Well, it was a busy weekend. I know some of you experience Renaissance Faires through my reports, so strap yourselves in! It started Friday afternoon when Lucy, Jasper and I drove down to Houston. Not actually into Houston, but to the suburb of Tomball, which was the closest place we could find a hotel room within reasonable driving distance of the Renaissance Festival.
We arrived right at supper time, just as it got completely dark, and enjoyed a picnic supper in our room. To our delight, the room had not only two beds, but also a sofa with a pull-out bed, so Jasper didn’t have to sleep on the floor!
I took my computer with me for the sole purpose of being able to watch the first episode of “The Grand Tour” with the kids since it debuted on Friday. We enjoyed it!
We got to bed early because we knew we had to get up early. At least 6:30 is plenty early for us on a Saturday morning. After gulping down the hotel breakfast we changed into garb and set off for the faire. It was the coldest morning so far this season—in the 40s. Cloak weather at last! We had only been to TRF once before, and that was for a school day two years ago. We knew going on a regular day would be different, and it was.
I had bought our tickets months in advance, and also a preferred parking pass which in my opinion was worth every penny. We were directed to a prime parking spot that was very close to the gate, but even so we were still given a shuttle ride.
However, first we had a big problem to solve. As we got out of the car and started getting our garb in order, a tragedy occurred. Lucy’s black peasant blouse, which I made her several years ago, has a drawstring neckline. I had forgotten that the “string” was a length of cotton yarn which I fully intended to replace with stronger cord at some point. As she stood up and got ready to put on her waist cincher, the string snapped and her neckline became a waistline. (Fortunately she was wearing a cami underneath.) Oops!
This was a true emergency, and I would have panicked if I had not realized at once that I had a solution handy. I had brought some knitting to do at the hotel, and in my knitting bag I had a skein of black yarn and a kit of tools which included scissors and a large yarn needle. I sacrificed several yards of my good black wool yarn in order to thread a quadruple thickness through the casing with my yarn needle, which of course I had to do while Lucy was wearing it. I worked my way around until it was all the way through, and then we pulled up the yarn and adjusted it the way Lucy wanted it before I tied it off. Problem solved! And yet another excellent reason to take up knitting as a hobby: someday it might save your day and your modesty!
After that we caught our shuttle to the gate and joined the hordes of people assembled there waiting for the 9:00 opening cannon. There was some drama going on, put on by the cast, but we couldn’t see or hear it because there were SO MANY people! Then the cannon fired, the gates opened, and we joined the throng of colorfully-dressed folk who were crowding through. So many amazing costumes! We were accosted at once by people who wanted to take our pictures (for a price) but we ignored them and forged on through.
We bought a program, which is something we skimped on last time, much to our regret. On our last visit, I had introduced the kids to the group Tartanic, and they were at the top of our list for the day, so we headed off to the stage where they would be performing their first show. It was COLD. We were very grateful to have our cloaks! Many others were wearing fabulous cloaks and coats as well.
Tartanic is an acoustic instrumental band consisting of two drummers and two top-notch bagpipers. They are enthusiastic performers, especially Adrian, who is the band leader and one of the drummers. Watching him perform is like watching a visible illustration of joy.
Despite the cold temperatures, and despite the fact that they were all wearing kilts, they put on an exuberant performance. We huddled in our cloaks and enjoyed every moment.
From there we went to watch the birds of prey show, something we had missed the last time because the crowd was so huge you couldn’t get anywhere near the stage! This time we did get seats, although they were near the back. I was expecting to really love this show, but I was actually a little disappointed. It was cool, yes, but it was hard to see much of the birds unless you were really close to the front. At our local faire, the crowds are small enough that everyone can be close to the birds and the falconer, and you can get some great photos. I prefer that more intimate setting.
After the bird show, we took off to explore and to sort of look for a performer we know from our local faire. We saw many, many kilts because it was the “highland fling” weekend. We saw a storm trooper wearing a kilt.
