Record Numbers Attend AAN Convention in Phoenix

Congenial time was had by all.

Shortly before AAN’s general membership meeting began last week, two colleagues chatted about the 23rd annual convention, pondering how this gathering differed from those in year’s past.

“How come we’re not feuding and fighting?” one asked, “Like we usually do.”

Was the amicable atmosphere fueled by the opulent surroundings of the Arizona Biltmore, with its timeless Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture and $6.50 bottles of water? Was it the endless stream of parties, which parted from the tradition of past AAN affairs by providing attendees with sufficient supplies of food and drink? Perhaps it was the frequent celebrity sightings, ranging from super-cool rock stars like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters to the WNBA’s New York Liberty and presidential hopeful George W. Bush.

Or maybe it was divine intervention, as author and singer-songwriter Richard “Kinky” Friedman suggested while reading from his recently-published novel Spanking Watson to the 250+ audience that attended this year’s Awards Luncheon.

“I believe God looks out after all testicles, even those, who quite mistakenly, stray from the herd.”

The most likely explanation: Business is good. According to figures released by AAN before the convention, the alternative newspaper business saw top-line growth of 15% in 1999 and for the first time passed the $500 million mark in total industry revenue.

Whatever the cause, the ease and comfort was plain to see on the faces of the 650 paid attendees, who — along with the 150 or so assorted guests, speakers and New Times volunteers — made it by far the most heavily-attended AAN convention in history.

The convention began early this year, with golf and croquet tournaments and an AWN-Ruxton basketball grudge match held the day before official meetings were scheduled.

When it came time for the meetings, several conventioneers strayed from the Biltmore’s air-conditioned conference center to lounge in one of the resort’s eight pool areas once the convention began, but many more stayed to hear the panels and speakers organized by AAN and its host, New Times Inc.:

  • At the media violence panel, Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti verbally duked it out with Miami attorney Jack Thompson (“I wish I was as sure of one thing as you are of everything”)

  • Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jon Franklin and his wife Lynn spoke about magazine-style writing for two days before a packed room of journalists

  • Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, admitted during the First Amendment Luncheon that the Founding Fathers may not have had his magazine in mind when they wrote the First Amendment

  • Dallas Observer Publisher Lee Newquist told the audience at his distribution seminar how he finally convinced a prospective advertiser to return his calls by drilling three newsracks into the sidewalk in front of his place of business; and his equally-aggressive employee Carl Ferrer told fellow classified managers how he gave away free TVs and Palm Pilots to frequent advertisers

    While attendees jammed the meeting rooms by day, there were no shortages of parties at night. Attendees mingled on the patio and inside the offices of the beautiful New Times building for the opening night reception, and then were bussed to dinner with their peers at one of the several chic local restaurants located at the Biltmore Fashion Park. The affair on the second night was held at a deserted building in downtown Phoenix called The Icehouse, where attendees were feted in the time-honored AAN tradition of convention parties with loud rock music held at a darkened nightspot. And the whole thing concluded with a long bus trip into the desert for steaks on the grill at Crazy Ed’s Satisfied Frog, where dozens of attendees brought their children along for the ride.

    But after each of these events, conventioneers inevitably continued their fun at the Biltmore’s largest swimming pool or at the sumptuous and oh-so-expensive lobby bar. Rumors spread about beer shortages, drinking in the pool and skinny-dipping late into the night.

    And in case anybody’s feeling a twinge of guilt about all this debauchery, this year’s Silent Auction raised nearly $3,500 for Journalists Against AIDS, an organization created to raise awareness of the deadly illness that is especially prevalent in parts of Africa as reported in Mark Schoofs’ Pulitzer Prize-winning series in the Village Voice.

    One thing’s for sure: Next year’s host is going to have to come up with something big to top this year’s performance by the folks from New Times. Of course, Gambit Weekly has over 13 months to prepare for the 2001 AAN convention, which will be held at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans on July 11 to 14. And although she’s keeping her plans close to the vest, Publisher Margo DuBos has already made the following pledge: No golf and no croquet. Just good old-fashioned partyin’, Big Easy style.