1. The Hoedown 2011 Experience, Part 1: Lodging

    Well, it’s that time of year again: another Ruby Hoedown coming at you. Registration is open, so head over and register now before we sell out (we’re not THAT far from doing it…).

    When I started planning this year, I honestly didn’t know if I wanted to do it. This is the fifth year in a row that I’ve done this conference (and the seventh conference I’ve had a hand in planning over the past few years), and it had become a bit of rote repetition for me. So, like a few years ago when I got bored with charging people, I decided to change it up again. I started pondering a few things. First, what makes a great conference? Secondly, what makes a great regional conference? These aren’t easy questions to answer, especially for someone so close to the experience as I’ve been for the past few years. So this year I sat out all conferences save for RailsConf (and that was because I was speaking) and MagicRuby (for obvious reasons). This distance gave me some time to think about it a bit, and I’ve come up with a couple of core things (if you don’t really give a crap about what I think about conferences in general, you can slide down to the part about the hotels).

    First, it needs to be an experience. Not just an experience within itself (i.e., “I went to RailsConf and it was what it was.”), but a truly memory-creating, impact-enhancing, honest-to-goodness experience for attendees. Too many regionals basically try to be a mini-(Ruby|Rails)Conf. I was guilty of falling into that for sure: try to shove as many people in as possible, give them what you expect in a conference (a badge, a t-shirt, a piece of paper telling them what they’ll hear over the next 2-3 days), and hope that you can at least muster a good review from the attendees. I won’t point fingers, because I doubt the organizers who I think have fallen into this trap even realize it as a problem, and that’s OK. If that’s how their conferences want to roll and it’s successful for them, that’s awesome. I’m just tired of trying to do that.

    So instead, this year we’re trying to create a really memorable experience for attendees. The one conference that I think nailed this was Ruby Fringe. I attended (and spoke) there, and from the very start, everything had a very nice handcrafted approach. The organizers obviously put a lot of thought into how things progressed and the things that their attendees would see and do during the conference. That sort of thoughtfulness really matters because people tweeted, blogged, and talked about that conference for years after (and still do at times). We’re trying to put that same degree of thoughtfulness into the conference this year, and we hope it shows.

    Second, I think regional conferences especially have to play up the “flavor” of their region. I’m always sort of disappointed when I go to a regional conference and I’m not wrapped in the culture and experiences of the region it’s representing. I’ve never put much effort into that. The closest I’ve come has been the general “feel” of the media (effusing the “dirty south” aesthetic that’s popular in a lot of Southern art these days) and hosting at the OpryLand one year. One conference that I think nails this year after year (I’ve only been once but heard from others how great it is at this) is GoRuCo. From the badge (which is handwritten by a local graffiti artist) to the parties (which are held in totally NYC locales), everything screams New York, and it’s awesome.

    We’re trying to capture that this year. These few blog posts (today, tomorrow, and Friday) will layout some of the things we have in store for everyone this year. We’re going FULL NASHVILLE, and everyone knows you never go FULL NASHVILLE. But we’re doing it this year, from the food to the venue to the music (that’s right!), it’s going to steep you in the South like we’ve never done before. So, let’s take a look at what we have in store so far…

    The Hotels

    So in the past, we’ve usually had the conference at a hotel or at the least picked a hotel as “the” conference hotel. This year we’re sort of doing both.

    First, the venue has lodging on-site that’s nice and super affordable. Like, $40 a night and you won’t get accosted by a hooker while staying there nice and affordable. Now, the arrangements are sort of spartan (see photo below) and they were previously a dorm, so the bathroom sharing situation might not be ideal for everyone.

    A standard guest room (they have upgraded rooms available, too)

    But, they were a freaking dorm. What does that mean? Late night hackfests? I think so. Camaraderie not seen since your college days? You betcha. I’m going to place a Dean of Nerds in the dorms to plan activities and answer any questions you may have about the conference (I can’t do this but if you’d like to volunteer, ping me on Twitter or e-mail). I think that people will not only enjoy the price point, but it’ll create a great environment for cool stuff to happen.

    For those of you to whom that doesn’t appeal, I plan on staying at the nearby Hilton Garden Inn. It’s only about half a mile away, only $89 a night, and should prove to be a little more luxurious.

    A typical Hilton Garden Inn - Venderbilt room

    Beyond that, there are more luxurious options if you’d prefer to travel just a bit further. Within a mile or so, there’s a super nice Loews hotel and a great boutique hotel named Hutton Hotel. My wife and I stayed there about 2 weeks after they opened and it was really chic and interesting (they used sustainable materials in the construction, so you have bamboo floors, etc.). There are other hotels near that area, too, such as a Doubletree or Hotel Indigo, if those are you thing.

    So there you have it. That’s our lodging strategy for this year. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on the food and venue!

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