Were all my loud, evil days
Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark tent,
Whose peace but by some angel’s wing or voice
Is seldom rent;
Then I in Heaven all the long year
Would keep, and never wander here.
— Henry Vaughan (1621-1695), The Night, from Silex Scintillans, Part II, 1655
Day 9 -1, 31 October 2003
On a lark, I opted to do my first “sleepover” at the Festival this weekend. Rather than driving out early Saturday morning, I decided it might be less hectic to make the journey out to Todd Mission Friday evening. After cramming all the necessaries into the Grand Cherokee (tent, air mattress, clothes, beer) I point the bow northwest and set all plain sail.
The drive to Plantersville at 8pm is fundamentally different than the drive at 8am.
For starters, and perhaps most obviously, it’s DARK at 8pm now that the time has changed from manufactured, false, useless daylight savings time. (See picture) And remember, boys and girls, that’s not Chicago “dark” or Houston “dark” or even suburb “dark.” It’s sticks-dark, boondocks-dark, FUCKING DARK. I can, for one of the few times since I’ve purchased it, use the highway beams on the Grand Cherokee–nay, am compelled to do so. I grew up in the woods, and I haven’t really been gifted with this particular shade of black since I ran screaming from the swamps of southern Alabama in ’82.
Following closely is the absence of (visible) law enforcement personnel. Of course, they’re not really needed, as the roadways are completely desolate, and utterly deserted save for an occasional skulking woodland creature that scuttles across the road–usually an opossum. There were three that did so on this trip, always taking the time to pause in mid-scuttle to glare at me with their feral eyes for a moment. Unsettling, that. At least they didn’t hold up a little sign, Merrie-Melodies style, that read “Hey! Does that have a hemi?” (Editor’s note: Yes, I am fully aware that this is a time-dependent bit of prose, and that in a few years no one reading this will remember the godawful Dodge pickup commercials with the white-trash rednecks worried about the engine construction of their dream-truck, but as I’ve just handily expounded the point in this italicized note, you’re safe now. SWEEEEET.)
I’m a bit nervous, to tell the truth–one hears stories about RenFest campsites, especially of the after-hours activities of the virtuous denizens. So while I’m not particularly anxious, I am mildly hesitant. I drive through the murky darkness, through Toontown, and up to the guard shack, show my performer ID, and find a place to park near the main backstage edifice, the entertainment building. From what I can gather, the entertainment building is the heart of the Festival, the offices near the front-gate entrance being the brain. The lights are still on within, and a number of campsites are already set up. I find a decent parking slot, near the building and the all-powerful bathrooms and showers, but far enough near the back of the area so that when the lights go out (Quiet Time is officially at 11pm with Lights Out starting at midnight–note how when you say those two phrases out loud you can actually hear the Capital Letters)
There is a small group of folks around the picnic tables in front of the entertainment building when I arrive, and as I step out of the Cherokee I can hear the faint strains of Blues Traveller drifting through the balmy night. I haven’t quite decided if I’m going to sleep in the back of the SUV or pitch the tent for tonight; eventually I decide to have a beer (St. Pauli Girl for this evening), walk around a bit, see what the ambience is like, and then turn in, sleeping in the back of the vehicle.
I reflect a bit as I get the evening’s sleeping quarters set up–why come out on Friday night? Why stay over at all? While it is an hour’s drive back home, it’s usually not a terrible burden to drive home, as long as I blast out of the Festival precincts by 4:45pm on Saturday afternoon. The only answer that I can finally distill is that I want to see what it’s like–or more precisely, what my RenFest colleagues are like when not “on the job.” Perhaps, like learning a language, the immersion technique will yield some interesting observations.
In fact, this first Friday night at the campground results in an enjoyable couple of hours spent talking with Preston, a drummer with Tartanic, and Stephanie, the viellest from Istanpitta, who commute together from the Dallas area every weekend. Most of the other folks present are long-time TRF musicians and actors, and have their own little groups. I, being one of the many new guys (although not hymena intacta after last year’s efforts), don’t have a group to hang out with yet. By midnight, I’m ready for Morpheus–the god, not the bald mystic)–and I head off, towel and toiletries in hand, for a shower and then bed.
