Prepare thyself for merriment!
That’s what the sign says when you turn into the field where they have you park, out in front of the castle walls. Turns out, I’m always prepared for merriment. This is my favorite thing ever, the one time of the year I look forward to… all year long. I’d go every weekend if money and scheduling weren’t such an issue (mostly money), but I start planning for the next one as soon as it’s over.
As I mentioned on Friday, I had some trouble with the sword. I ended up not carrying it, nor did I bother with a cloak. Turns out, that was the far better option. We had sunny skies and 80 degrees, and the new surcoat being double-layer cotton, it was plenty warmish.
I’ve had a couple of requests to see the uniform. Apologies in advance because I tried my hand at the whole tripod / camera timer thing, and I basically dropped one of my helmets over the top simply because it looks better, but… well, I should have just passed the camera off to someone else later to snap a shot, and I didn’t. As my best friend and occasional co-blogger AlexSilverthorn told me, it’s not a bad shot. It’s just that I’m in it. :P
Yup, need to lose some weight. This is the side effect of not liking to exercise. Swordfighting is the only real exercise I get, aside from walking around Scarborough all day, because it’s anything but boring. If I’m bored, it drops by the wayside. At any rate, this should give you an idea of what the uniform is like. When I first started going to Scarborough, there was a severe lack of knightly representation there. That’s when I opted to go as a Knight Templar. I’d see a Hospitaler there, or maybe a fellow Templar, but that was about it. In the handful of years I did the Templar bit, knighthood rose considerably. Yeah, I’m going to take credit for that. All three crusader orders and a handful of others like what I did can be seen now where it used to be largely Musketeers and the Scottish. More knights is a good thing. I love seeing the knights out there. And Elves. There were Tolkien Elves everywhere this year. Interesting how trends come and go like that.
And by this photo, now you see why I didn’t bother with the armor or sword. It’s unwieldy, and it’s basically like wearing a personal oven when you live in Texas. I armor up when there’s another weapon coming at me. This is a peaceful gathering. lol
While we’re talking photos, I hardly took any this time. When I’m there, I just never think much about breaking the vibe to document everything. I’m not a photographer. I not only don’t think like that, but I’ve discovered how much I miss if I actually try to think like that. And that’s part of what aggravates me about people who think they have to photograph everything. How much of real life are you missing out on? Have you ever just tried to simply live in the moment, to simply… be? But whatever. It’s not really my problem. And I did try to take some photos. Mostly, I’m all about story. I write or I create some other kind of art. Photography is a means to an ends, not an end itself for me. It also helps that I hate having my own photo taken. Too many family members ambushing me with a camera all my life means I pretty much hate the idea. Besides, the entire point of a Renaissance festival is live performance. You’re not staring at a screen, the entertainers aren’t doing things that have been pre-scripted or edited or enhanced with special effects. It’s a moment between an artisan and an audience. That which passes between is art.
And let’s be honest here… it may be a new-ish blog site for me, but it’s hardly my first time for Scarborough. Many things to see are the same things I’ve photographed in years past, so there’s this sense of “done that” on this front. Like I say, I prefer to be engaged in the moment. Those memories last a lifetime, and they will inspire me all year long until the next festival season.
So… I thought I was prepared. Turns out a lot of things were changing this year, and I had no idea. First, they introduce the royal court outside the gates. The conceit here is that Scarborough is part of England during the reign of Henry VIII. We have a great Henry. This guy sets the tone for the whole thing. Wait, did I say “have?” I should say “had.” Things have been changing over the years anyway. Nature of the beast. A couple of years ago, Anne Boleyn disappeared, and when asked what happened to her, one of the courtiers told me, “We don’t talk about that.” Go figure. Well, this time nobody could say why Henry didn’t show up. In his stead was a new character: Princess Mary. The actress playing her was bright and exuberant, and she threw herself into the role like she’d been welcomed back into the line of succession. No problems there. Casting was a bit interesting. They opted to go the route of opera and voice acting, which is to say casting is color blind. The actress in no way resembled the historical Mary. Maybe this is a new precedent, but it threw me off because Henry looks just about pitch perfect for the role, as does our Thomas Cromwell. Here’s a photo of Henry from a couple years back, just to make my point. Even at distance, who else could it be?
