Huzzah! A trip to the Texas Renaissance Festival
Texas’ largest ‘con doesn’t want to admit it’s a ‘con.
I am speaking, of course, about the Texas Renaissance Festival. Started in 1974, “Ren Fest” as the slang goes, has become kind of ubiquitous for nerds who live in Texas. I don’t know if I’d put it up there with Texas barbeque or breakfast tacos, but the Ren Fest is definitely A Thing- enough that I figured I should get around to writing about it. Those of you readers who are actually in Texas have probably been at least once, and as for you readers who aren’t in Texas, that’s your own fault.
It’s actually been a couple years since I’ve made it out to the Texas Renaissance Festival. As honestly, that’s enough for me. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong, but the novelty of chewing on a turkey leg and listening to someone’s bad Captain Jack Sparrow impersonation wears off quick. Of course, there are super hardcore Rennie geeks who go every weekend, every year, camping out at the site and all, so I may be in the minority when I say that. I’ve never tried camping out at the Ren Fest, though now I’m wondering if I should give it a go. I didn’t go camping this past weekend, but maybe I’ll get ambitious in years to come.
There’s clearly a subculture here, with a hierarchy between the vendors, guests, and performers- I’m just not 100 percent sure of how it works. I still have the feeling that the chainmail guy has a lot more street cred (cobblestone cred? faire cred?) than the lady with the fingerpaint booth.
Last time I went to the Ren Fest, I came to the realization that it was really just a con. Sure, it’s outside, and it’s a little more specific than the likes of Comicpalooza or something, but the principle is the same. A bunch of nerds get together, wear funny hats, get drunk, and buy expensive merch. It’s just that instead of comic artists and writers, you have blacksmiths and weavers. Instead of back issues of Green Lantern, you buy handcrafted chainmail. Instead of cosplay, you have … cosplay.
Sure, there’s the standard array of barbarians, swashbucklers, knights, wenches, pirates, and other D&D character classes. But, on top of that, I couldn’t help but look out for more, let’s say, specific cosplay. And in my entirely non-scientific study, I saw medieval Batman, possibly medieval Harley Quinn, a kid dressed up as the 11th Doctor (his mom kinda looked like River Song, but I don’t think that was on purpose), a girl in a TARDIS corset, a girl in a Captain America dress, a handful of My Little Ponies, and at least one Assassin’s Creed Hoodie Guy. At least that last guy was kind of on topic, as there are Assassin’s Creed games set in the 16th century, but I digress.
Then again, at least the cosplayers were better than a handful of the guys who were dressing to theme. See, it was the ‘Highland Weekend,’ which means Scotsmen and kilts and such. Many were in supply- but I saw at least one dude in a straight-out Catholic schoolgirl skirt (seriously, it didn’t go past his knees), and several more wearing pants beneath their kilts. Seriously, if you’re gonna do it, do it right, dammit.
Maybe cosplay just wasn’t as big of A Thing when I was a kid, but when I first went to the Ren Fest, years and years ago, there seemed to be a heavier focus on historical accuracy. Oh sure, it was still a ridiculous mishmash of cultures and time periods, but at least people seemed to be trying. There probably were never ‘period police’ judging the cut of your cloak, but eh. Alternately, back then I didn’t know nearly as much history as I do now, so I just couldn’t tell the difference. Nowadays, the Ren Fest is catering to a wider audience, not to mention the fact that geek culture in general is dominating the entertainment industry.
Still, complain as I may, I enjoyed my visit to the Ren Fest. I caught a couple of shows; the performances can be a highlight. I say “can” be, as there’s always a spectrum. Sometimes you get a guy throwing knives and lighting whips on fire. This is cool. Other times you get someone who thinks their song is “scandalous” because it says the word “corset.” I’m not a huge fan of “Rennie” humor, mostly because I’m confident in my ability to drink more beers and sing filthier songs (helped by all those beers I drank) than some of the performers. Then again, I left just as the sun was going down, so I probably missed out on the really raunchy stuff (if it was to be had).
Falling somewhere in the middle of this spectrum was the Barbarian Bombshells, who I’m just bringing up so I have an excuse to post pictures of girls in fur bikinis.
The Barbarian Bombshells certainly get points for being, well, weird. It kind of had the tone of a burlesque act, with dick jokes and Beyonce references and stuff. It’s just that, as my friend noticed, the whole “rarh, bow down before your barbarian overlords, puny weak men!” kiiiiind of had a kinky fem-dom subtext to it. Which … may be the point, but still.
The most impressive performances, of course, are the jousts. Again, they’re not at all historically accurate, but once I got into the mindset of looking at them as professional wrestling on horses, I enjoyed myself entirely too much. I wish I had a “Gallahad 3:16” sign to wave. It also helped that the section I wound up sitting in was the “bad guy” section, so cheering for the backstabby Frenchman had a sort of transgressive fun to it. Unfortunately the Frenchman in turn got backstabbed by the Spaniard, who then tried to kill the Queen, so the King threw a knife into his neck. Huh.
So yeah. Back when I was a kid, I always said “when I have the money, I’m gonna buy a kickass Renfest outfit, and I will look totally rad!” Now that I’m older, and slightly less broke than my teenage self, I … don’t. I just can’t bring myself to drop 300 bucks on a cloak (even if it does look cool and is supposedly waterproof and some other stuff). Maybe it’d be different if I had more occasion to wear it, but eh. This said, I do have a vaguely medevialish cosplay idea in mind … I just have no earthly idea of when I’d actually wear it, if I put it together. Hm.
My wallet didn’t make it out of there entirely unscathed, however. With a little encouragement from a friend of mine, I got a little mini-barrel from Deep South Barrels. It’s a one liter oak barrel, with char on the inside. The principle is, you pour cheap booze in the top, barrel age it a few weeks, and fancy booze comes out the spigot. Should be a fun little experiment- not to mention I’m thinking about getting back into homebrewing, so this could be a neat way to make my own bourbon barrel stouts. Just, uh, a liter at a time, but hey. If it works, it’ll make my trip to the Ren Fest worth it, right?