The Renaissance Diaries (2002) – Installment 5

Some men there be which like my method well
And much commend the strangeness of my vein;
Some say I have a passing pleasing strain;
Some say that in my humour I excel;
Some, who not kindly relish my conceit,
They say, as poets do, I use to feign,
And in bare words paint out my passion’s pain.
Thus sundry men their sundry words repeat;

–from Idea, Michael Drayton, 1563-1631

That storm’s tyrannous rage
Heaven laughs to see us languish thus.
(with apologies to John Donne)

Wednesday, 30 October, 2002 6:00pm

Cactus Music "main stage"

Cactus Music “main stage”

The Texas Brass (Renaissance Brigade), has been scheduled to do what is referred to as a “promo” at Cactus Music on Shepard Avenue, just south of Westheimer this evening. This translates into the quintet, in Renaissance costume, squeezing onto their minuscule “stage” originally meant for a couple of folksy guitar players and playing for thirty minutes, from 6:30pm until 7. We all arrive, change into our costumes, one by one, in their employee restroom (which is reminiscent of an interstate gas station public toilet mated unnaturally with a broom closet) and take the stage. Eddie falls off the stage once, and knocks over their little easel with the Performance Stage Schedule three times. It’s not Eddie’s fault; the stage is just teeny.

While we’re tuning up, the store sound system is blaring what is apparently a Nirvana greatest hits album. I recognize “About a Girl” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” during our preparations. Finally, we start playing. There are about 10 people in the store besides us, and this counts employees and the Official Texas Renaissance Festival Public Relations Representative.

Other than poor Eddie’s acrobatics and Darryl starting Bach’s Little Fugue in the wrong key (oops!) because we have two versions of it in the book, the petite engagement goes off fine, and the few people that are there to listen are appreciative. However, I cannot help but wonder: Why Cactus Records? Judging from its interior décor, it seems to be your typical teenager-hangout record store. Mine is not to reason why, mine is just to play and fly.

Saturday, 2 November 2002 8:40am

I swear to God, I considered this week’s installment to simply be “Read last week’s entry and take out the funny bits,” but since that would indicate that someone actually was (a) reading this, and (b) found anything in last week’s entry humorous, I decided against that avenue of attack. (Ed. note: This week’s installment is pretty bland.)

Yes, as you may have guessed already, after the weather forecast for the entire week promised (PROMISED!) a wonderful, beautifully autumnal day for Saturday, I note on my way to the Fest that it’s grey, overcast, and somewhat atmospherically foreboding. Not raining, though, at least. Just shitty. What a consolation. I know, I sound petulant. I am petulant.

As per my usual (what a stupid clichè — why do people even employ “as per?” in English usage, anyway? I’m sure I don’t know, as per my usual) I stop at Shipley’s Do-Nuts on Kuykendahl just before the left turn onto Kuykendahl-Huffsmith for my breakfast. This brings me to three utterly disparate and unrelated issues I must raise.

Eine Kleine Kolache

Eine Kleine Kolache

  1. Kolaches. Before I moved to Houston, I had never had a kolache, nor was I aware of their existence. Basing my deductions on experience rather than dictionary definitions, apparently a “kolache” is any foodstuff which consists of a filling of some sort with a pasty yeast roll wrapped around it. When first Kolache and I made our acquaintance, I was mesmerized. How convenient! A breakfast food that was filling, easy to eat while driving, and not loaded with processed sugar. Okay, so they’re loaded with animal lard. I developed a fixation on Kolache. I could pick up a ham-n-cheese and spicy sausage with an orange juice, and nosh ’em down while driving to work. I didn’t visit the Do-Nut shoppe EVERY morning, of course, but I did manage to leave for work early enough at least once a week to satisfy my addiction. Then I got laid off. Do-Nuts became No-Nuts.Much to my sparkle-eyed, lowbrow, gastronomic glee, I discovered this particular Shipley’s Do-Nut joint right on the way to the Renaissance festival! Consequently, I have feasted on two kolaches every single morning of the fair. To date, this totals twenty kolaches — ten spicy-sausage-and-cheese, and ten ham-and-cheese.I discovered this morning that my year-long love affair with Kolache has come to an ignominious end. I strode manfully into the Do-Nut shoppe, ordered my two kolaches (and an orange juice), got back in the Grand Cherokee for the long pull out to Plantersville and discovered after my first bite that I can no longer abide the presence of a kolache in the same county — I find their very appearance repellent now. I tossed ’em out the window and grumpily slurped my orange juice.