So it takes some getting used to. I’m sure others had more problems with it than I. I was more trying to figure out the timeline. I can only assume we went backwards as she was addressed as “Princess Mary” rather than “Lady Mary,” and the only queen on hand was Queen Margaret of Scotland, one of our long time regulars (holding the parasol next to Henry in this photo). No problems there. It’s more a question of milieu than historical accuracy. History goes out the window before you even step through the gates. We had two Deadpools this year, one of which was Renaissance Deadpool. in years past we’ve had Jedi, steampunkers, a few time travelling Doctors… the list goes on. As Zilch the Torysteller once said, we’re a couple of green-skins away from a Star Trek convention.
More on Henry later, because I want to keep this chronological so I can keep it straight.
So after being momentarily caught off guard there, now I was prepared. Or so I thought. I had $200 squirreled away from last year just to help pad out the coffers. I kept it in one of my belt pouches. When I got there, I learned this was not so. I had considerably less than that, and would need to make a direct b-line to the ATM before I did anything else. Live performers live on tips, and I needed tip money because I refuse to be that guy that gives nothing. So once inside, I headed for the nearest ATM, which is almost centrally located. While I was there, the people in line behind me were trying to read the Elvish script on my LOTR scroll case on my belt (where I stash my program!) The lady claimed she could read Elvish, but this was gibberish, like English letters jumbled up. No… it reads “One Ring to Rule Them All.” But I held my tongue and continued to fight with the ATM machine itself. After the connection timed out a half dozen times while my friends got pretzels and chatted up my favorite harp player (more on her later), I made a mad dash to the far side of the park near the jousting arena, where the other ATM was hidden. And I mean hidden. They put it inside a tavern, and I couldn’t find it to save my life. Finally had to stop and ask directions… with a map in hand. I don’t mind asking directions if I have no map, but with a map it’s just embarrassing. And when I asked, it was just behind me, right inside the doorway. *head/desk* Thankfully, the connection worked, and money was once again in ready supply.
Next stop: hat. Without a cloak, and thus without a hood, the Texas sun would be unfriendly and cause all manner of heat distress before the afternoon was over. Lionheart Hat Shoppe was just across the street from the ATM, so I went in there. Ended up with one of those floppy-brimmed Renaissance hats in dark blue. I’ve never really liked the look (which is why I usually opt for cloaks), but I’m told it worked well. Besides which, it was rather cheap, well made, and it actually stayed on my head. We had winds of 25-30 mph kicking dirt around all over the place this year, and that hat only flew once. Before I started doing the uniform thing, I’d wear my trusty fedora. That thing would never stay on my head in these winds! So, this hat passes. My face is quite red from the sun, but my ears are unburnt, and I suffered no heat exhaustion. Hard to complain about that, you know?
Since we were there, we decided to start with the joust. Now, traditionally, we do the joust at the end. The reason being is they do 3 jousts. The first are the games of skill where the knights lance rings and such, which is what we saw this time. The second is when they do the actual jousting because the villain has pissed off the hero and picks a fight. Then that usually plays out as the villain cheating and winning, at which point the hero claims a duel to the death in the name of honor, at which point joust 3 is no-holds-barred… or as close as you get in an entertainment. Say what you will, you can’t fake being knocked off a horse at speed with a lance breaking across your body. But as I say, we opted for the first joust this time, and while not as exciting, I know enough to know this is actually harder to do. That’s why they did it back in the day.
