Friday, November 2, 2012

Texas Renaissance Festival: Lift Up Your Cares

Thirty-eight years ago, the Texas Renaissance Festival  @texrenfest opened with three stages and 15 acres near Magnolia (north of Houston). Today, the festival has exploded to 60 acres, seven themed villages, 400 shops, tasty food, live entertainment for all ages, evening fireworks, and just a jolly good time.

As you arrive at the site, you’ll notice many attendees in full costume. If your ten-year-old (or husband) just can’t bear the visit in her Hello, Kitty shirt, stop by the costume rental near the entrance. Dress code is, uh, flexible. You’ll see some folks (who should know better) in skimpy chain mail, as well as Star Wars stormtroopers and World War I uniforms. Go figure.
Bacon on a stick? Why, yes please!

While wandering through the grounds, you hear music from familiar sources (like brass ensembles) and period instruments (such as dulcimers). The aromas of roasting meat and grilled corn whet your appetite. Hawkers in nearby booths call loudly for your patronage. Costumed cast members enact vignettes tied to the weekend’s theme.

Our favorite shows (see my YouTube video for highlights):
  • Cast in Bronze: Most carillons reside in stationary perfection atop bell towers. This 4-ton behemoth is mounted on a heavily modified gooseneck trailer. You won’t hear music like this in many places.
  • The Ded Bob Sho: A snarky skeleton “dummy” and his masked companion Smuj. We missed his usual left-leaning political zingers. (Maybe he didn’t want to risk his substantial tip income in this heated election year.) Nevertheless, we always enjoy getting “Bobmotized.”
  • Arsene: This French mime makes his show out of being a poor magician and good-naturedly harassing audience members. Warning: do not show up late or fail to applaud. You might lose your shoe!
  • Royal Falconer: These beautiful birds demonstrate hunting skills (“meeses-pieces” serving as bait) and chase presenters around the stage.
Food choices include everything from turkey legs (of course) to pierogies to fried crawfish. Even at this meat-fest, vegetarians won’t starve, with choices like hummus, Greek salad, and falafel (hang out near the Greek Agora for the most options). The Brigadoon Brewery brews their Whiskey Barrel Ale right there on site. This dark and tasty brew is full of caramel flavor and very little hoppiness.
Between shows and food, browse the nearly 400 shops. Whether you fancy ethereal wind chimes, delicate jewelry, or soft leather moccasins, you’ll find something to suit your taste.
  • Unless you enjoy excessive heat and humidity, choose a weekend in late October through mid-November (Thanksgiving weekend attracts half the city of Houston).
  • You can purchase a two-day pass, but one day works just fine. To make a weekend of it (and you should), visit the wineries in nearby Montgomery, Southern Star Brewing in Conroe, and The Woodlands for more great shopping.
  • You’ll find plenty of hotels in the Magnolia and north Woodlands area; plan on a half-hour drive to the site. You can camp onsite, but expect rowdy crowds and a general lack of facilities (other than Porta Potties). Warning from personal experience: carefully minding the speed limit in Magnolia is an excellent idea.
  • Print a schedule online (or purchase a program onsite), and spend a few minutes planning your day so you don’t miss a favorite performance.
  • Purchase your tickets online so you don’t waste your time at the ticket booth queues.
  • Parking is free. “King’s Preferred” close parking costs $10 and is a wise investment in post-event walking avoidance if you arrive around lunchtime or after.
  • Make wise clothing choices based on the weekend’s weather. Only a couple of pubs feature “ice dragons” (air conditioning), and the site provides little cover (and swamp-like conditions) during rain. And did I mention that Houston mosquitoes can carry off small animals?
  • The festival runs every weekend in October and November (plus the aforementioned to-be-avoided Thanksgiving Friday).

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