October 15th, 2007 10:27 EST
Amongst The Fairie Folk
Until last Sunday, I hadn’t been to the Texas Renaissance Festival since 1998. And until then, I went four years in a row; and although it was still entertaining, I had pretty much seen all there was to see, so I stopped going for a while. Wondering what might have changed at Renfest in the last ten years, I decided its 33rd Annual this year was the right time for me to return.
This year, The Fest featured themed weekends, such as Pirates, Fairies, Celtic and Halloween. My roommate and I chose Fairy Land, which meant many people were dressed like fairies-- both Festival actors and attendees. And by “people”, I mean females. Oddly, there were no males in fairy garb. However, there were the usual medley of medieval or exotic costumes being worn; again, both by staff and many visitors… and both genders. The whole area is a mockup of medieval style town architecture, so it is appropriate to dress accordingly, creating or enhancing the image. One of the best and most amusing aspects of Renfest is the costumery, seeing what people are wearing as they dress up in period or fantasy apparel. Some of them even act the part. Some among the Renfest attired staff may even interact with or accost or try to entice you verbally. More people don costumes at Renfest than at a sci-fi & comic book convention combined.
I’m just saying.
With now 300,000 visitors yearly, plus periodic developments and additions, The Texas Renaissance Festival can claim to be the largest renaissance theme park in America.
Even after all this time, Renfest still draws a large crowd. In spite of, or maybe because of, little difference over the years in the performances presented. Or, at least, the kinds of performances have remained consistent. Located on a multitude of stages across the land are musicians, comedians, bards, jugglers, dancers and demonstrations. Often in some simultaneous combination.
As is typical for Renfest, there are still artisans and vendor shops aplenty interspersed throughout the Festival grounds, selling things like jewelry, Renaissance era clothing and artifacts. And, of course, numerous booths provide a wide variety and style of food and beverage from different cultures.
So many things to see and do, you’ll need more than one day. Oh, and bring money to increase your options of fun and tasty stuff to experience. While most of the shows are “free” with a ticket, donations are accepted and encouraged by and for individual acts, and much of the merchandise and food can get expensive. There are also several rides and bonus attractions-- like bungee jumping and a giant swing-- that cost extra.
While much of Renfest is just as I remembered it, there are a few new notable acts on the schedule of over 200 shows across 54 acres, and eight weekends between October 6 and November 15.
Once I learned that the musicians known as E Muzeki are now appearing at the Fest, they were immediately added to my “things to see“ list. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip to the middle of nowhere, aka- Plantersville Texas. Switching venues from Pub to Festival, E Muzeki has adjusted/ expanded their performance to take advantage of an arena that grants more leeway of movement. Being already awesome, here they become awesomeX2 (as my friend Jessica Stover might say). Besides adding extra percussion, their music was accompanied by a woman brilliantly dancing jigs that are part Celtic and part Gypsy. Another woman belly dancing while she magnificently wields and spins swords, fans, snakes and veils--- though not all at the same time. And a very “magical” special guest showing by a guy amazingly rolling as many as three colored glass spheres in and around his hands and arms and pretty much all about his head and shoulders!
Also new to the Festival, and no to be missed, is the musician called Cast In Bronze. A guy dressed head to toe in black and wearing a golden bird mask impressively plays-- in Phantom of the Operatic style-- a metal keyboard attached to a 2 ton rack of various sized bronze bells in tandem with recorded piano, drum and harmonic vocals. No, that’s not entirely accurate. He doesn’t just play the bells… he and the bells are as one instrument, playing each other! Indeed, even dancing with each other. The only down side is that a big part of the show is the spectacle of this novelty act. So even though the music is certainly good enough to listen to by itself, it can’t help but lose some impact in the absence of the bells and enigmatic masked man.
In a hurry to get to that stage on time, I passed a small dais on which was perched what at first glimpse seemed to be an interesting looking statue of a woman painted and dressed in all white, geisha-ish.
When it/she moved slightly, I realized this was one of those people-posing-as-a-statue performance art things. Normally, this would only warrant that passing glance from me, but there was something I can only describe as “ethereal” about not just her appearance, but her mannerism… the way she poised/posed herself… that got my attention. But being, as I said, rushed for time, I was fortunate enough to have gotten to see even that much of her, but unfortunate because I never saw her again.
When I was at Renfest lo those many years ago, one of my favorite acts was the Ded Bob Show, which involves a “ventriloquist”. I put that word in quotes because although the performer utilized a dummy, he wore a mask so he could freely speak while moving his lips. Of the two, only Ded Bob speaks; the “ventriloquist” remains silent and merely moves the dummy around. Bob is a humorously crude and lively skeleton that likes to playfully insult and assault (with a large mallet) audience members, assisted by his faceless “dummy” he calls Smudge.
It was a favorite. This is, Bob admits, the same material and schtick he’s been doing for over ten years. Now old and stale, it is barely amusing anymore, and a bit pathetic and painful to watch. The audience was mostly bored because even Bob seemed tired of the act, simply going through the motions.
Bob really is Ded.
Another of the best acts I recall from the old days is The Flaming Idiots, a comedic and slap stick trio of multi-talented jugglers. Who, alas, are apparently no longer with Renfest… replaced by a lame imitation of two purposely (I think) clumsy jugglers named The Other Brothers, trying to be funny-- and mostly failing miserably. It hurt to watch and I often cringed, wishing it would end soon. I only stayed because I wanted to see the next show after. Disappointing, and no substitute for the Idiots.
Ten years ago, Renfest was just beginning to create a new one of their five garden areas, called Magic Garden… which has since been finished, and is worth a look. The largest of their gardens, it encompasses a short nature trail and creek with intermittent themed alcoves along the way that have displays of foliage, statues and artistic benches.
There were many other sights and sounds to explore, but I’ve mentioned only the ones that particularly stood out to me-- good and bad. The rest I leave for you to discover. Treats like a fairy lass building a miniature Stone Henge out of Twinkies!