You may notice also that since this was not the combat portion of the joust, none of these knights are wearing armor. See, my personal wardrobe choice for this is both functional and accurate! You wear armor if you know the battle is coming. Most of your real combat is going to take place behind a pub or something when you get jumped by the cohorts of the losing knight. Incidentally, the techniques of Fiore dei Liberi, which I study, are designed specifically for this eventuality, enabling a master to take out as many as four opponents in rapid succession. This is why swordfights aren’t long, drawn out affairs. Thought I’d toss that in there.
After a couple years of absence, it was good to see my favorite knight, Sir William, back in the saddle. I like this guy. He’s got this air of confident humility about him that makes chivalry come to life. And over the years, I’ve had a few conversations with him and the other knights. Helps me to appreciate what I’m seeing out there.
Our villain this time was Sir Joseph. If my understanding is correct, he’s actually the real life brother of Sir William. I’ve not seen him before, and it turns out it’s because he’s new at this, but he chewed some scenery on the field, and he actually won the tournament. I met him after the show, and he’s a really great guy. Quite shy too. He’s better with the animals than with people.
Of course, the knights need their seconds. Sir William’s second was Sir Baldur, and while he was having fun, he wasn’t having the most success out there for this run. I trust it got better for him later. That’s him on the far right.
Sir Tristan was Sir Joseph’s second. This guy was a ham. The theme he worked from was wanting to use the squires in the contests as targets. Instead of tossing the rings and lancing them, toss the squires and lance them. You get the idea. Hey, if you’re playing the villain, go for broke. That’s half the fun.
I was lucky to get this shot. My camera phone was taking small eternities to fire. This is the only shot I got of the actual games of skill:
What you’re seeing here is a swinging arm with a sandbag on one side. The idea is you hit the target with the arm on it and charge through fast enough to not get belted off your horse by the sandbag. Much harder than it sounds too.
By the time this was over, it was already lunch time. Having tried the pub thing last year and having it take forever to get served (not unlike in real life), we stuck to the concessions this year. Couldn’t have worked out better! We ended up being serenaded by the Stonehenj Players while we ate. They’re an a capella group that does folk tunes, pirate songs, and sea shanties mixed with a little comedy. They’re very good. This was my first time to hear them, and I loved it.
And they kind of set the tone for the rest of the day. I went in with essentially two goals in mind, both of them musical: Cast in Bronze, and my aforementioned favorite harpist, Sarah Marie Mullen. The rest of the time, it was pretty much “if we get to see more, great, otherwise we enjoy the vibe of the place.”
Here’s how you know I was in the right place.
I’ve seen ol’ Gandalf there for a couple of years now. Last year he was hanging outside the shop where they recently started selling Harry Potter wands (much to my everlasting delight because magic just can’t be that easy), but this year I got to talk to him briefly. Kindly gentleman, but he puts off the authoritative vibe too. My buddy told him he was late, and he fired off the obligatory response like he was born to it. “A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.” Classic. I tell you, as soon as I saw him, I was nine years old again. There’s a part of me that will forever fight that sort of thing as an adult is supposed to do, and sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. After recently completing another reading of The Lord of the Rings, it was hard not to be lost in that moment. After all, Gandalf is an old and very dear friend.
Yeah, yeah, I know… adulting. That’s how I managed to get the picture. I’d probably be a boneless puddle if I ever got to meet Sir Ian McKellan.
Next up, we saw Cast in Bronze. As I say, this was one of my goals, for reasons I’ll make clear shortly. To set this up properly, as the voiceover states before the show begins: “Imagine an instrument so rare, no one knows it exists.” Cast in Bronze features the carillon. Essentially what this is is a giant keyboard set up, but the keys are levers that require you to hit them with your fists, and the pulleys go out and ring a set of bells. The entire setup weighs around four tons. Most of these, and there aren’t many out there in the world, are in Europe, and they’re in cathedrals or museums or universities. There are two here in the states, both of them working as Cast in Bronze. The original guy operates elsewhere. Our performer is Cyrus Rua, but most don’t know that. To most, he’s simply the “Spirit of the Bells.”
