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Kings Island rolled out the carpet for some of its biggest fans at Coasterstock 2019

John Keeter

Kings Island Blog Contributor

On May 17-18, Kings Island held its fifth annual “Coasterstock” event. Since its inception, Coasterstock has quickly become one of the most sought-after “coaster enthusiast” events in the country. Attracting 600 attendees from over 25 states and Canada, this year’s event was the biggest and best yet!

Some of those reading this may be unfamiliar with the world of “coaster enthusiasts.” So I’ll first do my best to explain what we are. 

Roller Coaster Enthusiasts are simply a “community” of people who love all things amusement parks and roller coasters. We come from all walks of life - but we love to travel the world to visit parks and “collect” as many rides possible.  Enthusiasts are often members of various clubs, web forums, or regional groups that have formed across the planet.  We not only love to compare rides and share stories, but also follow the inner-workings of parks very closely. We often converse (and debate) what is happening at favorite parks and even speculate what they may have up their sleeves for future seasons. 

Enthusiasts have grown to such sizable groups that many parks host/sponsor “events” throughout the year. These gatherings allow attendees the chance to take part in a special unique activities.  Kings Island’s Coasterstock is THE event designed to bring enthusiasts together at Kings Island. Don Helbig, Area Manager Digital Marketing at Kings Island, originally conceived the event to be about “people with the same interest and passion coming together as one… a place to see old friends and make new ones.” 

So, now you may be wondering “What happens at Coasterstock?”

Well, over the course of two days, Kings Island rolls out the red carpet for some of its biggest fans. The schedule is jammed packed with “ERT” (Exclusive Ride Time – this is when rides operate for event attendees only), behind the scenes tours, guest speakers, special event-related gifts as well as catered meals. It’s not a laid-back weekend, or one for the faint of heart. There’s so much to do, see and experience that even seasoned enthusiasts are worn out by the end of each day!

This year, on the morning of day one, Kings Island staff immediately kicked things into high gear offering “ERT” on Banshee, Delirium, Adventure Express, Drop Tower, Bat and Invertigo prior to the park being opened for the public. This was followed by an exciting opportunity to go “behind the scenes” of Banshee and Delirium to take pictures from vantage points not accessible by guests.  It’s worth nothing that one of the things enthusiasts love to do, other than riding coasters, is documenting them by photo. During these photo tours, you’ll see enthusiasts contorting their bodies, laying down, bending over and strategically placing themselves to get the ultimate shot.  Now this isn’t just for their posterity, but also because they can enter their pictures from day one into a photo contest – whereupon the KI officials choose the best picture of the day.

Enthusiasts also love to hear stories, facts and trivia by those who help run the park, or had a hand in designing the rides. This year, attendees were thrilled to be addressed over lunch by Kings Island’s Vice-President and General Manager Mike Koontz. He spoke about the direction and future of Kings Island and even humored us with a Q&A session (Mr. Koontz admitted to becoming the “tree whisperer” in the hopes the new landscaping on International Street would take bloom… it worked because it looks beautiful!). Jeff Gramke, one of the original designers of The Beast also spoke to attendees. Mr. Gramke, along with Al Collins (his supervisor at the time) conceived the entire layout and engineered what would become arguably the most famous wooden coaster of our time. Meeting Jeff Gramke was, on an enthusiast level, like meeting a movie star. (And yes, he had a long line of folks waiting for his autograph!)

This session was followed, appropriately enough, by another photo opportunity and behind the scenes tour of The Beast. Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, there’s never been another coaster like it – nor will there ever be. Selfies and photos galore were taken as trains roared by.  For enthusiasts, getting up close and personal with the holy grail of wooden coasters is like finding a pot of gold. (Also, enthusiasts delight in waving at the passing Beast trains which are filled with the guests baffled by the large group of people out in the woods!)

The latter evening hours saw activities including a sneak peek look at a forthcoming Kings Island historical documentary as well as night-time ERT on Diamondback, Mystic Timbers, Vortex, Racer, Kings Mills Antique Autos – and of course legendary night rides on The Beast. For those of you keeping score – we’re still on day one and our time at the park lasted 16… yes 16… hours. (I told you it’s not for the faint of heart!)

Well after the park had closed, and everyone headed to get some rest – the Coasterstock Facebook Group was abuzz with posts from those that had delighted in the day’s activities. Many remarked about how pooped they were – a sure sign that Kings Island’s staff had pulled of a wonderful first day. But most importantly, the communication online was only a sampling of the friendships, old and new, that were blossoming.

Day two was first met with another extremely rare opportunity to see Flight of Fear in operation with its lights on. For those that have ridden the coaster, you know that it’s twisted, looping track curls around itself in the darkness of an enclosed building.  Let’s just say that if you thought the coaster was twisty in the dark – you have no idea what a sight it is to see just how convoluted the track is when lit! (That’s why enthusiasts call it the “spaghetti bowl.”) Later photo opportunities took us though the one of the park’s haunt attractions, and then into the field adjacent to Diamondback and Mystic Timbers.  (Fact – one of the hardest to achieve photos at KI would include a Diamondback and Mystic Timbers train in the same shot as a Kings Island and Miami Valley Railroad train passing underneath!)

Something that many guests take for granted at Kings Island, and sometimes overlook, is the rare fact that the park still operates its two original 36-gage steam locomotives.  A highlight of the weekend for me, and many attendees was the hour we spent hearing the story of those Kings Island and Miami Valley Railroad trains by one of its engineers, riding its course and even being transported into its storage bay (never seen by the public.) 

The festivities on day two included a lunchtime speech and Q&A session with Dennis Speigel. Mr. Speigel was one of the original management team members that transitioned Coney Island to Kings Island in 1972. Following the days obvious theme of original rides & park history, we were then offered a photo tour of Racer. Kings Island’s original coaster is credited with re-igniting the coaster renaissance. Appropriately enough, it was here that we took the group photos.

Finally, for those that lasted that long – the 2019 Coasterstock event culminated with more nighttime ERT on Diamondback, Mystic Timbers, Backlot Stunt Coaster Woodstock Express, Great Pumpkin Coaster. As tradition would dictate, the final rides of the evening were on, appropriately enough, The Beast. These final rides ended a collective 32-hour event of Kings Island & coaster overload. Exhausting, fun, exciting, and memorable.

I have to say, having been an enthusiast for 30+ years – I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a lot of “events” all across the country. I’ve been to good ones, I’ve been to not-so-good ones. However I can say that Kings Island’s Coasterstock is by far, and large, the best event I have attended.

There was a moment early-on that defined the weekend. Immediately after I arrived at the park that very first morning, before the festivities began, while everyone was waiting outside the gate for the park to kick off the event, I was approached by enthusiasts I’d never met who introduced themselves and invited me into their conversation about the park. I immediately remembered what Don had told me… it was about “People with the same interest and passion coming together as one… a place to see old friends and make new ones.”

Kings Island holds a very special place in so many hearts. For every paving stone in the park – there’s at least a million memories. Coasterstock is a mere example of the magic Kings Island has created for the millions of people that have passed through the gates. 

None of the success of Coasterstock would have been possible had it not been for the generosity and hard work of those at Kings Island that created and oversaw the event.  Don Helbig, Chad Showalter, Natalie Belfiglio, Mike Koontz as well as the entire Kings Island staff are to be graciously thanked for the opportunity they afforded us. It’s apparent that they cherish Kings Island, its memories, and its fans – and that does not go unnoted.

Thank you, I am anxiously awaiting next year’s event.

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John Keeter

Kings Island Blog Contributor

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