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A Wintry Time Was Had By All: The Texas Renaissance Festival

Wine and Alchemy

We made opening day (October 10) at the Texas Renaissance Festival this year. We hadn’t done that in a decade or more! We went prepared fore wet weather, as a cold front passed by during the night. We didn’t have any rain all day, though. There was quite a bit of water in the low spots, where you’d expect at the RenFest, but because it was the first day it hadn’t been churned into mud by the crowds. A few little spots got bad by the end of the day; but before that things were good.

TartanicThe only real issue: It was downright cold! The coldest opening day in the 35-year history of the Faire. Dang odd too, given we’re in the middle of global warming and all. I sure wish I’d brought a nice jacket! There were places to buy hot chocolate and such (with our without adult lubricants), so I survived. And given the northwest wind and solid cloud cover, it never really warmed up. I’d complain, but the alternative in early October in east Texas is to swelter in sticky humidity and fry in excessive sunshine; on balance we came out ahead.

Opening weekend was Oktoberfest! (Each weekend has a different theme.) With the real deal under way in Germany, it made perfect sense. I like good German food as much as the next fella; maybe better. As for Deutscher Musik, well, I play the left-handed accordion; enough said. Before the opening cannon shot there was a short, comedic play at the entrance. Lots of costumes and silliness. At least most of these folks haven’t quit their real job to do this stuff! Many of the actors come from Houston and the surrounding area, just for the weekends. It shows; but it was still fun.

The crowd was very light at opening, a big surprise to me. Usually you can’t get through the mass with a bulldozer or even a terrorist threat. But there was only a scattering of hard-core fantasy nuts RenFest enthusiasts on hand. Worked out great as we got into the park within a couple minutes of the opening gun, and we could run towards the back of the park to see whatever interested us if we desired. Me, I wanted to see the Gypsy Guerrilla Band early. They’re always one of my favorites; a trio comprised of hammered dulcimer (Jim Lilliquist), autoharp (Joyce Lilliquist) and hand drums (Antonio Albarran). Dr. Jim Lilliquist is always great on the dulcimer, smiling and striking away with abandon. Some other acts often feign enjoyment; I know GGB is there for the fun and they show it! They’ve been playing together for what seems like a couple of centuries now, and they’ve got their music down pat. I think they’ve been to pretty much all the Texas RenFest events; I don’t know how many more years they’ll keep coming, so I try to see them early.

Turns out, I was in luck! The Gypsy Guerrilla Band was right up front, where the early dancing and welcoming play was being held. So I drug up a convenient rock and sat, happy already.

Over the years I’ve developed a philosophy about attending the Renaissance Festival. (That’s right, folks, I’ve go so little Real Life I actually work at stuff like that.) I’m there for the musical acts and the food. Oh, and an adult beverage or six. I don’t really expect to do much shopping, although there are nearly 400 shops and demonstration events. Yes, it’s a big park! That number includes the kiddie rides and such as well. I may stop by a shop or two during the day, the ones I’ve learned to enjoy over the years, especially to graze for the occasional Christmas gift.

Circa PaleoThe Clan’s really easy to shop for, actually; anything Medieval or Renaissance will do just fine. Due to an unfortunate occurrence previously, I was told to go easy on the swords and plate armor for the youngsters this time. It wasn’t my fault, really; besides, the kids learned a valuable lesson and I’m sure the one will be back to normal any year now. And I don’t buy any jewelry or clothing anymore; my wife refuses to wear the skimpy chain mail outfits she already has, so why waste money?

Anyway, a philosophy like that is necessary to survive at the Texas RenFest, because you’ll go completely nutz trying to see it all in only one day. We often go twice in a year (probably not this year), just to experience all the merriment we missed the first time. (Staying a weekend’s an option too; there’s plenty of camping space and RV parking, and we’ve rented an RV in the past.) For me, music, food and drink are the main course at the Faire; the occasional show, play or shopping are just for spicing the dish.

The musical scene this year was outstanding, in my humble opinion. After the Gypsy Guerrilla Band I headed over to the Mockingbird Music Gazebo to see Jim Hancock (The Burly Minstrel), a fine performer and an always reliable Faire act. Of course he’s got a new disc out, and of course I just had to have it. (Did mention I’m there for the music? That includes collecting CDs of most of the acts I visit.) The Bard O’Neill was just finishing up her set and she stayed with Jim for some duets; as per usual, and a welcome addition she is. Jim was in fine fettle, and there’s nobody else in the Renfaire business who can get away with that hat and those shoes.

After dropping a sackful of cash buying Jim’s and Diane’s new CDs I moved on to see Wine and Alchemy. Mark Varelas (originally of E-Muzeki fame at the Festival) has pulled together a fine troupe: Roxanne Bruschka on vocals and dance, as well as the pump organ; Neil Yamin on rhythm guitar and percussion; Jake Cooper on all sorts of drums and noise-making stuff; and a visiting player (and dancer) from Chicago; I didn’t get his name, unfortunately. Mark plays anything with strings, and plays them all amazingly well: Guitar, lute, mandolin, bouzouki, sitar and more. He also plays the accordion, which means he’s smart like me. I took photos and collected more CDs while elbowing my way through the gathering throng. Wine and Alchemy draws some of the largest crowds, and deservedly so.

A new act this year is Circa Paleo. Jenny O’Connor (the other half of the original E-Muzeki) has pulled together a fine ensemble, and her violin playing’s gotten even better (if that’s possible). Josh Amyx handles percussion and plays some guitar; Jay Elkins does a lot of supporting guitar and occasionally the drums; these performers are joined by dancers and others (sorry, didn’t get the names). Lots of energy and emotion in the music they play, and with the little girl from the crowd dancing along it was truly engaging entertainment.

The rest of the day I saw: Tartanic, the Texas Brass Ensemble, Istanpitta, Crannog, Das Ist Lustig, Cast in Bronze, Cantiga, and a new group, The Bilge Pumps. I wanted to see Chris Ryback, but he’s not in attendance until October 31st this year. I also saw Bob Bielefeld (flute), Owl Morrison (viola), Owain Phyfe (guitar) and Rio Blue (drums) as they wandered throughout the Faire, entertaining in groups and separately. Sadly, Wyndnwyre weren’t in attendance, and the Flying Fish Sailors were also absent. (They’ve been gone a while now; three years?) Along the way I ate, drank, visited with long-time friends of the RenFest music scene, shopped a bit, and saw a play or two. But that’s all for another post…

Enjoy the (Musical Renaissance) Heat!

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