The Story Of The Ball Pit

The spoken-word group behind the podcast “Welcome to Night Vale” has been having a successful tour but recently was an unwitting catalyst for one of the internet’s newest and greatest memes when it got involved in one of the nation’s strangest and most disorganized events.

Where to begin. DashCon was a conference held near Chicago July 11-13 and was dedicated to fans and participants of the Tumblr social network.  For three days, delegates – many of whom were likely still in their teens – were to congregate at the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center. The price was $30-$50 a day or $65 for the weekend pass. Organizers booked the hotel last year and had been promoting it since and raised $4,000 in startup costs on Indiegogo.

However, although organizers anticipated 5,000 people, they got anywhere from 500 to 1,500. Next up, even though the hotel was booked a year in advance and the hotel had DashCon listed on its website, somehow the organizers claimed to be $17,000 short and needed compensation immediately or everybody was going to be kicked out of the hotel. Even though the attendance was sparse, the organizers got the cash. They claimed they had not read the contract with the hotel that said the full payment was due on day one. (Here’s one very NSFW take on it).

Being that almost everyone at the event was a blogger or a social media maven, the event got its share of attention by then, but the kicker came when it was time for “Welcome To Night Vale” to arrive. WTNV is a popular podcast – more like an audiobook about the strange goings on in the small town of Night Vale – and DashCon attendees were invited to a live reading, for an added amount. WTNV, which is booked by the Billions Corporation,  has been drawing hundreds of, to more than a thousand, fans at stops across the U.S. and Canada. 

But DashCon attendees waited in a convention room for more than an hour before learning that their heroes were not going to show.

“The organizers of an event we were scheduled to be part of today were unable to pay for our flights, hotel, or performance fee,” WTNV posted online. “We tried very hard to make this happen. We took a full break in the middle of our July tour to attend this small fan-based event. We paid for our own hotel and plane fare, and were very excited to be part of this intimate fan gathering. But after a morning of discussion, organizers were unable to pay for the costs of travel and performing.”

But not to worry – organizers had a backup offer that would placate the group. It became one of the fastest growing memes on the interweb.

“For those of you who had reserved seats, we are giving you guys an extra hour with the ball pit,” organizers wrote.

A ball pit?

It was true: apparently the event had supplied, in an empty room, a bounce house and what could technically be called a ball pit: a kiddie pool that had patches on it, filled with plastic balls. It could fit six people (if they were properly introduced). It eventually deflated.

Unfortunately for the organizers, the event was filled with a crowd that knew exactly what to do with such a preposterous offer: They all got photos of the ball pit, made video tributes or created Twitter accounts about it. The local Denny’s was soon offering up “an extra hour” in their ball pit for people’s birthdays.

The Daily Dot, which had the most extensive coverage of the event, listed other ridiculous problems. At one panel, hotel mints were apparently given away as competition prizes. The “game room” consisted of a single TV and console. The moderator for a Q&A session with artist Noelle Stevenson didn’t show up, so Stevenson moderated herself. And, finally, apparently one person posted videos, claiming he got inside for free and wandered around without a day pass.

And this is why Pollstar Live! will surely be offering a ball pit next year.