More than 1,200 people descended on Washington Depot, Conn. (pop. 3,600) to meet the show’s supporting cast, watch episodes and knit.
WASHINGTON DEPOT, Conn. — John and Krystal Leedy, husband-and-wife Presbyterian ministers, are devoted fans of the 2000s-era WB series “Gilmore Girls.”
They even named their infant Lorelai after the nervy single mom played by Lauren Graham.
But their commitment reached another level this past weekend. The two made a pilgrimage from their home in Austin, Texas, to this New England town that at least partly inspired the dialogue-happy series.
The couple shelled out nearly $200 each for event tickets, stashing 9-month-old Lorelai with the grandparents. Then they boarded a plane to hang with Miss Patty, catch an impromptu performance from Hep Alien and photographically re-enact a key scene that involves (really) a box of corn starch.
“‘Gilmore Girls’ shows love and family are complicated and not easily resolved,” John Leedy said. “So we came here to connect with other people in our own special language — at 120 words per second, of course.”
This past weekend, the Leedys had plenty of company. On a damp, skeleton-chilling Saturday, more than 1,200 people descended on this tiny, leafy town (pop. 3,600) in upscale Litchfield County for the Gilmore Girls Fan Fest.
Their enthusiasm helps explain why Netflix next month will reboot “Gilmore Girls” with a miniseries consisting of four 90-minute episodes. And the event, in turn, demonstrates the streamers’ power to fuel fandom.
Such zealotry has long been normally reserved for genre franchises such as “Star Trek” or cult comedies like “The Big Lebowski.” But thanks to digital platforms, a fervent community has sprung up around a modest, small-town dramedy.
Though creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s mother-daughter saga ended its run in 2007, fans practiced Gilmania, pouring into locations that may or may not have informed the show’s fictional town of Stars Hollow. (The specific influences are unclear.) More than a dozen supporting cast members also arrived, unpaid, to share their experiences amid what might be called genial intensity — think Comic-Con by way of a knit-a-thon.
Sometimes literally: Yarn was distributed from large cardboard boxes, and people knitted at mass screenings in homage to a late-series episode.
In one area on Saturday, the show’s costume supervisor Valerie Campbell held court as episodes played on a giant screen behind her.
Campbell worked the room like a tent revival, sharing on-set stories and trivia while people professed their faith and asked questions of a certain specificity (“Are the flowers from the Renaissance Faire wedding real?”).
The fans had a mind-set that all yardsticks are Stars Hollow yardsticks. One young woman gave her age by saying, “I wasn’t born until the fourth season.”
The event was the creation of Jennie Whitaker with help from her husband, Marcus. She hatched the idea this past summer while en route from her former home in Austin to her new cabin in Maine and learned of Sherman-Palladino’s history with the area.
“I’m an avid, rabid fan,” said Whitaker, who runs a boutique PR firm and is a perpetual-motion machine in her mid-30s. “And so when we drove through I thought, ‘How come no one has done anything before? We should do something.’”
Even before she could reach out to many actors, Whitaker sent out a press release and posted the event for sale. Within hours, more than 1,000 tickets had been snapped up. She set out securing permissions, space and actor cooperation.
Though lead actors Graham and Alexis Bledel’ (Rory) didn’t attend, many others did, including Mike Gandolfi, Vanessa Marano, Sean Gunn, Keiko Agena, Todd Lowe and John Cabrera. The three-quarters of Hep Alien was on hand, “reunited” for a performance that included a cover of “Single Ladies” on the town hall steps.
At a panel, a dozen or so cast members fielded questions from the audience about matters emotional (Q: “When Rory and Lorelai weren’t speaking, was it as hard for you as it was us?” A: No) and profane (Q, to Gunn: “What was it like to run naked through town square?” A: “As enjoyable as it is running naked anywhere.”)
Then they heartily debated. Where you Team Dean? Or Team Logan? Or were you rooting for the bad-boy Jess as Rory’s romantic fate for the upcoming revival?
What makes the show so enduringly popular was a matter of debate. Among the answers: wit, female empowerment, small-town charm, family values and just that ineffable quality that makes people see certain shows as a figurative soundtrack to their lives.
Or, in the case of Kaylyn Ahrenstein, an actual soundtrack. The 22-year-old journalism student from Stony Brook, N.Y., who traveled with her mom, has watched each episode dozens of times. She often puts it on as background while doing something else.
“I know every scene by heart. Sometimes if I can’t watch an episode I just play one in my head. It’s almost like watching it,” she says.
Michelle Carfi, a 29-year-old salon manager from Elmwood, N.J., made a point underscored by many: “It’s nice to have a show from a woman’s perspective because so many are from men’s perspectives.”
Debbie Carignan, a manager of software development from the Riverside County town of Beaumont, had flown in with her daughter, Brittany Eyles, a veterinary student. “I was a single mom for a long time,” Carignan said. “Lorelai did things on her own, without anyone else’s help, and I related.”
Added Eyles: “Growing up, I didn’t really see my dad. The show helped me understand and made me closer to my mom.”
Neither Warner Bros., which produces the series, nor Netflix participated, but they didn’t try to stop it, either. Still, the latter did ask that fans not discuss the revival, Whitaker said — materials from the fest requested that attendees refrain from asking about it. (A Netflix spokesperson declined to comment on the event.)
Yet the lack of official involvement gave it an organic feel. While tickets were pricey, Whitaker, who had to rent out many spaces from the town, said she would be lucky to break even.
The fans, however, seemed happy.
Mark Driscoll, a fireman from Centreville, Md., had come with his wife, Beth, an economist, to connect with other fans. She held a bag that read, “It’s a lifestyle, it’s a religion. It’s ‘Gilmore Girls.’”
Others also chose to express their positions sartorially. Elmont, N.Y., residents Diane Patrick and Khorine Bolling had sweatshirts custom-made with “Team Jess” and “Team Dean” emblazoned on the back.
“We don’t mean to, but we seem to be starting a lot of arguments for people,” Bolling said.