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Texas RenFest 2011: Yes, They Had No Wildfires; Go! It’s Great…

Family RenFest

We didn’t make opening weekend of the Texas Renaissance Festival this year, but we got there as quick as we could. Only to run into a big ol’ batch of pirates. It was Pirate Adventure Weekend! The opening show was stuffed with silliness, and the only thing missing was a crowd. Attendance was down, in spite of cool, clear weather. Oh well, that just meant good seats for the music, a front row for the parade, and the food and drink booths would have no lines!

One can wish, right?

Jenny

There were the usual costumed characters in attendance, naturally. (Lots more pirates this time, aarrrrguably.) Including daughterperson and her mainliest squeeze du jour, who came as pirate and damsel-in-distress. (Or the other way around.) I traveled incognito for the most part, with only two cameras, a huge booty bag (never know what you might find to plunder buy), a nondescript straw hat and a drink. In one hand. And some comestible-on-a-stick in the other, of course. It’s amazing the things they’ll stick a wooden skewer through and sell to us Real Men. A couple were novel (meaning, not very good), but I found ample supplies of the old standbys to tide me over. One shouldn’t risk severe calorie deficit when listening to period music and watching shows. (Not that that’s likely at the RenFest.)

Sitar

Jim HimselfI started out the morning with Tartanic, which absolutely proves I’m crazy-courageous. I mean, bagpipes, drums and hung-over men dancing in kilts as entertainment? Before breakfast?? Here’s my rationale: If you must swallow a frog… They weren’t that bad, though. A bit down-sized from previous years, with two new pipers. They were technically quite nice, but somehow they didn’t generate the uber-manic energy of previous years. Partly it’s the crowd thing, again. Not all the seats were filled (yet). I agree with Jess, though; Tartanic was best when they roamed about, starting firestorms of limbo and gypsy-rock dancing, with drums pounded by everybody from three-year-old pixies to centenarians in wheelchairs. They were truly inspired wild Scots then.

Moving on I stopped by one of my all-time favorite solo acts, Jim Hancock. Also known as the Burly Minstrel. He’s still pumping out the good stuff, with more than a few new ditties in his act this year. Good to see one of the steady performers once again, as we have every time in the past two decades or so we’ve been going. (Has it really been that long? Sheesh.)

After Jim I was summarily corralled rejoined by my darling spouse and we hurried over to one of the Big Acts of the whole Fair: Wine and Alchemy. I’ve been a huge fan of Mark Varelas since he showed up at the fair some years ago, part of a touring twosome who played stringed instruments. E-Muzeki, they were, and they were worth following around. They quickly worked their way into a stage show with a band. Then Mark and Jenny split up (more on Jenny later). The next year, Wine and Alchemy showed up, a new troupe centered on Mark’s driving strings play and filled out nicely with everything from bass, drums and fiddle to accordion and hurdy-gurdy. WHAT a SHOW! I was hooked.

Ever since then I make it a point to see Wine and Alchemy at least twice during the day. The show always morphs around, and with the gipsy dancing, strong ballads and pounding instrumentals, they draw a massive crowd even if the park’s underfilled. Which, by this time, it sorta wasn’t anymore.

Gypsy Dance

JimI was beginning to feel a bit peaked by the time the music faded, so we strolled through the food and drink shops gorging and devouring sampling and tasting. Enough of that and we found ourselves in the back of the park, coincidentally in time to see Circa Paleo. Did I mention Jenny O’Connor earlier? Well, she’s got her own grand troupe of fine performers. She’s the finest fiddler in the park (and yes, I still love Owl Morrison), and the rest of Circa Paleo complement her haunting performances well. They’re strong in their own right, including their unique dancing contingent. Jenny’s sister is now part of the show, and although they’re as different as chalk and cheese, they sound well together.

We idled a while in the shade as the park warmed and filled, enjoying the pageantry. I offered to take PJ on one of the rides, but she demurred. Something about whirling around rapidly right after lunch. We strolled through some more shops, looking for novel trinkets. A few juicy items went into the plunderbag. We looked at wine caskets and wonderful wooden artifacts. It was wonderfully relaxing.

We spent some time clapping along with Crannog, then we went to the glassblowers and the like. I wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon in the brewer’s shop, but instead found myself sitting in the back rows at Arsene nursing a sore ear. (Man, that woman has sure got a grip.) He was as funny as ever, with more lewd harassment audience participation and antics from his (sorta) helpers than before. Where else can you see a genuine Frenchman performing Texas? To applause?

By this time I was beginning to suffer the usual Renaissance overload. Sights and sounds, color and motion, food and drink. It was time to make our way very slowly towards the front to look for the obligatory shirt. And to see if the mugs are worth taking home this year. A detour back to the glassblower’s to pick up a gift that was being held (carrying fragile glass objects in the bootysack? Highly not recommended. Don’t even.) and finally some Gypsy Guerrilla Band to close out the day, and we were out of the park just ahead of the massive exit swell. Yes, the park had pretty much filled up, and another half hour and we’d have been trapped in the traffic mess…

Enjoy the (Escape to Older Days) Heat!

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