By Long Shot Contributor Brett Bennett, with photos by Morgan Bennett
In late February, I received an email from Doug that read “Possible opportunity for you if interested.” For those of you who don’t know, he has never been someone who is short on words especially when in written form so my interest was definitely enticed by this unusual brevity of his. Upon meeting up with him later, he explained that there was this event going on down at the Great Lakes Science Center to commemorate Yuri Gagarin as the first human in outer space. There was some mention of some food and drinks involved but he thought it sounded like something I would enjoy covering for the Long Shot. I thought to myself, why not? I try to stay somewhat in the know by following tidbits of info on my newsfeeds with regard to ongoing space exploration and discoveries so I happily agreed to head down to this Yuri’s Night event to listen to some NASA science experts discuss the past accomplishments and future prospects of space exploration. Having some food and drinks around wasn’t such a bad thing either.
Now please allow me to momentarily deviate here because for those of you who know what Yuri’s Night actually entails then you are probably scratching your noggin asking, “What event was this guy attending?” For those of you who don’t, allow me to expound on the matter. Yuri’s Night is not just a group of geeks and nerds getting together in that stereotypical boring convention panel setting to listen to those previously mentioned NASA peeps talk about space. It’s a party! Like a PARTY party!!
Some facts and history…
The first Yuri’s Night was held on April 12, 2001, the 40th anniversary of Colonel Gagarin’s 108 minute long monumental journey into space, as an effort to increase public interest in space exploration and to inspire a new generation of explorers. Over the years, the phenomenon spread to other cities throughout the U.S. eventually reaching Cleveland’s shores in 2009 with the help of the NASA Glenn Developing Professionals Club. It has continued to cultivate and has gathered followings both in Cleveland and around the world. This year the event was celebrated at nearly 200 locations in 39 different countries across all seven continents. Yes, all seven! There was even a party held at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station in Antarctica. Science folks apparently don’t mess around when its time to get down!
At 7 p.m., the doors of the center opened for those who smartly obtained VIP passes. I had been prearranged to meet up with Dr. Kirsten Ellenbogen, President and CEO of the Great Lakes Science Center to get a chance for short interview to discuss the event. Upstairs, in the VIP area, introductions between us were made and we got to talking. There was a whole evening of programming planned… everything you would normally expect from the science center: hands-on exhibits, interactive group experiments, crafty projects you could take home with you as small souvenirs and a crew of knowledgeable staff that was always obliged to answer any questions you had to throw at them.
The things that really set this night apart from your normal visit to the GLSC, aside from the later-than-normal hours of operation, were the local bands playing throughout the complex all night, a series of trivia and costume contests, an amazing selection of examples from local restaurants and bakeries and a DJ-fueled dance party with a midnight balloon drop. All of this done with drink (or drinks for you double-fisters out there) in hand. Free beer, wine and hard cider was available in many different areas albeit with a bit of a slow-moving line to get your beverage, but I took that as an opportunity to really take in the sights and the appreciate all of the effort everyone had put into making the event.
Aside from the obvious decorations for the party, the first thing that hit me was the music already going when I walked through the door. Upstairs in the VIP lounge, Michael McFarland was already jamming out private concert-style for those guests. With tunes something akin to my alternative rock roots The Wallflowers & Tonic, I happily took the opportunity later to catch Michael playing a second time downstairs for the general admission folks. Sadly, I totally neglected to hear Indira & Guppy Jo but they were playing somewhere earlier in the night too. The band that you could absolutely not miss was Abby Normal and the Detroit Lean. First off, there’s a trombonist in the group so that is an instant winner in my books but they would’ve have won me over with any brass to be honest. These guys were loud, interactive with the crowd and really knew how to spice up the party. Had I a decent place to sit down, I would have stuck around for longer than I did. And finally, what great party doesn’t have a DJ? Well, for Yuri’s Night that honor was held by DJ Justin Nyce and what a way to ride out the rest of the evening than listening to EDM while the dance floor is littered with geeks in space costumes.
And speaking of costumes… I was ecstatic to hear that Star Wars cosplayers from the 501st Legion and their “rebel scum” counterparts, the Rebel Legion were going to be in attendance. My personal favorite for the night though was the iconic astromech droid we all know and love, R2-D2. While not a costume, he was definitely an amazing robotic work of art created by Scott Kern. I had great side conversation with Scott about his hobby while I watched him mesmerize the other party goers with R2’s intereactions with them. With costumes in abundance there of course was a contest.
Thirty-three attendees entered but there were way more in house for sure. That group was combed through and eventually narrowed down to a preliminary set of fifteen. I had the honor of being a guest judge alongside Dr. Ellenbogen to decide between us who the final five would be before we made the grueling decision of who would be awarded first and second place. Some standouts were Jedi from Star Wars, two separate groups representing the classic spoof Space Balls, one of those blue things from James Cameron’s Avatar, Leeloo from Fifth Element, and that B-movie loving guy from Mystery Science Theatre 3K. First place eventually went to a creative pair that was dressed up as Disney’s Epcot Center and its iconic monorail train. Runner up was Miss Piggy from the Muppets’ “Pigs In Space” skit. Next year, I will seriously consider possibly going as a Gundam since I didn’t see anyone representing the anime space geeks.
Walking around the exhibits and gazing at all the awesome costumes in the crowd can really make you hungry. The GLSC had that covered though. Aside from the bar food type appetizers that were available to the general admission guest, there was also a special VIP lounge area with an abundance of tasty treats provided by various local culinary artisans. Some of this year’s selection included BBQ pulled pork sandwiches by The Blazing Bistro, a small selection of sushi hand rolled on the spot by Sushi 86 and some yummy nachos by ABC the Tavern. If sweets were your weakness then there were also mini donuts offered by Peace, Love, & Little Donuts of Westpark or the assortment of chocolate delights put out by Sweet Designs Chocolatier. Both of those two were hard displays to walk away from empty handed!
For those who think that geeks don’t know how to party, your opinion would be drastically altered after experiencing this fantastic event organized by the staff of the Great Lakes Science Center. If you missed out on attending Yuri’s Night, fret not, there is also something called “Science After Dark” which is not on the regular schedule of events for GLSC but it does come up on occasion and is similar in fashion to the Yuri’s event so keep your eyes peeled. You won’t regret it.
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Huge thanks to Brett for attending Yuri’s Night in Cleveland and sharing his observations from the evening. Also big thanks to his wife Morgan, whose terrific photos are seen here as well as through The News-Herald media gallery and in print.
Brett has been one of my closest friends for many, many years so it was awesome that he was able to attend, and they even asked him to be a guest judge for the costume contest. On top of everything else, it was a great night out for them, which doesn’t happen too often since they have a family of four kids.
Thanks also to Great Lakes Science Center, who graciously provided press passes for Brett and Morgan to this awesome event!
How was your Yuri’s Night? Please comment below if you honored this worldwide celebration and let us know about your Space Party. If you have photos or would like to share your experience here at The Long Shot, please let me know and i’ll be happy to post your observations.
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