WAHOO! KALAMAZOO! SQLSaturday #84 Steals My Heart!
This weekend marked the 20th SQL Saturday that I have attended, SQLSaturday 84 in a place until now I had never heard of, Kalamazoo, Michigan. Well, I can tell you, that this one broke into my top 3, as this small town, “home like” feeling event, literally warmed my heart! It was admittedly very reminiscent of the first event I hosted in Pensacola in 2009.
When I arrived, with Tommy LaRock who happened to be on the same flight, volunteer Shelly Noll picked us up, the first sign of hometown hospitality. After checking into the hotel, Shelly swung us by the event venue where we met up with the other volunteers. Their event was held at the Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and let me tell you, one of the very nicest community colleges I’ve ever seen. This large venue was gorgeous, with trees growing on the inside, beautiful gardens and courtyards, and amazingly donated for FREE for this event. NICE WIN!
There were at least 8 volunteers, likely more just didn’t count, all working diligently on preparing things for the big day. Right off the bat, you could tell this group was super organized as they were nearly done, and it was only about 3:00 in the afternoon. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such calmness the day before a SQLSaturday.
Things kicked off that evening with the speaker party, a get together at Tim Ford’s beautiful home and was sponsored by SQLSentry. In attendance were so many top notch notables of the SQL world that I am not even going to begin listing them all, as I will surely miss someone. Tim and his lovely wife Amy prepared quite a spread of delectables, from homemade guacamole to apple cobbler (and one cobbler wasn’t enough, there was a peach one as well!), assorted chips and dips and cheeses I’ve never even heard of that were to die for! Plenty of delicious food and then the doorbell rings, as if we needed more, gourmet pizzas show up. A cooler full of frothy beverages out on the deck, again, many I have never heard of, with a wonderfully warm fire roaring in the pit (which was MUCH appreciated by THIS Florida girl, as it was like 50 degrees there!). As chilly as it was (okay maybe not for the others), most everyone ended up gathering out on the deck, surrounding the fire like we were at camp, telling tales of SQL. It was so relaxing, lots of good humor and stories. This by far is now my top Friday evening party for these events. It was like being home. The evening ended, at least for me, of an announcement that someone had eaten all the bacon off all the remaining pizza. One guess!
Early the next morning, once again, Shelly was kind enough to pick me up from the hotel and head on over to the venue to get things set-up. Others were there and much of what was needed done was well on its way to completion. I cannot say enough, what a super, efficient crew of volunteers! I was there on behalf of PASS, so I went to work setting up our table in the sponsor’s area. This I would say would be the only thing that I would recommend they look at changing up at next year’s event, the placement of sponsors. Unfortunately it was the only place with outlets all the way around the walls, hence why they chose this spot, but it was pretty far from the registration check-in, and tucked off to one side. It was at least near the doors to where three of the sessions were being held, so Tim the quick thinker, placed a big billboard they had with the rooms and sessions posted directly by those doors, so we could sway folks over to our area as they stopped to find their way. This worked out, as I do think many attendees managed to get their raffle tickets into the drawings all the sponsors had. Maybe next year they can find some other way to get the registration and the sponsors closer together.
The day went by very quickly, probably because I spent most of the day working and in discussions with Alison MacDonald from PASS Marketing, oh, and that other person who seems to never stop talking, no, not Rob Farley, Tom! (I hear Rob out talks Tom, I find that really hard to believe after this weekend). Throughout the day many attendees, as usual at these events, were commenting on how great the event was and how happy they were that it came to Kalamazoo. The turnout was very close to the numbered registered, I think they ended up with only about a 12% drop-off, even though there did seem to be a lot of food leftover, but I think that is typical when you do food trays with sandwiches. I think sandwich shops under state really just how many people one tray will feed. This was the first event that I attended that we had the new SQLSaturday laptop stickers and patches, and those went over big time, everyone wanted those. Looking forward to seeing how many of these make their way to the Summit next month. For their event, they had a WIT Panel during lunch led by Shelly, which unfortunately I missed due to talking too much myself! The WIT Panel was a great line-up of Kendra Little, Wendy Pastrick, Yanni Robel, and Erin Stellato. Since I missed it, I can’t do it justice, but Sarah Strate did a full detailed blog about it, that you can read up on here: http://sarahsjolander.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/3-questions-for-the-wit/
As the day was winding up, Tim needed someone to head over early to the after party venue to let them know we were coming, as they did not allow reservations ahead of time. So Amy, Austen and Trevor (they ever so entertaining boys) and I all headed over, which meant I wasn’t there for the raffle drawings, which was fine, but I did miss out on a very special moment for Tim. Josh Fennessy, who was that day announced as the new chapter leader for the West Michigan SQL User Group, presented Tim with a plaque of recognition for all his years of contributions to the SQL community. Check it out http://lockerz.com/s/139887810
The after party was at a very cool restaurant/bar in downtown called Kalamazoo Beer Exchange . Great food, but the absolutely coolest thing about this place was the Beer Market. At 6:00pm, on various big screens throughout the three story facility, the Beer Market would open. Think Stock Market. You watch the price of beers go up or down based on consumption. I had never seen this anywhere, and it was so cool! When the price of the beer changed, it stayed at that price for 12 minutes. There were arrows, just like the stock market, that showed if the price was going up or down. At one point the beer market crashed, and all the beers were 2 bucks! Drink, drink, drink!
After a while we all made our way to a nearby piano bar, something we do for the after party at Pensacola each year, and in my opinion, great entertainment and fun for all no matter where you live. I had hoped to make my way to a third place that had bull riding, as I am determined to do this someday, but was just too tired and had an early flight out. I was smart and booked my ride with Joe Fleming earlier in the evening, stating “make me go with you no matter how much I insist I want to stay longer”, so thank you Joe, I made it to the airport on time that next morning. Which by the way another hospitable thing happened, my cab driver, Cliff, insisted on not charging me for the lift to the airport.
In closing, I want to say to the SQLSaturday Kazoo team, GREAT JOB! Thank you so much to all of you for bringing this event to your community. On a personal note, thank you to Amy and Tim for making me feel so welcome and having us all over to your home. You are such good people, and I hope to spend time again with you some day. I feel like I not only had a great opportunity to network, but made connections with some folks that I would consider good friends now. And special shout out to Josh, don’t forget our date in Seattle, your christening of the Hurricane Café. Rodney and I are both looking forward to it!