Popular Mid-Atlantic wrestling reunion returning next year

PROVIDED David Crockett and Dusty Rhodes embrace at recent Fanfest.

Wrestling fans spoke. And Greg Price listened.

Less than a month after the curtain closed on what was billed as the final Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest, it was announced last week that the popular event will return next year.

Price, who promoted his first Fanfest back in 2004, says the tremendous response from fans and talent alike helped sway his decision to bring back the event that honors the legends of the old Mid-Atlantic territory

Just like a great match in the past would lead to fans clamoring for a return bout, Fanfest is being brought back by "popular demand," says Price, who has scheduled next year's event for July 30-Aug. 2.

"We have a very loyal group of fans, and I'm very appreciative of that," says Price. "They hated to see it end. There were many people at this year's event who were there for the first time and said they wished they had come before."

While the event is returning to Charlotte, Price stresses that there will be changes.

The major elements will remain intact - the Q&A's, the Hall of Heroes dinner and banquet, and the weekend wrestling matches. But the initial billing for the event is the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Reunion. The word "Fanfest," at least for now, will not be part of the official name.

"We're advertising it as the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Reunion," says Price. "The title's not that important. We used to call it the 'NWA' Fanfest and many fans still call it that. I don't think it really matters what we call it."

Price says his reasoning behind the name change was to let fans know that this event will have a slightly different twist.

"It's a part of the early process of letting fans know. I just didn't wake up and change my mind to hold Fanfest again next year. I want them to know the difference."

The major change is the elimination of the 30 to 45 wrestlers Price annually brings in for autograph signings and photo-ops. Legends will still be on hand to make appearances, he says, along with talent sponsored by the many vendors at the event.

"Instead of trying to sell autographs and photo-ops to cover some huge payroll, the idea is that we can now base the event around the Q&A's, the Hall of Heroes on Friday, along with the matches on Saturday and Sunday," says Price.

"There also will be plenty of signings and photo-ops in the vendor room," he adds. "I want to spend some time doing the Q&A's during the day where fans can go in and sit for an hour and listen to Ole (Anderson) and Paul Jones talk about whatever."

Also returning are Dr. Tom Prichard's Future Wrestling Legends Training Camp and Sinister Minister's Karaoke & Trivia.

"We'll still have all the vendor guests and wrestling talent for the wrestling shows," says Price. "Instead of going with a $244 ticket for the weekend and dinner, we're basically charging people for the diner and the documentary. Everything else basically is à la carte. If you want to spend money, that's fine. But you're not obligated."

A reduction in admission price should make the event more affordable, says Price. VIP "All Access" passes are $109 and are on sale at NWALegends@aol.com.

Price says he was firmly committed to this year's event being the last. Fanfest was a year-round commitment, and the work and finances necessary to put on an event of that magnitude made it both time-consuming and costly.

"I knew there was a couple chances that I'd do it again," says Price. "One, if I hit the Power Ball. Or two, if somebody just came up and wanted to give me some money. Realistically I knew neither one of those were going to happen."

Still, says Price, he held off confirming a date with the host University Place Hilton hotel for next year.

"They held the space for us. I hadn't signed the contract or anything. I had just been putting them off knowing the inevitable. It was going to be the last. You're realize you're not going to hit the Powerball, and some millionaire like Dixie Carter isn't going to walk into your life or anything like that. At least I knew the hotel was available. And we've had a great relationship with them. It's a big weekend for them and they'd like to have that spot."

But the tremendous response from fans and talent alike, along with an opportunity to market his "Mid-Atlantic Memories" documentary, made him reconsider.

The weekend, he says, will be packaged around the film project that has been headed up by Price and Ohio-based videographer John Andosca.

The feature-length documentary aims to capture the sights, sounds and feel of one of wrestling's most revered territories and eras.

"We're hoping that we can recreate that same Fanfest-type atmosphere with a little different twist," says Price.

Thousands of fans, from all corners of the globe, flock to the summertime gathering to relive some of their most cherished moments when they faithfully followed Mid-Atlantic wrestling.

Price hopes to expand that Fanfest experience with the documentary.

"We'll be bringing in folks as part of the presentation for the documentary, in addition to other guests as well, similar to how we did with Dusty (Rhodes) and Arn (Anderson) this year."

In addition to interviews with many of the legends, the film will spotlight some of the old venues that served as homes to the promotion's weekly wrestling shows, along with the announcers who added narration to the stories being told in the ring.

"We've still got a lot of work to do and a lot of people to talk to. We still have to shoot some footage in a couple different buildings."

Price plans to offer expanded DVDs and related products, and one of the major thrusts will be theater screenings throughout the old territory.

Preserving the history of the Mid-Atlantic territory and Crockett Promotions was a major part of the endeavor.

"Otherwise you've got nothing but your memories," he says.

Many fans schedule their summer vacation around the event. For the past 10 years fans have come from as far away as Japan and Australia to attend the four-day event, rekindling friendships and reliving wrestling memories from childhood.

Fanfest has become just as meaningful to the wrestlers and legends the event honors.

Legendary manager Jim Cornette, a fixture at the event, says he's overjoyed that Price is bringing back Fanfest.

"In the words of the poet: 'Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone ... they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.' Everybody realized what Fanfest meant to them and how much fun they had when they thought it was the last one, and that has energized Greg to modify and maybe do things a little differently, but with the same gist of things. I'm in," says Cornette.

Cornette said he could sense the feeling of sadness from the legion of fans - and legends - over the announcement that this past year's event would be the last.

"Once they heard that was the last one, wrestlers and fans alike were affected. It was like our summer vacation. We want this. It's too much fun for everyone not to do it. I have as much fun with the fans as I do with the boys."

Price says he has been touched to witness how the event has created such a family atmosphere.

"The talent also made it known that they really hated to see it end. It was like they were a part of the whole process too. That's really what the Fanfest family is. I hope we had a little part in creating and molding that group."

"Well, I never found that genie in a bottle, but my wish has certainly come true," says fan Peggy Lathan. "I wished for another Fanfest and I thank Greg Price for coming through for us again. What a wonderful surprise to find out that we can now make plans for another fun-filled Fanfest weekend next year."

Those kind of sentiments, says Price, make it all worthwhile.

Fanfest has been a labor of love for Price, who grew up watching Carolinas wrestling and later realized that he had witnessed something that was very special and would stand the test of time.

"Whether it's the reunion next year or Fanfest after that, or somebody else's Fanfest, I think we've done something as far as creating a little family. Whether it's Fanfest in August or some other show in November, they are all like a little family that we put together."

He thinks next year's edition will be yet another event to remember.

"I think we have the basis of something that's still can be very good for a lot of people and accomplish the same thing. They aren't making any new legends. The wrestling business has changed completely. But I think this will give us the opportunity to keep the Fanfest family-type reunion going, but just with a little different focus."

"I want it to work as much as anybody," says Price. "I'm hopeful that it will work out well."

Little chance it won't, says Lathan, a Fanfest regular.

"I'm very excited that I will get to see my extended wrestling family again. It's always the best weekend of the year for me, and I'm so happy that I'll get to do it again in 2015."

Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or mooneyham@postandcourier.com, or follow him on Twitter @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.