  2. Shipley’s Do-Nuts. Why the fuck are they “Do-Nuts” at Shipley’s? Not “doughnuts” or “donuts,” but always, always, “Do-Nuts?” In making a billboard, “do-nuts” would certainly take less ink than “doughnuts” but a bit more than “donuts,” so fiduciary advantage surely must not be the issue. Perhaps a marketing ploy — by spelling doughnut different than anyone else, some marketing wog surmised that’s you’d remember them. Maybe I could spell my name differently and people would remember me, but I doubt it, even if I do have a spicy sausage. Incidentally, if you’re interested, you can be the very first person to write a review of the Shipley’s in Little Rock, AR.
  3. Houston’s binomial roadway nomenclature. Will SOMEONE please explain the deal with Houston area street names to me? I understand the premise: a road that starts in a village called “Spring” and goes to a village named “Cypresswood” gets tagged with the unwieldy name of “Spring-Cypress.” Why not “Spring-Cypresswood”? And where the hell is “Huffsmith”? There must be five roads with “Huffsmith” in their names, but I can’t find any damned “Huffsmith” on the maps. At least I understand the “FM” stuff now (that’s “Farm to Market” for you non-Texans out there — lots of roads are “FM2620” or “FM1488” or some such. I guess just having state roads and county roads wasn’t GOOD enough for Texas. It still seems silly that a farm-to-market road happens to be one of the main drags in northwest Houston (FM1960), populated by restaurants, strip malls, shopping centers and Super Wal-Marts. Nary a cow, farm, or tractor to be seen. Damned misleading.


After I hawk out my half-chewed and newly-unloved kolache bit and hurl the remains out the window, I make the rest of the now-familiar trek to Grimes county. Surprisingly, the rain seems to be holding off, and every now and again I can see a few shafts of sunlight permeating the murk. By the time I get parked, unpacked, and warmed up, there are even a few silver-limned clouds and a stunning display of crepuscular rays. It’s cool, a light breeze, and I?m starting to get optimistic.


First set went off well; it’s the usual gang of idiots today, no subs — Darryl, Eddie, Eric, Karen, and me. We started easy, as it’s in the upper 50s and our horns are cold. As Eddie phrases it, “Our horns are so cold we’re playing in tune!” I put Big Bertha in the Jeep and decide to stroll around a bit, as I’m in the market for a cloak of some sort. The folks at the front desk of the festival are excited, as we’ve already admitted over 6000 souls, and it’s only 11am.

However, as I turn the corner headed towards the House of Dra (a clothing shop) the first spatters of rain slam into my spectacles. By 11:30, it’s a steady, soaking rain. To use the usual TRF word (which I am coming to hate), “Huzzah.”


Almost done with our shortened noon set. Oddly enough, we’re getting quite a few of what Darryl refers to as “pity tips” today. “Oh, look at the poor brass players, all wet and cold. Give ’em a dollar, Bubba.” Additionally, we’re doing fairly briskly with CD sales. Apparently the weather was just good enough to lure a pretty fair number of patrons out to BF, Egypt, and now that they’re here, they’re by-God going to have a good time. We’re just kind of mechanically plowing through the book, and while there’s no one to hear me do it, I finally knock the guts out of that lick in Scheidt’s Centone V, both times. Of course, given our massive audience, it’s rather like wetting your pants whilst wearing a dark suit — it gives you a nice, warm feeling, but nobody notices.


During the lunch break, I made my usual visit to the Mockingbird Gazebo to have a listen to Istanpitta. I make the appropriate gestures regarding their empty benches, and sit and listen until the water soaks through my tights. Evidently, I always make my visits at the same time, because I keep hearing the same five pieces over and over again. I must re-align my schedule so I can hear something different.

