For the second year in a row, 40-year-old Claudia Schoder journeyed from Dresden, Germany, to attend the annual Gilmore Girls Fan Festival in Kent, Connecticut. But it wasn’t just the schedule of events or probability of meeting actors who played her favorite minor characters on the series that brought Schoder all the way back to this small Connecticut town. The real draw for her was seeing all the friends she’s made through attending the fan fest in the past.
“I had one of the best weekends of my life here last year,” Schoder told BuzzFeed News in Kent as she stood next to some of those friends. “And the Gilmore Girls fandom is like a really, really big family.”
In 2016, the first Gilmore Girls Fan Festival took place in Washington Depot, Connecticut, the New England town that Amy Sherman-Palladino said inspired her to create the beloved series. The inaugural festival weekend included panels with dozens of secondary actors from the show, like Rose Abdoo (Gypsy the mechanic), Jackson Douglas (Sookie’s husband, Jackson Belleville), Keiko Agena (Lane Kim), Sean Gunn (Kirk), and Rini Bell (Kirk’s girlfriend, Lulu). There was even a live performance from the members of the fictional band Hep Alien, as well as events with writers, costume designers, and other people who worked behind the scenes on the show.
According to Jennie Whitaker, the Gilmore-loving Texas resident who organizes the festival every year, 1,250 people registered for the first fan festival. Fans were so excited about the weekend-long event that Whitaker organized another one in 2017, which yielded 1,750 attendees, but moved the festivities 20 minutes away to the town of Kent.
Year after year, fans return to the same fan festival for the same reason as Schoder: They love the community they’ve built with one another, which is rooted in their shared affinity for characters like Lorelai and Rory, the fictional town of Stars Hollow, and all-things Gilmore Girls.
“People recognize you from years past and are happy to see you. I’m Facebook friends with a lot of fans and cast and crew members,” Schoder said. “We are all one big Gilmore Girls family and that’s something very special. It’s a special fandom.”
This year, more than 200 Gilmore Girls fans celebrated their favorite TV show in Kent Sept. 27 - 29. The weekend was a precursor to a bigger version of the fan festival that starts Oct. 4 in Unionville, Canada, where the Gilmore Girls pilot was filmed.
Whitaker said she didn’t initially plan to do two festivals this year in separate locations, but after she announced the annual event would be taking place in Canada in 2019, she received a lot of feedback from fans who still wanted to experience a quintessential fall weekend in Connecticut that infused a bit of Gilmore Girls into their real lives.
“I’ve met so many people all over the country and we talk every day. The connections you make here are just incredible,” 36-year-old Rachael Cunningham told BuzzFeed News. A veteran of the Gilmore Girls Fan Fest, Cunningham has now been to Kent for three consecutive years.
“We stay in touch in between festivals and it’s like a reunion every year when we get together,” she said. “I am excited to see the cast and crew, but seeing friends that you make here and coming back every year and just catching up with people, that’s what makes it special.”
Cunningham, like Schoder, made plans to attend both festivals in Connecticut and in Canada.
“Kent is so special. I love the town and it feels like Stars Hollow, it’s kind of like a home away from home,” Cunningham said. “But I couldn’t miss Canada. I have to do both. Today’s been incredible with a smaller, intimate experience, and next weekend will be fun as well just in a different way.”
Marinella Steccone, a 33-year-old from Montana, has been attending the fan festival since 2017. In the wake of her mother's death, Steccone found comfort in watching Gilmore Girls on repeat because it was something the two of them had loved and bonded over. This was also her motivation to attend the fan festival, and after traveling across the country as an attendee in 2017, Steccone reached out to Whitaker and told the festival organizer she would be happy to help out the following year, which landed her a role as an official volunteer in 2018 and 2019.
“I first came to the festival completely by myself, I didn’t know anybody, and now I have so many friends that I see once a year at the festival,” Steccone told BuzzFeed News as she helped manage the meet-and-greet for actor Nick Holmes, who played the Life and Death Brigade’s Robert during Rory Gilmore’s Yale years. “The Gilmore Girls community is a family.”
Another volunteer, 38-year-old Angela Cahill, told BuzzFeed News that the Gilmore cast originally drew her to the fan festival in 2017, but she continues to return because the fans are “the nicest community.” Like Steccone, Cahill called the GG fandom “a big family.”
“Everyone’s individually obsessed with the show but nobody has anyone to talk to about their obsession,” Cahill said. “And then you come here and you’re like, ‘These are my people.’”
While many of the same fans return to the fan festival annually, it also appeals to newcomers who have yet to experience the fun of visiting this real-life iteration of Stars Hollow.
Rachel Levine, Katheryn Curtis, and Amanda Pavlacic, three 24-year-old friends who went to college together, started talking about the possibility of coming to the fan festival in a group chat in January after seeing some information about it floating around online. Even though it seemed like a big trip to make all the way from where they live in St. Louis, Missouri, and St. Paul, Minnesota, Levine suggested the three women plan a whole New England vacation around the festival, spanning seven states in one week. They bought tickets the day they became available online, securing their weekend in Kent alongside hundreds of other fans.
“We all just love Gilmore Girls and watched it continuously throughout college together,” Curtis told BuzzFeed News. “The show means a lot to our friendship, and when we saw there was a festival in a small town like the show, we really wanted to make the trip work.”
“We’ve loved exploring so far, but I’m really looking forward to drinking Founders’ Day Punch and meeting Liz Torres later today,” Levine added. “I can’t believe I get to go to Liz Torres’ birthday party. She’s a legend.”
Liz Torres, known to GG fans as Miss Patty, is certainly a staple of the weekend. Torres has attended the festival since 2016, always stealing the show, whether she’s telling a juicy, behind-the-scenes story during the cast panel, or singing late into the night at the piano at the local Fife 'n Drum Restaurant & Inn.
At the end of the night on Friday at the Fan Festival in Kent, Whitaker organized a birthday celebration for Torres, who turned 72 on that same day. Fans viewed a video montage highlighting Torres’ career with clips from her appearances on Gilmore Girls as well as All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and The New Odd Couple. There was also lots of cake, and Torres was serenaded by all the fans in attendance.
“Thank you, I am so touched, truly,” Torres said into a microphone for everyone to hear. “I have sat through so many films and honors for people and it never, ever crossed my mind that I would ever sit through anything like this [for myself].”
“I am alive, aren’t I?” she joked.
Torres went on to thank all the fans for “paying their hard-earned money” to attend the festival and spend time with her. “I love you guys and I look forward to this every year,” she said.
The actor was met with a crowd full of cheers when she said the magic words every Gilmore Girls fans in attendance wanted to hear: “And I hope the show gets picked up and goes on a little bit.”