I considered actually taking the digital camera into the showers to take a shot of the large-scale growths on the walls and floors, but discarded that idea when I contemplated how it would appear to others if I should be seen taking a camera into the men’s showers. Ergo, verbal description will have to suffice.
The participant’s bathroom and shower building was no doubt quite pleasant when it was new. However, mold and mildew growths now have become cultivated from a quarter to half the height of the wall in most places. I’m not particularly squeamish, but this was impressive. These are old-growth forests. These are evolved protozoans. With a microscope, I am fairly certain that I could see very small factories, schools, and municipal parks in these giant colonies of fungus–perhaps even Lutherans.
After a gingerly acquired shower and such, I meander back across the darkened landscape to the Cherokee. Despite this being All Hallow’s Eve, the campsite is virtually silent. I’m sure something’s happening somewhere–probably in Toontown–but it’s positively idyllic here. Within a few minutes, I’m packed in and snoring like a buzz saw.
Day 9, 1 November 2003
Sun through the windows and an excruciating pain in my lower back awaken me at about 6:30am. Never again will I sleep in the back of the Jeep. My 6 foot 4 inch frame just doesn’t fold like that anymore with any degree of flexibility. After a few well-chosen curses, I debouch from the vehicle, stretching mightily. The place is already hoppin’, with a number of Fest denizens in various states of dress and undress.
I can roughly divide the camp-folk into two broad, and no doubt highly inaccurate groups: (a) those, like me, who arise, perform the necessary ablutions, put on mundane clothing, eat, etc.–then change into their character’s costuming, and (b) those that awake, and are instantly in-character, right down to the last stitch. Since I’m a mere ensemble musician, I suppose I don’t have the same character identification as others might; in fact, I don’t even have a character, per se–just a costume. It just strikes me as devilishly uncomfortable for folks to already be in layers of clothing, hoop skirts, farthingales, etc., at 7am on a Saturday morning, when you know you’re going to be in that particular attire for at least 14 hours. Ladies, I’m told that corsets are exceptionally uncomfortable–not that I’m complaining, mind you, but fat Jesus, how do you stand it? Sheesh.
I putter around until around 9am, then drive over to my usual parking area, just abaft the main gate and Festival offices, and start my warmup. Darryl is already in a foul mood, and well he should be; FIVE weddings are scheduled for today, neatly filling in his every break, and then some. At least us non-trumpeters do get a bit of a break, but then again, we don’t get paid for sitting on our fat white asses, either. On second thought, nuts to Darryl, anyway!
Midway though our first set, Darryl decides to attempt to glean the attention of the hundreds of patrons who are filing past our gazebo. Editor’s note: The Newmarket Gazebo is a great place to perform, as we’re hard by the Festival entrance gates; however, few patrons actually stop at our gazebo, as they’re headed deeper into the village to seek out other stuff. This attention-getting ploy takes the form of…
- DED BOB DOESN’T REALLY TALK–HE’S A DUMMY!
- THE MUD GUYS DON’T REALLY EAT MUD!
…etc. To which I usually add “WE’RE NOT REALLY PLAYING OUR HORNS.”
The rest of the day passes in this somewhat mediocre vein. It’s gotten HOT, from the cool and foggy morning, and I’m relieved at 4:30 when our day is over.
After wandering around a bit, I retire to the campground and set up my tent and air mattress before darkness completely falls, and visit Fungusville for a post-performance shower. I’m curious to see what a Saturday night at the Festival is like. Around 8pm or so, I meet up with Stephanie, Preston, and Alex, who suggests we all attend a convocation referred to as “Gigglefest.”
That’s right. “Gigglefest.”
Gigglefest is a party of sorts that involves all males coming dressed as females and, I assume, vice versa. I wear a skirt all day, so I’m not really jazzed about the idea, despite Steph’s entreaties; I gather from his comments that Preston is of the same mindset. Additionally, I’m just plain not that cool. Being a basically bookish and boring sort who ‘wears’ a stage persona when performing, the idea of having to pretend to be a happ’nin’ dude for another three hours makes me inwardly groan, so I beg out of this. Instead, we all opt for Mexican food at a Magnolia restaurant. Preston, Steph, and I go in our “regular” clothes, but not Alex. Oh, no, not Alex. He goes in costume.