I’ve enjoyed Cast in Bronze for many years, but it wasn’t until last year that I actually sat down and saw the show. One of those cases where when this plays, you can hear it at distance, and it’s, well, clear as a bell. Last year I sat down and saw this for the first time, and I became immediately enamored with the entire idea.
Something happened between last year and this year that changes everything. The guy that owns the carillons decided that he’d donate one to a museum, where it will likely never be played again… this particular carillon. Since Cast in Bronze didn’t originate with Cyrus, he’s the one that takes the hit. So this is officially the last season for Cast in Bronze at Scarborough. I feel incredibly fortunate to have heard this instrument played in my presence. That’s so impossibly rare that I can’t explain it very well. That’s reason one this was important to me.
The other is because Cyrus is extended “faire family” as far as I’m concerned. I mentioned my favorite harpist, Sarah Marie Mullen. Let me tell this story to put it into perspective. When I first heard Sarah play, it fundamentally changed me on levels that I can’t explain and kickstarted a musical journey that continues to this day. Through her, I discovered the harp, classic folk tunes, and Ren faire music. After that particular outing to Scarborough, I decided I wanted more. As in, I became obsessed as I tend to do. So I hunted through podcasts and came across The Renaissance Festival Music Podcast and Marc Gunn’s Irish and Celtic Music Podcast. Through Marc’s efforts, I discovered his music and the music of a great many other bands that have woven a tapestry like no other with me. I proudly sponsor Marc on Patreon because of it. And when I go back to Scarborough each year, I plan my visit around Sarah’s stage show. Not only have I discovered so much wealth of music because of her, I even try my hand every now and again with my own baby Celtic harp.
To draw this story together, the man behind the mask at Cast in Bronze is Sarah’s husband. I only learned that last year. So not only do I respect this guy’s musical talents as both a performer and as a songwriter, he also keeps her happy, so as I say, they’re my “faire family.” Through her, I learned that Cyrus is learning to repair cell phones now that Cast in Bronze is ending. Tell me that’s not a colossal waste. Still, a man’s gotta do… I truly hope he can get back on his feet as a musician. As I say, he’s an excellent songwriter, and he does other kinds of music as well. I must have overlooked this other CD while I was buying more Cast in Bronze albums, but Sarah had it to sell, so I picked it up from her. More on that when I get there.
Cyrus did allow me one amazing photo op though. Can you imagine playing this instrument?
After Cast in Bronze, we did some more random shopping and sitting and enjoying. I ran across our resident gypsy, Rita Callens. She does what’s known as “Hands On Hammered Dulcimer. Instead of just playing the dulcimer, she invites others to play with her, which is pretty cool. She tells them what to hit and where as a background part, then she plays the melody around it. I bought an album last year from her after listening to her play and speaking to her, and this year I immediately asked if she had any new ones on the way to see Cast in Bronze. She did, I bought, and we encountered her again after after that show, so we stopped in for a bit because we could.
Between Cast in Bronze and my second stop with Rita, we caught the Scarborough Town Council, which only happens once a day. This is one part history and one part farce. Basically it’s like any town council setup, where patrons express a grievance, and the council adjudicates accordingly.
The first issue was not enough privies for the women patrons. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say it got voted down because there are the same number of privies of women to men, and women take forever at everything, so that accounts for the line.
Then the next issue dealt with the idea that water cost too much and should be made readily available and free to all patrons who suffer in the Texas heat. The argument from the council is that water comes from God. You pay for the convenient packaging. The motion then went to abolish the packaging and provide it as a service. Cromwell showed up in the midst of this (and I didn’t get a picture of him), and said that since water comes from God, God should decide, not the council. Then he laughed as he strolled past. Meanwhile, champions were chosen. The only way for God to decide was trial by combat. The guy in red in the pic was the patron’s champion, supposedly a seaman on the King’s Mary Rose. The guy in black he’s facing is one of the courtly dukes, siding with the council.
