Quietly and with little fanfare, something rather remarkable happened this past weekend. A conference of sorts with a goofy name being held for only the second time ever sold out in a mere six hours. There was no advertising. There will be a concert, but the performer has not been announced. There was a price increase over the previous year. And a date change. Still, the tickets were gone before many even knew they were available. How did this happen?

Part of the story lies in the goofy name: Hutchmoot. Moot is an obscure word for gathering. And a hutch is where rabbits gather. Why rabbits? Well, that’s because the organizers of this moot convene virtually at a site called the Rabbit Room. Created in 2007 by singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson, the site hosts discussions among musicians, authors, artists, and pastors on topics such as, not surprisingly, songs, books, movies, art, and faith. You’ll find posts by musicians like Jason Gray, Randall Goodgame, Eric Peters, and Ron Block, and you’ll find much discussion on literature (think Lewis and Tolkien), music (think Rich Mullins), and the very art of writing and making music.

So it was that last summer, the Rabbit Room organizers decided to host a physical gathering of Rabbit Roomers. One author’s father, Clay Clarkson, coined the phrase “Hutchmoot”, and the virtual became tangible. I attended the 2010 event, and it was really extraordinary. I knew there would be much anticipation for the 2011 edition, but, really, a six hour sellout? I did not expect that.

Nor did Pete Peterson, Andrew Peterson’s brother and an accomplished author himself. Pete is responsible for much of the Hutchmoot organizing, and I asked for his thoughts on the ‘Moot.

TSO: Were you surprised by the 6-hour sellout? What had you expected in terms of ticket sales?

Completely surprised. We purposely didn’t announce our guest speaker, any of our session topics or speakers, or our Friday night concert, mainly because we thought we’d need to use those announcements in the coming weeks and months to continue driving registrations. I expected maybe 20 or 30 sign-ups for the entire week. After all, the price had gone up, we’d added a day, and the dates are in the middle of the school year. We thought that surely we’d have a more difficult time filling up. We miscalculated. I got emails all weekend long from people upset that it was sold out before they’d even read the announcement, and I really do feel bad for those folks. I wish we could welcome everyone, but we simply can’t. We’re committed to keeping the Moot small in order to provide those who come with an intimate experience, and I think we’d lose a lot of what’s special about the event if we doubled its size.

TSO:  There still aren’t a lot of details posted about the event, such as keynote speaker and featured concert. Why do you think people jumped right in and bought tickets anyway?

 I think it has a lot to do with the strong emotional reactions people had last year. Not only were people moved but they were vocal about it. They told their friends, they blogged about it (are still blogging about it in some cases), they discussed it at length on the Rabbit Room in a number of different posts. I think we filled a need that a lot of people didn’t even realize they had. Someone in the audience last year mentioned that she felt like Gonzo the muppet who’s supposed to be a chicken but has always felt different from the others and out of place, then one day he discovers that there’s an entire race of Gonzo’s just like him and he finally knows where he belongs. Hutchmoot is filled with Gonzos.

TSO: Many of the musicians involved are independent artists, and few get large-scale exposure to Christian music audiences. How have you built enough awareness to pull off a conference like this and have it become this popular?

I think it all comes down to community. The artists at the Rabbit Room and in the Square Peg Alliance might not have millions of fans on their own, but by coming together as a community they support one another. Fans of Andrew Peterson discover Eric Peters’ music, fans of Eric Peters discover Andy Gullahorn’s music, and so on. Add to that our writers and authors and all the other musicians, all sharing a love of community, story, and Christ, and I think people are drawn to that.

TSO: Hutchmoot combines music with fiction and nonfiction books and even visual arts. What’s the common thread?

Story. Everyone involved is a storyteller in some form, whether in music, prose, visual art, or even the pastoral arts, and each use their gifts not only to tell stories but to tell, in some measure, The Story. The very act of creation itself is a telling of The Story, and that’s what Hutchmoot is all about, affirming the creative instinct within a Biblical context.

TSO: There must be some disappointment that so many will be turned away. Would a larger venue and larger scale dilute the intimacy too much? How large can the gathering be to still accomplish its goals? Can the concept be replicated?

I hate turning people away, but there’s not really another option. We’re not interested in making it bigger because we’d lose the intimate feel of it, and we can’t really hold two in a year because it’s so difficult to schedule a time when all the speakers and musicians are available simultaneously. Some people have asked for a West Coast version but that doesn’t work either because we’d have to fly the entire Rabbit Room team out there. There are just too many moving parts to pick it up and take it elsewhere. We’d have to bump the price into the stratosphere just to pay for it.

TSO:  Any long-term plans for this thing, or will it simply be evaluated year-to-year?

I hope we’ll still be Hutchmooting in 2025, we’ll see. Right now we’re just interested in providing people with a nourishing experience. We’ll continue to evaluate what’s successful and what’s not and see how things develop.