And a word about Alex. Alex is a Strumpet for Hire, one of several resident at the festival. The picture above says more than I ever could. I will only add that Alex is a great guy, extremely witty, and a entertaining dinner companion. It also bears mentioning that being present when Alex morphs from Strumpet to Alexander is a startling, disorienting experience–hearing that St. Mary-le-Bow Cockney accent turn into a good ol’ Texas twang in the space of about 2 seconds–aieee. It is also amusing to watch him in action at a Mexican restaurant (remember, he’s in costume) rattling the ice in his glass as his baritone voice booms out “AGUA, POR FAVOR!”–the waiters come running.
I’m a bit at a loose end after dinner, so I roam around the grounds a bit, just drinking in the ambience. Little groups of acquaintances here and there, a few in their cups making merry, but on the whole, a sociable, affable group of fellow-travelers. The only exception is the infamous patron’s campground, separated from the participant’s campground by a privacy fence. I am told that for a participant to visit the patron’s area is instant death–not that I’d ever wish to go, as they have the whole Shaka Zulu drum thing going, and have had it going at fortissimo since about 8pm. (In fact, when I wake at 4am to take a piss, it’s still going). By 11pm, I’m pretty trashed, and retire to the tent, where I fall asleep, gratefully, blissfully, and immediately. In short, the whole place has the atmosphere of an HBO series, slightly adjusted.
Day 10, 2 November 2003
WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT? WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?
I awake somewhat earlier than I had anticipated, thanks to the churlish flock of crows that attack the grassy area behind the campsite at 6am. I blunder around for a bit, getting my bearings, and am forcibly reminded of my location at precisely 7:29am, when the first Highland pipes peal out over the campground. Good morning, Plantersville.
While drinking my morning Irish Breakfast (thank God for Coleman), I take a turn around the entertainment building, which is a hive of activity–fairy wings, muffin hats, hose, and other accoutrements are being flung about with concentrated ferocity within, so I steer clear, instead focusing my concentration on the bulletin board outside. It has the usual stuff on it–official notices from The Management, this shop for sale, this clothing available–but then, my attention is caught by the obituary notices. There are several, on the upper right-hand corner of the board. Most are accompanied by photographs of the deceased in full RenFest regalia, broad grins on their faces, looking hale, hearty, and so obviously having a good time. Most also have testimonials from friends attached, remembering the enjoyable times now irrevocably past. I remind myself that, all gentle irony or vicious sarcasm aside, everyone really does have a story. Will I be missed as these people are when I am no more?
The sets we (The Texas Brass) play today are well-received, and we note today that by strategically placing my robust form (or Eric’s, depending on who is back there) in front of our banner, we can be “THE TEXAS BRASS,” “THE TEXAS BRAS” or (my personal favorite) “THE TEXAS ASS.” It is mentioned today that we miss the Fairies quite dearly. Last year, very occasionally, a group of fairies would bop to our few danceable tunes (Susato, Praetorius, et. al.), and while they preferred dancing to Cantiga’s stringed sounds (fickle, tasteless fairies, forsooth!) they would gift us with their presence from time to time. This year, nada, zilch, zippo. Apparently the fairies have been “banished” to a newly created fairyland somewhere deep in the Festival, and can’t come out anymore. I discovered on another TRF photo site this week that one of my favorites is, in fact, the Fairy Queen. Purcell bedamned, but I do aim high.
Instead of fairies this year, we get THIS guy. What the hell kinda trade is THAT?
By Sunday evening, I can report that I have successfully met (or at least been pointed out to) a number of FestFolk that I didn’t know before, including David the Pirate, Therese Honey, the Bard O’Neil, all of whom I am glad to know on sight now. My preliminary analysis of Festival players and musicians is actually a non-insight–take a broad cross-section of the populace, sprinkle in a leavening of historical or fantasy interest, and slap funny clothes on ’em, and pouf! It’s a festival campground. You’ll have about the same number of statistical outliers at the Festival as you have in real life, in virtual every direction you could have in real life.
Two Shakespearian quotes round this off nicely, methinks:
We are such stuff As dreams are made on and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.
from The Tempest
All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts–
from As You Like It
Closing word: I notice five days later that an unopened can of Coke I put on my pedestrian catcher on Friday night is still there. I am going to leave it to see how long it takes to get slung off.