Bartow is going back to the futuristic past.
The theme for the sixth annual Syfy Bartow is steampunk, a genre and an esthetic emphasizing Victorian-era attire crossed with evocations of steam-powered machinery in a retro-futuristic way. Picture top hats, brass gears and thick, glass goggles and you’re in the visual territory.
Bartow native Sean Serdynski said he and his wife, Lori Serdynski, created Syfy after a city commissioner mused about starting a new city event.
The name is shorthand for “science fiction,” though Syfy reflects the inclusive atmosphere of sci-fi conventions, which incorporate comic-book characters, fantasy literature and entertainment ranging from “Star Trek” to “Black Panther.”
Sean Serdynski said he became involved with sci-fi conventions about 35 years ago, helping stage “Star Trek” events across the country. He had been on hiatus for years before he agreed to inaugurate the Bartow festival.
“I brought all that crew out of retirement,” Serdynski said. “It’s like drawing the Justice League (a DC Comics superhero squad) together.”
Serdynski said Syfy occupied a single block the first year and has gradually expanded to eight blocks of Main Street. He said estimated attendance has grown from 2,600 people the first year to 25,000 last year.
The event is free, and vendor fees benefit Main Street Bartow, a nonprofit devoted to the economic health of the downtown area.
The monthly Bartow Friday Fest, starting at 6 p.m., serves as a kickoff party for Syfy. DJ Vlad, known for his steampunk persona, will introduce the motif.
The Syfy opening ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, and events will take place on two stages until 6 p.m. The lineup includes preview performances of “Melina: A Steampunk Musical,” by Bartow playwright Gretchen Suarez-Pena, an art show, a car show and a costume contest. Kitchen Killaz will provide musical entertainment.
A second stage at Main Street and Florida Avenue will offer autograph signings by Lakeland’s George Lowe, known for voicing the title character on “Space Ghost Coast To Coast,” and Chuck Dixon, a writer for DC Comics.
The panel area, a lot at the corner of Main Street and Wilson Avenue, will host discussions, including one from the Heartland Steampunk Society.
Serdynski said he expects about 150 vendors, including food trucks, authors and artists. He said a Tampa Bay group of costumed “Star Wars” aficionados and a Florida group who portrays Klingons — aliens from “Star Trek” — are scheduled to appear.
While the emphasis is on the steampunk motif, Serdynski said guests are welcome to dress as characters from comic books and fantasy movies.
“If you’ve never been to Comic-Con or a sci-fi convention and you were always curious, this is the event to come to because, A, it’s free, and B, it gives you a taste of everything that goes on at the giant San Diego or Atlanta conventions,” Serdynski said.
Sandy Harbin, president of Main Street Bartow, said Syfy has become a much-anticipated gathering.
“I would say it’s one of the most unique events we host all year because of the type of vendors we get as well as the cosplay (costume-play) characters,” said Harbin, owner of Sweet Magnolias Café & Sweet Shop. “Even the public, they come in costumes. They go all out. It’s every kind of character you can think of down here.”