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Texas Renaissance Festival is Great This Year


I caught a last-minute chance to run over to Plantersville (Todd Mission, actually, but who knows where THAT is?) and attend this year’s edition of the Texas Renaissance Festival. Boy, was it fun! Music, shows, food and drink, and lots of shopping…

I was there mostly for the music and the provender, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. After ducking the opening canon shot we moved in through the entrance arcade. The crowd was disappointingly small, given the great weather. I was worried that the Faire might be suffering more from the economic conditions than I’d previously guessed. After all, this event can be taken as a local vacation, saving families a lot of money over many other options. Not exactly a staycation, but still a modest outlay.

A note of warning: Not everything at the Fair is kid-friendly. Parents, you need to manage the little ones! Some of the stuff is stretched well past PG. That said, there’s still a massive collection of fun for the kiddos, so don’t leave them home. Just don’t let them over near the bagpipers unescorted.


So many things have stayed the same, yet there were noticeable changes. Most of the changes I’d judge to be positive. First off, there are a lot more attractions and sales kiosks. The broad avenues through the park have sprouted many more sellers of goods and trinkets, and demonstrators of techniques of all kinds. Some shops have given up their places along the gallerias to present their wares in these avenues. There are, of course, many new hawkers with their bibelots on offer.

ArtistAThe rides and games are more plentiful; there are more places to get face-paints and henna, and the park is a lush green. No sign of the drought at the moment! The ivy that drapes a large number of the attractions (chapel, etc.) is well in place and beautiful.

Maybe I was somehow sensitized, but it also seemed there were lots of costumes, many of them more elaborate than previously. Lots of roving minstrels, giants and midgets, mystical creatures of all sorts, and not a few absurdities as well. Color everywhere; oh, the colors! Chain mail and leather too. Swordsmen and mercenaries, lords and ladies, fairies of all descriptions (at least two smoking cigars), and I’m sure I saw a half dozen unicorns.

And that was just in the first thirty minutes or so.

I watched the opening procession for a bit, then headed back to the Mockingbird Music Gazebo, an intimate setting for music and dance that is one of my favorite places to listen to the small-group performers. First up was Diane Linn, known as the Bard O’Neill. Her iconic voice was in good mettle, and she tossed out songs sweet, silly or saucy at request. Jim Hancock (a.k.a the Burly Minstrel, or simply Himself), who usually follows the Bard, snuck up while we were focused on the stage, and suddenly there were two performers playing old favorites. These two can be found together regularly, and their voices mix nicely.

I stepped over to a nearby for late breakfast and a morning brew (What, you don’t drink Leinenkugel’s for elevensies? You should get out more.), taking great care not to get out of earshot of the music, and when I returned there were four musicians on stage! Turns out, Gypsy Rox had finished their set over at the Wharfside Gazebo and decided to join the Bard and the Minstrel for a set. What a treat!

Next up was Istanpitta, with their sophisticated meld of Middle Ages tunes and period instruments. This year they feature a great new voice (sorry, I couldn’t get her name!) and a vielle player. The vielle is a great old stringed instrument featuring five strings, and is bowed like a viola. It was one of the most popular Medieval period instruments, I was informed. It had an interesting tone, not quite a fiddle, not a viola; apparently it took a lot of attention to keep in tune as well, given the tuning peg placement. A most intriguing instrument!


Istanpitta played a variety of tunes, many of them French, a few Middle Eastern, some Spanish and some Italian. All from the 10th to 14th centuries, and I found them all enchanting.

It was time to move along and find some of the larger acts, as well as some additional comestibles. By this time the crowd had filled out nicely, and the whole Faire was rockin’.


ScotDrumsAI found Wine and Alchemy, near the end of their set. This group still puts on the best music show of the Festival, in my opinion. They’ve begun to have some audience participation events as well, and their offerings develop depth and breadth each year. It’s refreshing to see a Renaissance group that doesn’t rely simply on their past playlists, however interesting those songs might be. Mark and Roxanne continue to surround themselves with accomplished musicians and performers, and then they really work a show! Although they’ll do several (nearly) one-hour shows each day, every performance has dramatic energy and variation, as if they were playing their first session of the day. Percussion, accordion, stringed instruments of all types contribute, as well as Roxanne’s great gypsy-infused voice. Dancing too; something for everyone!

I headed over to the Agora for some Greek food (Gyros! Spanikopita! Dolmathes! Oh my…) and a few minutes of Aegean culture, though the performances of the Gypsy Dance Theatre. Nice. The troupe puts on quite a show, including belly-dancing in the old style.

I couldn’t stay long, though, as I wanted to hear some German music. Off to the back corner of the park, and the Oktoberfest atmosphere of the  Arborhause. I had a Reuben and a cold brew, just to keep my strength up; I could tell it was going to be a long day. The food, drink and German accordion music refreshed me enough I could once again stroll the grounds in search of great music.

First off I found an interesting new food purveyor. A taste of Brazil, actually. Great Latin-styled flavors! I could only sample a few things, but I vowed to come back for the rest on my next trip to the Faire. The place was fairly busy, so it looks like they’ll make a go of it.

I wandered by the Wharfside just as Gypsy Rox was starting a set, so I plunked down in the shade (it was getting quite warm) and rested my dogs. As a new group at the Festival it was gratifying to see the good-sized crowd enjoying their fiddle and guitar playing. They seemed more polished than many “starter” ensembles, so I asked the guitarist, Ky Hote, where else they played. Turns out they’re old hands at Renaissance Fairs, getting their start as a duo in Tennessee in 2007. He’s been playing fairs with other folks for a couple of decades now, so there’s plenty of experience to back up their fresh musical perspective. I’m glad to see them in Texas, and hope they come back often.

DancersI spent time listening to several old favorites in the afternoon: Cantiga, Crannog, Iris and Rose, and the Texas Brass. Unfortunately, I completely missed a promising new group: Vana MaZi. There’s only one of me, as it turns out, which somehow unfairly limits how much I can do in just one day. (Next year, both days; I swear.)

Fiddler2012AThe one show I always see each year is Arsene. (I sometimes see Ded Bob, though I missed this year.) He put on a great show as always, with some new tricks and tweaks added to the great standards. Yes, he gave someone’s wife away for their being late. Yes, he gave away someone’s beer. He tossed the boot out of the stadium. He got kissed by a guy. Yep, it was all there. Great juggling and magic, helpers both sweet and snide, and as always, the great fiddle accompaniment of Owl Morrison.

It’s like getting extra candy at Christmas.

I finished the evening with my usual repast, and some tee-shirt purchases, and finally listening to one of my all-time favorite groups: The Gypsy Guerrilla Band. Jim on the dulcimer, Joyce on the autoharp, and Antonio on drums are a great way to finish the Faire for me, and they’re always up at the front for the dances as closing time approaches. I don’t know how many more years they’ll continue to travel and entertain, having done so for three decades now; I’ll be very sad the first year they don’t make it down to Texas to play.

This year’s Festival is in remembrance of Owain Phyfe, a steadfast Renaissance Fair performer and personality. Sadly, he passed on just before this year’s event, from pancreatic cancer. (Why does that disease take so many great ones?) Not hearing his songs or guitar, and losing his positive character and presence, leaves a huge hole in the ensemble at large.

Play on, wherever you are, Owain; we’ll hoist one for you. You’ll be greatly missed…


Enjoy the (New is Old Again) Heat!


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