Before his journey to NostalgiaCon, Ruiz accrued experience in journalism, public relations and media entrepreneurship. He was a police reporter for the Miami Herald between 1991 and 1994 and shared in the staff's Pulitzer Prize for Community Service in 1993. After working in public relations for five years, he created two companies that he later sold: the PR Newswire service to United Business in 2007, and the Hispanicize Media Group (HMG) to John Leguizamo's media and entertainment company NGL Collective earlier this year. This latest endeavor is more personal, as he was a child of the '80s -- he kept a diary between the ages of 13 and 17 -- and feels he can share that era with his children and others of younger generations.
"The expectations for NostalgiaCon are pretty big," declares Ruiz. "No one's ever created a pop culture convention focused on a decade and made it the star of the show. Our approach to NostalgiaCon is to create these decade-takeover pop culture conventions, and to show that there are fans of a decade that really relate to that it across different verticals of music, film and TV. Even dancing, toys, furniture and cars."
There will be plenty to immerse oneself in at NostalgiaCon '80s: concerts, panels, cosplay, autographs, photo ops and even a car exhibition. Guests include Christopher Lloyd, Val Kilmer, Goonies stars and the cast of GLOW.
"I want to give people the Disney World of a decade," he declares. Some nostalgia at the event will be geared toward other decades, such as '60s and '70s TV shows Gilligan's Island and WKRP In Cincinnati, whose reruns Gen Xers grew up on. Also, there will be a Nod To The '90s lounge as a hint to NostalgiaCon's future.
Ruiz is uniting different genres of music together for the event. Saturday is new wave night featuring Annabella Lwin of the original Bow Wow Wow, Farrington & Mann (the original vocalists from When In Rome), The Outfield, The Motels and headliners ABC. The opener is '80s alternative tribute band The Reflexx. Sunday is '80s Mixed Tape Night with The Sugarhill Gang, Monie Love, Doug E. Fresh, Latin freestyle trio TKA, and the headlining metal wildcard for the night, Dokken. There will be meet and greets available with the artists on both days. There will also be a tribute band called The Flux Capacitors who will perform all weekend on the main floor for 20 minutes on the hour every hour. NostalgiaCon '80s also features the National Boombox Museum, which boasts a variety of boomboxes, including the largest boombox ever manufactured in the '80s (the Elta Master Blaster). Further, breakdancer Michael Chambers, known for playing Turbo in the two Breakin' films, will oversee the breakdance floor.
Plus, three of the original MTV VJs – Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood and Alan Hunter – will be attending both days, hosting the concerts and doing a panel on Saturday. Ruiz, who considers them to be among the most important guests because they are original '80s music influencers, says they have never done a pop culture convention before.
Original member, singer and songwriter Martha Davis of The Motels notes that music can be like a time machine. "Your olfactory senses do that as well," says Davis. "Certain smells are like, 'Wow, I'm back in grandma's house.' Music will actually put you right back in the back seat of that car the first time you ever did it. It has that wonder. We just got off this really fun '80s tour with Wang Chung and The Vapors and great bands from that era, some of my favorite guys who I never got to hang out with at the time. Literally, everybody playing their hits, at the most you got three or four songs. It was a complete time machine. People might as well have been camped in the '80s for two hours."
But it's not all throwback material at NostalgiaCon. "Word has it that we don't have to be that nostalgic," says Davis. "We can play some new stuff too, which is my favorite, of course." So expect a taste of The Motels' The Last Few Beautiful Days, a 2018 album that felt fresh but retro, which she jokingly blames on her younger bandmates who love the era more than she does. "Nick [Johns], our producer, bass player, and synthesizer aficionado, is such a fan of all those sounds that he goes after them," remarks Davis. "I'm kind of getting the '80s whether I like it or not."
The Sugarhill Gang and The Motels are seeing three generations of fans coming to their shows, and both say younger fans are often surprised by what they experience.
"When the young ones show up, they are kind of blown away because our band is pretty badass," says Davis. "We're not pretending up there. I have an amazing band, so it's a great night of music. I think after all this time that the songs are real good."
Sugarhill's Michael "Wonder Mike" Wright says of their live strategy: "We give it to them, we hit him in the head, we leave it on the stage, and make sure everybody has their experience." They want to appeal to veteran concertgoers as well as newbies. "We're performing so when they leave, they can say they really got down."
Given that this year is the 40th anniversary of both The Sugarhill Gang and their breakthrough hit "Rapper's Delight" -- credited by some as the song that brought hip-hop into the mainstream -- their music has been getting renewed attention, appearing numerous times over the last few years in commercials, TV shows and movies.
"The crazy thing is that our music is so ingrained in society worldwide," says Sugarhill member Guy "Master Gee" O'Brien. "Some people don't even know they know it until they hear it, then they go, 'Oh wait a minute, I definitely know that song.' It's just an exciting opportunity to be able to watch people's reaction when they are reciting words to songs that we did 40 years ago."
DJ Dynasty notes that the Sugarhill audience in Europe, where they play larger festivals, knows more of the B-sides and deep cuts like "Kick It Live from 9 to 5" and "Passion Play." With an audience spanning eight to 80, the group has fans who weren't even alive when they hit it big, but still "know the words because their uncles and aunts and parents used to blast it," says Wonder Mike.
Their recent single "Someone Like You" was done in collaboration labelmates Grandmaster Melle Mel and Scorpio of Furious Five, and they're also dropping a new song on Nov. 1. "ESPN is also celebrating their 40th anniversary, so they've been playing 'Rapper's Delight,'" along with Queen Latifah and Snoop Dogg versions, reports Sugarhill's Henry "Hendogg" Williams. "They want to do something with us as well."
Ruiz believes that the '80s have the "perfect nostalgia distance" to reach out across generations. The decade is big with Gen X, naturally, but reaches millennials and Gen Z, too. "The '80s now are the way the '50s were to the folks that grew up in the '80s," he says.
The founders of NostalgiaCon are banking on that. If NostalgiaCon '80s thrives this year, Ruiz hopes to expand the event into two next year: one convention for the '80s and one for the '90s in different locations. The '90s revival has been gaining momentum, but for many, it's '80s all the way.
"For those of us that love the '80s, we don't have our Coachella," notes Ruiz. "This is meant to be that and more."