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‘Like, totally awesome:’ NostalgiaCon, the ’80s pop culture convention, debuts in Anaheim

Sam J Jones at NostalgiaCon 2019
Sam J. Jones, who played the title character in the 1980 cult movie “Flash Gordon,” at NostalgiaCon 2019.
(Audrey Valcourt)

The ’80s were back in a big way in Orange County last weekend when the first annual Nostalgia Con, a two-day pop culture gathering that took over two halls at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Hundreds of fans (many in neon) showed up to mix and mingle with dozens of cultural icons of their youth.

Organized by promoter Manny Ruiz, NostalgiaCon featured a mix of pop culture stars of yesteryear from TV, film and music.

“I felt that there was a huge gap,” Ruiz said of why he felt the need to create the show. “Conventions have been around forever, but no one has ever said, ‘What if we put all those elements together and gave people the Disneyland of conventions?’ ... I felt there was a niche for giving the stars that inspired today’s pop culture the love they deserved [because they’ve] never gotten the proper love and affection that comic cons give to superheroes.”

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NostalgiaCon 2019
Cosplayers wearing clothes inspired by the movie “Back To The Future Part II” stand next to a DeLorean at NostalgiaCon 2019.
(Dave Kapp)

Ruiz assembled a show packed with classic cars (yes, lots of DeLoreans), mini arcade games and chances to get photo ops and autographs from some of the ’80s biggest stars, including “Dallas” co-stars Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy, as well as Catherine Bach, who played Daisy Duke in “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Doc Brown, aka Christopher Lloyd, sat across from “Goonies” co-stars Sean Astin and Corey Feldman, while George Wyner of “Spaceballs” fame was seen chatting with “WKRP in Cincinatti” stars Loni Anderson and Howard Hesseman.

Original MTV VJs Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman and Alan Hunter
NostalgiaCon 2019 in Anaheim brought a reunion of the original MTV VJs Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman and Alan Hunter
(Dave Kapp)

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Sam J. Jones, who played Flash Gordon in the 1980 movie, posed with a seemingly endless line of excited fans. Steps away at the “Boom Box Museum,” Michael Chambers, the actor who played Turbo in “Breakin’,” popped and locked to the delight of one-time b-boys and b-girls.

When the stars themselves were asked what they were nostalgic for,
Bach responded “all the things that brought joy in my life,” while Hesseman yearned for “faith in other people [and] commitment to compassion; the sense that you should share what you have with people who don’t have as much.”

Not only did fans get to meet and greet the stars, they got to see panel discussions revisiting their legendary pasts. Did you know Eric Estrada almost became a real cop before he and co-star Larry Wilcox shot to fame on “CHiPS”? Now you do.

A reunion of the original MTV VJs Alan Hunter, Nina Blackwood and Mark Goodman was also a hit among generation X.

Catherine Bach at NostalgiaCon 2019
“The Dukes of Hazard’s” Catherine Bach, who played Daisy Duke, and writer/fan Keith Valcourt.
(Dave Kapp)

“With MTV we were all sharing the same experience in real time,” Hunter remembered. “You don’t get that anymore.”

“It’s so engaging for me,” Lloyd said of attending NostalgiaCon. “I wake the day of a show and think, ‘Eight hours?’ But when I get here, within minutes you get involved with their lives and their stories.

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“It means a lot to me that ‘Back to the Future’ has meant so much to them. So many people come up and say they have chosen their careers because of the films. They are surgeons or mechanics or physicists or whatever. In addition to that, so young many people who grew up in difficult circumstances come up and say, ‘You made my childhood.’ That’s kinda huge. I am very grateful to be part of something that wasn’t just entertainment, it did something for the people who saw those films.”

“Honestly the best part of it is, selfishly, is that I get to interact with my colleagues,” said Astin. “Because I don’t get to see them that much. But you come here and all suddenly it’s a reunion. Every time I walk into one of these buildings I just look up at the rafters and thank God I get to do this.”

Nostalgia Con ended each day with a fully produced concert featuring top acts of the ’80s. Saturday was “New Wave” night, and featured L.A. stalwarts Martha Davis and the Motels (“Only the Lonely”) and British hit machine ABC. Hundreds of fans sang along with ABC’s Martin Fry to every word of “Look of Love” and “Poison Arrow,” transforming forty- and fifty-somethings into dancing teenagers, and convincing their own (actual) teenagers that the ‘80s were, in fact, cool.

And it was, to use the overused phrase of the event, ‘Totally awesome!’

NostalgiaCon plans to return next year to celebrate both the ‘80s and the ‘90s.


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