As a kid growing up in Syracuse, Dan Tortora floated between the worlds of sports and entertainment, playing basketball one minute and reading comic books the next. The kind of kid, for example, who would have loved to see former Syracuse University basketball player Baye Moussa Keita and Cousin Itt from The Addams Family TV show at the same event.
So Tortora, who hosts sports and entertainment podcasts across a variety of channels, decided to create an event where jocks and nerds can come together to meet their heroes and benefit a good cause at the same time. The inaugural CNY Pop! Festival will be held Sunday, Aug. 12, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., at the F Shed at the Central New York Regional Market, 2100 Park St.
“I was hoping to create an event where if I was a kid today, I would have begged my mom to take me to it,” Tortora said.
The CNY Pop! Festival will feature former SU basketball stars Roosevelt Bouie, DaJuan Coleman, Dennis DuVal, Otis Hill, Dale Shackleford, Sonny Spera, Howard Triche, Gene Waldron and Moussa Keita, and former SU football stars Robert Drummond and Kyle McIntosh.
The guests from the science-fiction and fantasy entertainment movie world include Felix Silla (Cousin Itt); Michelle Harrison (Nora “Mama” Flash) on The Flash TV series; Kevin Duhaney (Blue DinoThunder Power Ranger, Four Brothers, Half-Baked); Jeff Parazzo (White DinoThunder Power Ranger, Molly’s Game, 12 Monkeys); Blake Foster (Blue Turbo Power Ranger); voice actor Mark Dodson (Star Wars); and Bill Diamond, who won two Emmy Awards with Jim Henson for The Muppet Show.
“I wanted to do something that felt different, was different and gave (Syracuse) something different,” Tortora said. “I wanted to take the fans of comic-cons and sports fans and put them in the same room together because there are a bunch of us on both sides of the spectrum.”
Those fans can obtain autographs from, and photographs with, the athletes and actors. The festival will include vendors, food trucks and an interactive family area with Museum of Intrigue, Painting with a Twist DeWitt and Frightmare Farms. Tortora will also host panel discussions and moderate question-answer sessions with the guests.
Tortora said all proceeds from SU basketball and football signatures will go to the CanTeen of Central New York. Located in Cicero, CanTeen offers a place for teens in eighth through 12th grade to hang out in a welcoming and safe environment, where they can encourage each other to make positive decisions.
“The future of our country is on the shoulders of these young men and women, and this is a way to pay it forward,” Tortora said. “When I was young I wanted people looking out for me and I know the CanTeen looks out for the youth of today.”
Tortora, who lives in Central New York, is president and CEO of Dan Tortora Broadcast Media, LLC. His Wake Up Call with Dan Tortora sports show airs from 9 to 11 a.m. weekdays on internet radio live stream and is archived on iTunes, TuneIn Radio, Podbean, YouTube, PlayerFM and his website. His entertainment show Superpowered Pop with DT and EB (Eric Bunch) is archived online and on iTunes.
Tortora, 32, has developed longstanding relationships with the SU athletes, so he said it was easy to get them to agree to attend the event. Even Bouie, who is working a basketball camp that day, said he will spend as much time at the festival as his schedule will allow.
“Syracuse is like a second home to us,” said Shackleford, who lives in Utica. “It’s always good to give back to the community. And because you’re doing it with Dan, it makes it even more special because Dan’s a great friend and a great person.”
“A great friend asked me,” said Drummond referring to Tortora, “and I really love doing things that help Syracuse grow.”
While in Atlanta covering the Alabama-Florida State football game last fall, Tortora attended the Dragon Con and introduced himself to Harrison since he’s a big fan of The Flash. She liked his idea for the CNY Pop! Festival and agreed to attend, and her agent connected Tortora to Foster.
“One of my favorite things about cons is going to travel to different places, and I’m super-excited to get back to New York,” Harrison said. “Especially to meet the fans because the greatest part of all the cons is meeting everybody.”
At the Foxprowl-Con in Batavia a few years ago, Tortora met Duhaney, Parazzo and Dodson, and they’ve all been guests on his Superpowered Pop show. After agreeing to attend Tortora’s event, Dodson said he would call and invite Silla and Diamond and “it was as simple as that,” Tortora said.
“First off, I’m a Syracuse Orange fan,” Duhaney shared. “I love the basketball team. Any chance I get to go to Syracuse, I look forward to it. The fact that (this event) is community-driven and appreciating your community and everything people in that community are putting into it, it’s a great thing.”
If you’re an SU sports fan, you probably don’t know that in addition to playing Cousin Itt, Silla was also an Ewok in Return of the Jedi from the original Star Wars trilogy. And if you’re a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, it’s unlikely you know that the Syracuse hoops team went a sparkling 100-18 during the four years that Bouie and Louis Orr played in the late 1970s.
For Tortora, the fun is bringing those two distinct fans together in one place. “When I was a kid I didn’t have anything like this and I wanted Syracuse to have something different,” he said. “This community is my home, and I love seeing this community do well and hopefully this is something innovative that can start right here.”
Advance tickets to the CNY Pop! Festival are $15 for adults, $10 for children ages 6 to 12; ages 5 and under are free. At the door, tickets will be $20 for adults, $15 for children. For a $30 VIP ticket, fans can receive early admission at 9 a.m. to meet the superheroes and receive a swag bag and T-shirt. To purchase pre-sale and VIP tickets, visit the CNY Pop website or find tickets on Eventbrite.