Article by Luis Vazquez
Photo by Xue Liang

As one approached the Prudential Center for the event known as KCON 2017 NYC presented by Toyota, you got the immediate impression that after four years this was no longer just a concert but a festival that has come of age. The impact that K-Pop wields has made this a must see event but this year the presenters outdid themselves with the assistance of sponsors to not only provide the largest but the most diversified presentation of Korean culture seen in North America. The crowds that arrived were not limited by race or color as they collectively showed their sophisticated handle on all things Korean from language, food, dance and beauty.

The festival was separated into three sections adjacent to the Prudential. Running parallel to the arena was a mix of sponsor zones which included McDonalds, Toyota, Drama Fever and Asiana Airlines among others. There were DJ booths with dance contests that drew the biggest gatherings. The best were the dance group from Canada East to West who won a contest and performed on the convention stage to set up the later concert action. Other headliners that performed on the Convention Stage took us back to the Korean past with the Woorigarak Korean Cultural Art Center featuring Korean three-sided drum (Samgo-Mu) practitioners wearing traditional garb and an impressive knife wielding dances (The Sword Dance) and the Fan Dance highlighting the early afternoon festivities.

If you crossed the street you were overpowered by the smells of food from the KCON market which had various foods cooking up for hungry visitors and retail shops selling posters, CD’s and KCON paraphernalia. Hovering over them all was the Amazon Mobile eSports Zone where we got the Mobile Masters Invitation at the Apple App store where professionals from the top mobile games such as Hearthstone, Summoner’s War and Vainglory competed.

Then we took another long walk back to the first zone and up a hill to the best of the three sectors simply because of all the variety of activities, workshops and dances taking place concurrently. It was here where we got to hear about the process of picking and choosing attractions. You Tube celebrities were invited as prominent players in K-Culture with Sunny from Sunny’s World meet and greet a true indicator of their reach into the community among others. In fact the choices and workshops were shaped by fan surveys including dance which included moderators Koreos who taught interested fans the latest dances.
“We ask all staff, interns included, Who is trending?” said Vanessa Augsbach, Manager of Digital Media for KCON.TV. “We always say, ‘KCON is a convention made by fans for fans.”

“Google surveys are how we get ideas,” said Winnie Galbadores, the Event planning associate, “It’s how dance workshops were added because everyone wanted to learn Koreos.”

In the same manner was education presented with “Go! GO! Hanguk!” moderating over the advantages of learning at Korean Universities and teaching how to Live and Study in Korea with a very informative panel.

Taekwondo, a Korean based martial art was demonstrated to kids and adults alike as teachers showed fans how to use proper form and break boards with correct techniques. It was a consistent draw throughout the day.

Panel One brought K-Pop Fashion and Storytime: I met My Idol. Panel two included Cross Cultural Clashes in Hallyu, From Clueless to Tourist, taking a K-Pop and Drama vacation with KTO! Charlotte Cho introduced affordable K-Beauty tips in the workshops and Seonkyoung Longest taught how to make Bingsoo. KCON paint night and a Boy Beauty Class were other workshops taking place.

The upcoming Winter Olympic Games to take place in February of 2018 in Pyeongchang in South Korea was a major sponsor marker worthy of note posted all around the convention with their official mascots Soohorang (White Tiger) and Bandabi (Asiatic black bear) taking pictures with many passing fans.

The demographic in the United States that has taken to K-Pop and by extension Korean culture are African-Americans who have grasped the nuances as well anyone as they seamlessly incorporated themselves into the cultural landscape. The fusion of sounds in K-Pop borrow heavily from Hip-Hop and heavy dance beats are a familiar strain here. But that does not explain the deeper connections which should not be familiar but are by-products of years of K-Dramas, music, food which are easily accessible here. They symbolized the reach and benefits of unity beyond a single demographic. They even created fusions of their own as Cocoa Avenue, the only African-American K-Hip-Hop/R&B duo for the fourth straight year sang in Korean with an R&B twist.

We finally get to the red carpet after six hours in the convention heat and CNBLUE showed they are true veteran’s at this as the sole bi-lingual speakers at the carpet but all the bands for day two looked impressive and one thing you took away is that a new generation is on the rise with SF9 the hottest going of those currently.

In the three-hour concert we started CNBLUE front man Jung Yonghwa and bass man Lee Jungshin doing double duty as hosts as well as closing out the performance lineup. Violin cover solo from JunCurryAhn and dancers “One Million” warmed up the crowd followed by the girls.

Girl’s Generation provided the template and in day two, “Twice” showed they still had the magic with a heavily revised lineup. From the Wonder Girls “Nobody” to the exquisitely symbolic choreography on “Knock Knock” they showed the range. They returned a second time later to string three of their hits consecutively as well as interacting with fans, posing for photos as the lineup was only four deep on this second evening.

The boy bands, such as UP10TION, tried out new material and old classics and returned later to do a “Mamma Mia” version of ABBA,’s “Honey Honey.” SM Entertainment NCT project was in full effect with the youngest act, nine-member NCT 127, who also debuted a new song.

The evening was closed out with tried and tested icons CNBLUE. It had been three years since they performed in the eastern United States. They morphed from modified hit to renditions and played to the crowd with chats in between. The piano set up piece was memorable as they put a perfect bow to the gift of an exciting evening.

The stage, designed with an S-shaped walkway was used by all the acts to parade afterwards to a flurry of confetti throughout the arena. It was a rare moment for this writer that he left an event feeling fulfilled and at peace from all he viewed. This is one view of KCON 2017 sensational second day.

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