The duke threw the fight when his opponent took his sword away from him, claiming it was foolish to endanger someone in the line of succession on something so petty, thus granting the patron’s case. Implementation would be “addressed” behind closed doors (yeah, right) at a later date. Nice little distraction, all in all, and it’s these touches that add to the atmosphere of the place.
More shopping, more relaxing, more browsing. We encountered Sarah Marie Mullen at her traditional spot on the bridge. Didn’t stay long this time, knowing we would see her stage show later. But it’s so difficult to walk away. I could listen to her play all day long.
I caught a song from a new act Songs of the Nightingale, between photo ops that you couldn’t get near because the singer is pretty much a goddess, and kids loved her costume, so they were flocking to see her. I hope they get a stage show at some point because she has amazing vocal talents, and her partner is clearly a classically trained guitarist. Flawless technique. I almost didn’t see them. They were camped outside the mermaid lagoon. I’m pretty sure she could have given any of the mermaids a run for their money, musically speaking.
We tried to make it over to see Lady Prudence Piper. She impressed me last year with her harp and vocals, but it seemed like we were on the opposite side of the park whenever she was set up to play on the bridge. I hope she gets a proper stage show too. She’s better than the occasional pub gig and bridge “picnic” setup, and she’s more than earned it by now. I also want to make it a point of seeing Cantiga next week as I’ve come to respect them, and I want to see another act that I only briefly glimpsed this time. It’s (I think) a husband and wife team calling themselves Vesperam Noriega. He plays classical Spanish guitar, and she sings. I caught them briefly, as I say, and I loved what I heard. Turns out, they’re playing on the ducimer CD I bought from Rita. Bonus! So we’ll see hopefully see all of these acts next visit, which will be Easter Sunday, in one week, weather permitting. And if I do get to go, I’ll try to take more pictures.
We missed a lot of shows, knowing that there’s no way to hit everything, and everything’s opposite everything else, so you have to go more than once. Maybe it’ll include more of the comedy and danger acts this time. I love this stuff, but it seems to have taken a back seat to the music the last few years. Still might again. Would have liked to have seen Saxon Moon this year, as they are another must-see band in my book. Thankfully I did get to see them earlier this year, and they did explain why they weren’t going to be at Scarborough. It’s not the same without them anymore.
We did get in two more shows just on account. The first was the ever-popular Tartanic.
The guy on the far right is Adrian, the leader of the group. Quite possibly the happiest, most energetic man I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s got some serious stage charisma and is easily one of the most fun people simply to talk or listen to at the faire. On stage, this group is a powerhouse of… well, I’ll just say it. It’s two drums and two bagpipes. They’re fargin’ loud. It couldn’t be otherwise. I’ve spoken with each of them over the years. They love what they do, and it shows. And they’ve all got a great sense of humor.
Tartanic is another one of those acts, much like Saxon Moon or Cast in Bronze where you can hear them across the entirety of the park, and you know it just wouldn’t be the same if they ever stopped playing Scarborough. May that never happen! Matter of fact, they’re set up across from the carillon, and the schedule is thankfully designed so they don’t play at the same time. It was a foregone conclusion we’d see their show this time (like every time), list or no list. We’re told their new CD should have been available this week, but it should be there next week. I’m hoping to pick that up.
To end the day, we went with Tartanic’s exact polar opposite in terms of instrumentation and volume, Sarah Marie Mullen, whom I’ve mentioned repeatedly in this post now, and now you know the story of why. In addition to her husband having the issues with Cast in Bronze and potentially changing careers, she got a new harp, and it got damaged in transit, so it’s in the shop. One thing after another that she and Cyrus don’t deserve, I swear. On the plus side, she should have the new harp back in action for next weekend. Here’s hoping.