We saw other people wearing kilts who should have made a different clothing choice. We found the place where our acquaintance performs, but he wasn’t there, so we trekked all the way back to where we started to check out a group we hadn’t heard before, called Saxon Moon. At this point I should probably point out that TRF isn’t one of those uptight faires where everything has to be “period.” This is especially true of the music. To be honest, I don’t think I heard any music at all that could be remotely classified as “medieval.” Saxon Moon used electric guitars and a modern drum set (the speakers were thinly disguised with burlap). You wouldn’t think I’d enjoy that kind of music, but I did. Two squares of decking had been removed from the stage for their show, and we soon found out why. At regular intervals, one of the guitarists pressed a pedal which sent spouts of flame up from the two holes in the deck. There was also a young man performing to the music with two merrily burning balls of fire (on chains). The combination of the music and lots of fire was very entertaining, not to mention that the heat from the fire was very welcome!
After that show we walked back to the front gate. I had been so jazzed about getting to the faire and so distracted by fixing Lucy’s garb that I had forgotten to take my insulin and other meds, and there was no way I was eating lunch until I got that taken care of. We got a shuttle back to our car and I took my meds. By that time it had warmed up to the point that I felt I could do without my cloak, so Jasper and I both left ours in the car.
When we re-entered the faire, I had to have my bag searched. I didn’t mind, since I knew I had nothing suspicious in there, but I am SO curious to know what they were looking for! We didn’t have to have our bags searched on the way in the first time!
We made a beeline for the Greek area because we all agreed we wanted Greek food for lunch. We got our (overpriced) food and then found a table where we could sit down. We should have hightailed it out of there and eaten somewhere else. There was a show going on in that area, which we had no choice but to listen to. It was vulgar and offensive and obscene. They did have a warning that it was “R” rated, but we were something of a captive audience due to our choice to eat Greek food. Instead of enjoying our lunch, we bolted it down as fast as possible and wished that we could bleach our brains! I have heard a lot of suggestive humor at renfaires, but nothing as offensive as that show was.
By then we were a little footsore (it is a BIG property!) but we trudged back to see if the performer we had looked for earlier was there. He was, but when I finally got close enough to greet him, he didn’t recognize me so I just carried on and said nothing. Introvert dilemmas! Later I messaged him on Facebook to tell him what had happened and he felt terrible! (We interact on Facebook all the time.) Oh well . . .
There were actually several performers we know who were at the faire, but we didn’t even see two acts we would have enjoyed. We did see these guys though:
They performed for several years at our local faire when they were just starting out. Now they’ve hit the big time!
When you go to the faire on a budget, you are restricted to doing free or almost free things, so it really limits your choices. We stopped for a snack and ate it while watching this lady perform:
Most of the songs she sang I had never heard, and wasn’t particularly taken with. Then, without warning, she started singing a John Denver song (The Eagle and the Hawk) and from that she launched directly into the Firefly theme song. At that point I decided I liked her.
There was a guy in front of me with the biggest drinking horn I’d ever seen, and I was trying to estimate how much ale it would hold. Then he stood up and I saw that he actually had a second drinking horn also:
Why, random man, why? Why do you need two drinking horns when you only have one mouth? Why are you wearing a Viking tunic with a Scottish kilt? So many questions! We walked on and saw a man who at first glance appeared to be completely naked. Not quite. He was wearing a leather g-string with a tiny little loincloth hanging down in front, and was accompanied by his girlfriend in matching miniscule leather underwear. Oh, if only we could have unseen that! They had to have been freezing but I had no sympathy for them.
We did not make any effort to watch the joust. The joust at TRF, as at most of the big faires, is a “theatrical” joust. In other words, it is a scripted play involving horses. After more than a decade of watching sport jousting, it’s hard for us to get excited about theatrical jousting. Sport jousting is an actual sport, where you never know what is going to happen, and that’s what makes it so much fun to watch.
We headed back for another fiery performance of Saxon Moon. Because I took a lot of photos, I looked up the band when I got home so I could tag them, and you can imagine my surprise when I found out that the drummer has the exact same name as one of Spencer’s friends!
After the Saxon Moon show, Jasper headed back to the other side of the faire to watch the glassblower. I would have liked to see that too, but my feet said forget it. Instead Lucy and I stayed where we were and people watched. There were plenty of people to watch. Many of them were inebriated. I knew that there are people who come to faires for the express purpose of getting drunk, but I didn’t realize what a large percentage it was!
