NHL hockey fans point to September as the time their favorite sport returns, but for Blue Jackets fans, August marks the first hockey milestone in the form of Cannonfest — an annual gathering organized by and for fans to celebrate their favorite team.
Last Sunday’s fifth annual Cannonfest included 400-plus fans who took in food truck-provided meals, fan-composed videos, a historical jersey display, and fan-created artwork.
The event also marked an anniversary.
The CBJ Artillery, the group behind the rallying cry "We Are the 5th Line" that galvanized Blue Jackets fans last season and through the team’s playoff run, consider last year’s Cannonfest the event that made them part of the Jackets’ community.
"One year ago when The Artillery arrived at Cannonfest, we hardly knew anyone. We were only a month old," said Jordan Mills, Artillery founder. "As we looked around at the sea of Blue Jackets fans it quickly became evident that this wasn’t just a fan base, it was a community, a community that we wanted to be a part of."
Mills and his fellow Artillery members used social media and Jackets games as a way to build relationships they started at last year’s event and now consider every Cannonfest as a time to extend that experience to others.
"What I love about Cannonfest is it puts a face with the name," Mills said. "It’s about making that connection face to face with someone who is just as passionate for the same things you are."
Cannonfest also provides opportunities for fans to give back. Almost $2,000 was raised for three charities: The Blue Jackets Foundation, The Sedona Grace Foundation, and Defending the Blue Line.
The Artillery sold T-shirts and donated a portion of the proceeds to the Blue Jackets Foundation. They donated a team-signed Ohio state flag to the silent auction that member Matt Pfeffer carried to Jacket events, including last year’s Cannonfest.
The winning bid was over $500.
"Matt’s flag is a staple within the Artillery – it quickly became recognizable," Mills said. "Throughout the season, he collected the players’ autographs."
When it came time to donate such a prized possession, Mills wasn’t surprised at Pfeffer’s generosity. He said the group has learned the importance of helping others.
"He donated the flag with a smile on his face," Mills said. "He told me he is going to do it all over again, making this a tradition for the Artillery and Cannonfest."
To add to the Cannonfest experience, the Artillery brought a "fifth line" banner that was a replica of one raised in Nationwide Arena during the playoffs. They also displayed live streams of social media interactions related to the event.
But one of the best parts of Cannonfest, according to the Artillery, was the venue itself.
This year, Cannonfest moved to Strongwater Food and Spirits, a former industrial building built in 1910 that now includes a restaurant and event space. Much of the building’s original design has been maintained, including exposed brick walls.
"It was a perfect spot, it went with the theme of the Blue Jackets — brick by brick," Mills said referring to the philosophy of Jackets’ President of Hockey Operations, John Davidson.
Mills and the Artillery know the spark that Cannonfest can light in the fan community. With this year’s event behind them, they wait for hockey season to start.
"Cannonfest is that final event in the summer that gears you up and gets you excited for hockey — after Cannonfest you know training camp is just weeks away and then the season."
Full and partial season tickets for the Blue Jackets’ 2014-15 season are currently available for purchase. For more information you can call (800) NHL-COLS or visit BlueJackets.com.