Sonic Boom: Behind the Scenes

One of the most frequent questions we get asked every year is whether or not Summer of Sonic would ever be held in the United States, but due to many reasons “SoSUS” never come to fruition. Unsurprisingly though there has been a huge demand for a Sonic convention state-side, and it was really only a matter of time before one materialised.

With the Sonic’s 20th anniversary around the corner, SEGA of America spearheaded plans to create their own official convention, the appropriately named Sonic Boom. Aaron Webber, the newly appointed Sonic Brand Manager took on the role of chief coordinator for Sonic Boom and got in touch with Dreadknux and myself a few weeks back, and cordially invited us both to the event.

We didn’t need to be asked twice!

The convention had been carefully timed to coincide with the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles’ downtown convention centre venue. Sonic Boom was scheduled to take place in the moody and ambient environment of Club Nokia, a versatile bar come night club within walking distance of E3; a perfect site to celebrate twenty years of Sonic the Hedgehog.

I arrived at the venue early in the afternoon with Aaron, and before we’d even made our way upstairs we were greeted by fans queuing outside Club Nokia; some of them had been camped out since 6am that morning in order to score a place inside the venue as they had not been able to acquire a ticket. If that’s not dedication, I really don’t know what is! Kellie and Julian from the American community team (who you will know from the Free Stuff Friday videos!) were running around upstairs in the venue coordinating the setup of stands, pods and making sure everything was in place – a familiar scene to anyone who has been involved in the organisation of Summer of Sonic!

Even more familiar faces were up on stage as Jun Senoue, Johnny Gioeli and Alex Makhlouf (from Cash Cash, the band involved with the Sonic Colors soundtrack) were performing a dry run of the tracks they were going to be playing later on that evening. After a warm reunion with the guys I sat back to take some snaps and enjoy the privileged position of being an invited guest backstage at an event. I must have looked pretty dumb, but nevertheless I could not get rid of the huge grin on my face as the guys blistered through their fresh new set list, which included a brand new version of Sonic CD’s “Sonic Boom” and Sonic R’s “Super Sonic Racing”. What’s more, Alex’s accompaniment on synthesiser added another layer of ecstasy to the already monstrous set, and took the lead on the funky fresh new version of “Escape from the City” which will be gracing the in-game soundtrack for Sonic Generations!

I got an opportunity to briefly catch up with Johnny after rehearsals, and as always was up for a bit of laugh, as you can see from the picture (although I don’t think SEGA will be taking him on as their new mascot – stick to your day job, Johnny!). Another act rehearsing on stage before the doors opened was the cast of Needlemouse the musical. American fans will remember this bunch as the winners of the 19th anniversary competition last year, and were the lucky recipients of a trip to Japan to play Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode One. These guys were fantastic and incredibly animated on stage, so much so most of us assisting set up had to pause to watch and laugh at the jokes they were cracking. AJ and the bunch came to talk to me after their run-through, and were even kind enough to let me have my picture taken with them – an absolutely great bunch of guys and gals and well-deserving of the incredible ovation they received later in the evening (watch their performance here!).

By 5 o’clock the venue was taking shape, with the merchandise stands set up (each entrant received a Sonic hat, a special edition Sonic Generations T-Shirt and badge set) and nearly twenty gaming stations were primed and ready to give the throng of rabid Sonic fans outside a chance to play the demo of Sonic Generations. A number of photo booths had also been established to allow fans to record photographic postcards and video messages for Sonic’s birthday (you can check out Aaron and my postcard here, Dread’s postcard here and Yuji Naka’s here). Outside a huge queue of fans had formed, eagerly awaiting entry into the venue. Aaron and I went outside to rattle the crowd up a bit, and got to shake the hands of a few fans that had recognised Aaron and me.

At 6 o’clock sharp the doors opened and the mass of fans piled in. I took a brief trip upstairs to the VIP lounge, where the likes of Iizuka-san, Oshima-san and Naka-san were meeting other industry members at an exclusive VIP event. Unfortunately I was not introduced to Naka-san, but I was reintroduced to Iizuka-san, who smiled courteously as we had already met that week! Dreadknux appeared at the venue after his busy day at E3 (and was fashionably late as always!) and we proceeded downstairs to the main event floor.

A heap of guys came to greet Dread and I (there are far too many of you to mention!) and it really made our day – so if you came up and said hi, thanks loads; it really a pleasure to meet you all! TSS staffer, Sonic Retro writer and Sonic Show star Brad Flick was down on the time trial competition station hastily jotting down top scores on Green Hill Zone – you will have to keep an eye out for some hilarious pictures of Brad and Dreadknux in their bronik poses! Similarly to Summer of Sonic, there were a massive variety of cosplayers at the event too, including SSMB’s own mikeblastdude who came in an awesome Metal Sonic getup, and an excellent Charmy the Bee cosplayer. We also caught up with Scarred Sun from Retro and Shayne representing TSSZ news. I’ve never met either in reality before so we got to have a good chinwag and posed for a few photos for posterity – both are fantastic people and I certainly hope we get to all meet again in the near future.

Aaron appeared on stage to welcome all of the guests to Sonic Boom, and it wasn’t long before Jun, Johnny and Alex were on stage blowing the socks off all those in attendance. A lucky few spotted Naka-san on the event floor and managed to grab his autograph and a photo before he disappeared backstage once more. Jun, not one for passing up the opportunity to meet fans, came down off stage with the legendary Sonic guitar to sign autos and pose for pictures with a handful of fortunate fans.

Following Needlemouse: the Musical, the best of the cosplayers were invited on stage to participate in the cosplay contest, and Iizuka-san, Miyamoto-san and Senoue-san were all invited up to wish Sonic a happy birthday and to sing him a happy birthday song…and of course, Sonic was present too, along with his birthday cake! It wasn’t long before Dread and I found ourselves up on stage, telling the Los Angeles crowd all about Summer of Sonic. I had been really nervous beforehand about how the crowd would receive us on stage (especially considering the acts we were following!) but the audience were really receptive, and cheered us on – thank you all for letting us talk to you briefly, and hopefully we’ve enticed some of you to come to Summer of Sonic!

Naka-san and Miyamoto-san, along with Oshima-san joined the cast on stage at the end of the show once again and were presented with the graffiti artist’s drawing of classic and modern Sonic which had been created over the course of the evening. I’m sure most will agree the evening past all too quickly, and before long it was time to close up the evenings proceedings.

Dread and I pitched in to assist with the clean up, and ended up collapsing in the dressing room to have a chin-wag with Alex (who is also a massive Sonic nerd by the way!) After moving a precious cargo of guitars, we emerged on the street next to the Nokia theatre and ran into our good friend Richard Jacques, who was just as surprised to see us as we were to see him! Exhausted, we crashed for a few drinks at a local bar as well as a few last photographs of the day, and toasted the success of Sonic Boom.

I’d like to end by applauding the fantastic job Aaron and the team at SoA did putting together an event of this magnitude in such a short period of time, and all those involved in the stage entertainment over the course of the evening. America has now had a taste of a Sonic convention, and I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear of Sonic Boom. I’d also like to thank Aaron on behalf of Dread and myself for sponsoring our trip to Sonic Boom; I’m sure I also speak for both of us by saying we are both honoured and flattered to have been considered during the creation of this event to represent Summer of Sonic; we’ve had the time of our lives, and I’m sure I speak for hundreds of other fans when I say…

SONIC BOOM ROCKS!!!