Jasper returned in time to hear Tartanic again. It was another great show, completely different from the one we saw in the morning. The crowd was huge–I’d say at least 300 people. There were plenty of people in the audience who were, as they say, feeling no pain. Some of them were dancing. I, on the other hand, was feeling a lot of pain after spending the day walking or sitting on concrete benches.
After the show we hung around so I could get some photos of the kids with band members. This particular band is so friendly and they seem to genuinely enjoy meeting their fans. When we saw them for the first time two years ago, I got a great picture of the kids with Adrian. This year I got one of them with bagpiper Willie (and the other piper, Ethan, photobombing in the background):
Then Adrian came over and I got this hilarious series of photos of him and Lucy:
It was a great postscript to the day. I had thought we might stay into the evening, but as we went through the day it became clear that after about 5:00, the shows get a lot raunchier and the patrons get more and more soused. This didn’t sound like something we’d feel comfortable with, so we dragged our weary selves back to the gate and from thence to the car.
Of course, I still had to drive 200 miles to get home. Holly, my phone GPS, cleverly planned a route that made it impossible for us to stop for supper until it was 8:00 and we were almost home. By then we were ravenous!
It was a good day. I don’t know if we’ll try to go every year or not. We have so many faires that are much closer, and I truly do enjoy the smaller faires.
My tips for TRF, assuming you are looking for a relatively low-cost and family friendly experience:
*Spring for the preferred parking.
*Get there at least half an hour before opening; a full hour is better.
*Buy the $5 program which they sell inside the gate. It is well worth it, especially if there are specific acts or places you are looking for.
*Take money. Lots of money, if you can. I’ll be specific here. If you haunt the website months in advance, you might be able to get tickets for $10 apiece. Otherwise, it’s $30 at the gate. Preferred parking is under $10 in advance, and $15 at the gate. If you are planning to eat a meal, and you actually like food, you might want to budget $15 per person, especially if you want to get a soft drink or a bottle of water, both of which cost $3 or more. You will also need money for tipping performers (see below). If you plan to buy anything or do any activities that aren’t free, bring much more money. I’d say if you want to have a pretty decent day, and don’t plan on buying alcohol, you might want to have $100 per person. If you want to buy fancy boots or a hand-forged sword or something, you will need a LOT more! Most people don’t go as low-budget as we do, obviously. We got through the day on about $25 per person, and that included buying a CD.
*Go in garb if you can. It’s so much more fun. You can put together a perfectly acceptable costume by gleaning stuff from thrift stores if you’re not into sewing and can’t afford the good quality garb from online merchants.
*Pick the shows you want to watch and plan to be there at least 15 minutes early. Half an hour early if it’s a popular show and you want to have a seat. If the show says it’s R-rated, they mean it and if you’re like me you’ll make a point of staying out of earshot.
*Bring a folding seat cushion if you have back issues. At small faires, I actually carry a folding chair with me for the sake of my back, but at a big faire like this it would be too cumbersome. I really wish I had had a folding cushion in my bag though. Those concrete benches are hard!
*Bring small bills for tipping performers, and maybe enough to buy a CD if you find a group you really love. Yes, the shows are “free,” but without tips most performers could not continue doing what they do so well. This is what they do for a living, and in most cases they only get to work for two days a week. For some reason I have never understood, many Christians seem to think that tipping is somehow “unspiritual.” They might think differently if they ever had a job where tipping made up a large percentage of the income. Many times I have forgone food or a coveted souvenir in order to be able to tip performers, because I like to think I am a decent person, and I am so grateful for those who are willing to entertain me. The smaller the audience, the more generous I try to be. At smaller faires, I have sometimes been the only person in the audience, but I still get a great performance. You’d think there were a hundred of me instead of just one! In cases like that, I’ve been known to simply empty out whatever is left in my wallet (usually not much!). Okay, this has turned into a rant, but it’s an important point. I guarantee that 99% of the performers you see at a faire are not rich. That means they are playing their hearts out for love, and I think that should be rewarded. Also, you should stay long enough to greet and thank the performers. They need all the affirmation they can get.
One of the lovely wedding chapels at TRF.