I think she’s caught on how important she is to my faire experience. During the performance, she mentioned that she’s got another album in the works for those who already have them all (looking directly at me when she said it), and later on she says, “And for those who already have all my albums (in that tone like I’ve been called out in front of the class and again looking straight at me)…” and proceeds to tell us about her husband Cyrus’ album that she has available to sell. It’s more of a blues album than anything, but she felt justified in selling it since one of the songs is appropriately titled “Sarah’s Song.” And seeing as how I somehow overlooked it at his stage, I bought it from her and got a hug out of it before we parted ways. Turns out, that CD is autographed by all the band members. Pretty cool.
We left Scarborough hot, sweaty, windswept, covered in the dust of the road, exhausted out of our minds, and happy beyond words. The group of us finished the evening with quality Mexican food, and called it a night.
The drama doesn’t end, my friends. I did say there was more to tell regarding Henry VIII.
I got an email last night from my buddy. He tracked down the reason Henry didn’t preside this year. Rather than try to summarize, I feel it’s best to just post it outright so there’s no misunderstanding. He found the following post, I’m guessing somewhere on Facebook (of which I am not a part):
This was from the king if you did not see his post this morning:
“This is going to be painful for me and unpopular, but here goes.
I backed out of a show. I was not the star, the principal, or the focus, I was just there. They didn’t even have a script. Anyone could have done the role.
They claim ‘breach of contract’ over a role that is not in my contract and was not assigned to me, I volunteered.
There was no discussion or even a phone call, cowards.
Yes, I made the decision to drop out of Chess Match.
I absolutely do not deserve to be treated this shabbily.
I put in 29 years working hard for this one festival, student and teacher. I even helped create the History, Customs, & Manners classes from nothing. I took over as a mid-season replacement when the previous king quit. I did everything I could to make it a better and a more positive experience for all, but in the end, I was released without a ‘thank you’ or even a ‘goodbye’ from the management I have supported my entire career.
That being said, please do not boycott or otherwise avoid the Faire. You all love it so much. Let the management know your displeasure, but please do so with respect, remembering their dignity and yours. Have fun, for me, since I won’t be there.
My friend Paul Cantrell always said, “You can’t even see Performing Company from 100 yards up,” but from the ground, you can see them all, and they work hard to keep you entertained.
To the Performing Company: Keep on doing your best, it will be seen by all the Patrons that visit you. I love you all. Help support your Royals, because they need and deserve your love and care. Help support my wife, Susan, because this is really tough on her, being there without me.
There is so very, very much more to say, but I will leave it for now. It’s breaking my heart.
It has been my joy and pleasure to serve as King Henry VIII for 22 1/2 years, but that day is done. Peace be with you all.
Suffice to say, this breaks my heart. Apparently they let him go, and then right on the heels of that, they let his real life wife go, who played Sabine from the German royal court.
*nods* It’s harsh to think about, but in the end, this is a business, and there’s politics involved as there is in any business. Ultimately I have no dog in this fight except as a patron (thus I pay money and get no say), but Henry’s been there since the beginning for me. Performer or not, to me it was his festival. I said of some of the bands, and I’ll say it of some of the other acts, and especially of the performers of the royal court. It’s not the same without him. I’ve seen other favorite acts get unceremoniously bumped, and it’s not any easier this time. People like him really do make this experience what it is.
From what I understand, the two of them will be showing up to Sherwood Forest Festival in Austin next weekend, which is the juggernaut festival that’s causing Scarborough to sweat. I wish the best for both of them, and I’d love it if they could find a place at Sherwood, even if that is the Lionheart’s festival instead of the Tudor court. I’m sure there’s got to be something for a couple of seasoned pros who bend over backwards to give the patrons the best day ever.
In the meantime, life goes on. Scarborough’s management team may leave much to be desired, but the staff and rotating cast of performers are by and large awesome. It’s the kind of thing that makes me wish I had money enough for a season pass with all the trimmings and time enough to make it happen. On my meager lifestyle, I do my best to play Medici for a day for the handful of performers I get to see, and I make it known all around how much I appreciate them. As I say, it’s my favorite time of the year. It’s the one thing I look forward to more than any other. And it will be time and time again. So long as the show goes on, I’ll be there at every possible turn.