On Saturday August 9 2008, three young British figureheads in the Sonic the Hedgehog community opened the doors to the very first Summer of Sonic convention, welcoming over 300 people into a tiny hall with nothing but a SEGA Mega Drive in the corner and some cupcakes to entice them in.
Fast forward eight years, to Saturday 6 August 2016, and those same three (now old) community veterans reunited for One More Run, wrapping up the seventh Summer of Sonic to a live audience of over 1,000 fans from all over the world. Attendees got the chance to meet Sonic co-creator Yuji Naka, play Sonic Mania a year before release and enjoy two electric music performances from Jun Senoue; firstly as a solo act and then later with Johnny Gioeli as Crush 40.
Depending on whether you went to the first or the most recent one (or both!), there’s a good reason to look back fondly on the Summer of Sonic event this past week. It’s been ten years since the first show, and two years since the last – and although it’s clear to see the differences in size and spectacle between 2008 and 2016, one thing stayed the same: the deep community spirit that drives the convention itself.
I created the Summer of Sonic convention concept shortly after a chance community meetup in London back in 2007. After chatting with the concept to Kevin Eva (aka ArchAngelUK, who had recently joined SEGA as one of the company’s first ever community managers), we set plans in motion to organise and set up Summer of Sonic 2008. I found the venue (the cute Dragon Hall Covent Garden community centre) and funded the show, while Kevin handled some cool SEGA-based incentives (Guinness World Record association for a Sonic 2 speed-run, Nintendo DS prizes, Mario & Sonic game booths). Adam Tuff (known as T-Bird) provided some help with the music offering, setting the stage and making sure the acoustics were good for special guest Richard Jacques to perform live for the crowd.
In the years that followed, Adam, Kevin and I (with a lot of help from a group of incredibly important volunteers and community pals who would keep the entire show running smoothly) would go on to improve on the formula; finding bigger venues, inviting more guests, diversifying the music experience, forming closer ties with SEGA… by 2010, Summer of Sonic really solidified itself as an important tentpole in the Sonic community. That year, SEGA provided pre-release demos of Sonic Colours and Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode I, and worked with Nintendo to film a segment for the Wii Channel. It was also the very first time Crush 40 – Jun Senoue and Johnny Gioeli – performed live outside of Japan.
There are so many fond memories and stories to share from each year that we’ve hosted a Summer of Sonic (2008-2013 and 2016), and it has been heartwarming to see both volunteers involved with the show and fellow Sonic fans who attended post their best moments on Twitter over the last week. No doubt Kevin, Adam and the Summer of Sonic gang will share theirs too, but a couple of highlights for me:
- Meeting many a cosplayer, including a kid in 2013 who dressed up as an Orbinaut (complete with spiky hands) and a Boba Fett/Amy Rose mashup in 2016!
- Seeing the ‘Jam With Jun’ idea play out live during the 2012 event and seeing fans perform with Senoue-san on a number of tracks – one sang a song, another played guitar and another played the violin as Senoue-san was shredding on his iconic Sonic guitar
- Johnny Gioeli appearing in his first ‘Never Mind the Buzzbombers’ quiz in 2010, being told his round of questions would be about his music partner Jun Senoue… and then seeing Senoue-san pop his head over the balcony above the stage, to a huge cheer from the crowd
- Iizuka-san cheekily evading blame for ‘The Barrel’ in Sonic the Hedgehog 3’s Carnival Night Zone during 2011’s on-stage Q&A… and Yuji Naka taking the bullet for it instead as he was lead programmer for the project
- Being forced to do the Donkey Kong Rap live on stage with Rory (aka Roareye – the co-host for many a Summer of Sonic) in 2008. No, I’m never doing it again.
- Witnessing Lee ‘Bentley Jones’ Brotherton perform a ballad cover of ‘They Call Me Sonic’ out of the blue, in 2009
And obviously, the biggest and most fondest memory of all is just meeting all the Sonic fans who attend the show. It’s a delight to chat to every one of you and it’s amazing to hear how the existence of the Summer of Sonic has helped a number of you too. At the end of the day, I created the show because I wanted to make new like-minded friends, so to see others doing the same really makes me proud. To that end, the core mission of Summer of Sonic has truly been accomplished.
Thanks to all of you for helping make Summer of Sonic such a memorable event, thanks to all the special guests we have had over the years (including Richard Jacques, TJ Davis, Lee Brotherton, Sumo Digital, Jun Senoue, Johnny Gioeli, Takashi Iizuka, Yuji Naka, Julien-K, Kazuyuki Hoshino, Tom Fry, Tyson Hesse, everyone from Fleetway’s Sonic the Comic, Ian Flynn, Tracy Yardley, Mike Pollock, Duncan Gutteridge, SEGA Hardlight) and most of all thanks to all of the volunteers who have made the show what it is every year.
Happy Anniversary, Summer of Sonic!