AP NEWS

EyeCon’s ‘One Tree Hill’ conventions might not end after all

March 31, 2019

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Four years and 10 conventions later, the organizers of the popular local “One Tree Hill” conventions held what’s being called its final fan gathering — but a swelling movement might mean a change in course.

It was a full-circle moment this past weekend for organizer EyeCon, which brought its 10th convention for the locally filmed The CW series back to the Hotel Ballast, where it held its first convention back in March 2015. Ever since, the conventions have been held at the Wilmington Convention Center.

The event again assembled a dozen stars from the series, such as Chad Michael Murray and James Lafferty, to take pictures with nearly a thousand fans, sign autographs and answer a litany of questions during Q&A panels.

EyeCon announced last fall it would end what has become a bi-annual “One Tree Hill” celebration, citing growing competition from other organizers and an increasingly volatile fan base.

But as the weekend got underway, the admiration of fans thrilled to be in “Tree Hill” with the stars started to melt away the initial declaration the end was near.

“When you see all the comments and talk to people and see how much it means to them, you rethink things and you think maybe you shouldn’t end it,” said organizer Autumn Dawn Nierode.

That’s not a confirmation the convention will continue, Dawn said EyeCon will certainly reevaluate where it stands after the dust has settled.

The swell of support was encapsulated by an online petition started prior to the convention by a fan asking EyeCon to keep the events going. By Sunday afternoon, it had been signed by more than 1,000 people, including “Tree Hill” actress Barbara Alyn Woods, who attended her first local convention this weekend.

With promotion indicating this would be fans’ last chance to attend an EyeCon “Tree Hill” reunion in Wilmington, hundreds flew in from all over the country and around the globe, including Australia, the Philippines, London and more.

Nawfal Dine, from Morocco, took four different flights to get to Wilmington, making stops in London, Barcelona, New York and Charlotte — all in 24 hours.

He and his brothers are super fans of the show, something that he said has bonded the siblings as they recognized their own lives in Murray and Lafferty’s own screen brothers.

“It reminded us that no matter what happens with our parents, we have to stick together and be strong together,” he said. “This has always been the TV show for us, and it has a very special place in our hearts.”

Although his brothers couldn’t make the trip, Dine was their self-proclaimed ambassador, giving them near-constant updates as the weekend went on and he met more and more “Tree Hill” alumni. Traveling alone, he also met plenty of new friends who spoke his “Tree Hill” language.

“It is fun to meet people who actually get why you love this show, you don’t have to explain it to them,” he said. “I feel like this is a family that has been hidden away from me.”

Sharon Anand Griffith was one of those who became friends with Dine, despite living worlds apart. She came from Huntington Beach, Calif., meeting up with a friend she met a decade ago on MySpace, where they first discussed the show when it was airing.

“I knew I had to come because this show was my escape in college when I needed to get my mind off things,” she said. “Plus, it’s the show that brought me and my friend together.”

Vanessa Dugas traveled from Paris to America for the first time to see Wilmington in person and, of course, the actors.

“This was my dream,” she said. “It is so beautiful here.”

Ten conventions in, organizers were still surprising fans. For the first time, several events took place on the deck of the Battleship North Carolina, including an era-appropriate 1940s party on Saturday night. The convention also hosted a passport program that challenged fans to visit designated local shops and locations in Wilmington to win prizes and shop locally.

Whether or not EyeCon’s “Tree Hill” conventions continue will be answered in time. But Nierode said, if nothing else, the weekend reaffirmed the fanbase isn’t ready to let go.

“We’ve done conventions for ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘Twilight,’ but none of them have been like ‘One Tree Hill,’” she said.

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Information from: The StarNews, http://starnewsonline.com