which promotes harmony, generosity, laughter and kindness.
“We get a lot of mixed messages about what it means to be a man. Do you have to be mean to people all the time and dominant and you know, kind of a jerk,” Miller asked. “It’s very refreshing to have a group of people come together and say, ‘No.’ We want to be nice to each other, we want to have feelings. We want to come together and enjoy something that is colorful and fun and not just be stereotyped into what has been pounded into our heads for so many years.”
Jennifer Markgraf, of West Bend, has been a volunteer at Ciderfest for three years.
Markgraf said she watched My Little Pony when she was a kid, and again with her niece as an adult, but she doesn’t consider herself an official brony.
Still, she loves Ciderfest.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s awesome even people who aren’t into My Little Pony can just come here and let the weird out and feel comfortable,” Makgraf said. “Otherwise maybe they wouldn’t be. That’s why that foundation that we picked, Generations Against Bullying, is really important.”
On the last day of Ponyville Ciderfest, the fandom holds an auction. Money raised goes to their charity of choice, which has been Milwaukee-based Generations Against Bullying.
This year, the group raised $25,000.
James Dean is the spokesman for Generations Against Bullying.
“It’s just so fun to see the people here,” Dean said. “They know who we are, they recognize us every year. It’s just a group of people here that we consider family.”
BronyCon ended its run in Baltimore this year, but the Bronies will be back in Milwaukee in 2020.
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