Hey, nice hare

Hey, nice hare

Thea, the vielle player/vocalist, is wearing a green gown today with rabbits all over it. I know there’s a clever remark I could make about this, somehow, but I can’t seem to ascertain what it is. I spend the remainder of the break trying to come up with some linguistic adroitness, but to no avail. Rabbit, hare, bunny, cottontail, lepus, kuniklo, lapin de clapier, ,, even — gotta be SOME wordplay that I can use. But, I draw a blank. I hate feeling like I missed an opportunity to seem more intelligent than I am. Rats. I discover later that there are two “special bunnies” on the back of the gown, near the hemline, but since I can’t figure out a way to view the rear view of Ms. Goldsby without appearing to be a ravening pervert, the Diva Bunnies go unobserved.


Day over, tips divided. Amazingly, we had our best day ever tipwise. Go figger. Best part: the weather tomorrow is supposed to be even worse. “Huzzah.”

Sunday, 3 November 2002 7:45am

Renaissance shawms

Renaissance shawms

Early start today. Al Cofrin, the lute/oud/bagpiper from Istanpitta has a “loud band” gathering on Sunday mornings at 9:30, on the Last Supper stage. The “loud band” consists of, as you may have guessed, loud things. Sackbuts, shawms, and I would assume rackets, dulcians, and other instruments if they were available. I am childishly excited about playing with them — despite my lifelong affinity for medieval music, I’ve never had the chance to perform with “real” medieval instruments. After tromping around in the rain and rather deep mud for about 15 minutes looking for a familiar face, Al shows up, and by the time I have to leave for my own 10am set, I had managed to squeeze in three short pavanes and a galliard with the groups, which today consisted of a alto, tenor, and bass shawm, and me with my bass trombone becoming an ersatz sackbut. I know it’s an acquired taste, but I am mesmerized by the shawm’s timbre. Not its tuning, of course, but the sheer wall of sound the damn thing generates. And that shattering triangle-wave timbre simply barrels across the open space bellowing its full-throated challege to all comers. “I’m a shawm, you spineless pussies — back off or I will break you!” I hated to leave, but duty called. Susato and Praetorious seem so bland and colorless after playing wid de LOUD BAND.

‘Course, I couldn’t play in tune now if my life depended on it.


The weather gets increasingly worse. Not only is it raining steadily, but today the wind tends to gust, and it’s about 55 degrees. Too bad we don’t have a “Miserere” in the Texas Brass book. Remember back in episode two, when the kid came to substitute for Karen, and brought his girlfriend? Well, Karen’s out again today, and guess who’s her sub? His girlfriend is dressed completely in blue plastic today, including a cute li’l hood that is tied tightly around her head so that only her face is visible. She looks like a dour and somewhat constipated Smurfette ™, but she’s a dedicated girlfriend and helpmeet. She sits on the little brickwork tree-border next to the stage under her umbrella, sheathed in her protective rain-condom, and stoically waits for her feller to finish playing. Every so often, he’ll catch her eye, and she’ll smile a wan and long-suffering smirk back at him. We have decided that they get the “Whattatrooper” award.


The day plods along. We sight-read stuff during the noon set; no audience, but a few pity-tips. My friend-without-a-name who works the front desk informs me that this is a three-poo day, and I agree with her. The mud isn’t as deep as last week, but it’s slipperier.

Eduardo again, in case you forgot

Eduardo again, in case you forgot

Eddie and I sit on the tailgate of the Jeep and talk composition during the 12:30 — 1:30 break; despite he and I having followed completely different paths and writing music that is completely different, we’ve both followed the same kinds of paths to get where we are. We’re both versed in serial techniques, but only use bits and pieces of them to write our own music. We have read many of the same books, and have independently reached some of the same conclusions. It’s been years since I just sat and talked with someone about the art of composition (and it’s not really an art, of course — it’s a craft, like Hindemith said), and it feels good to talk shop.

In the middle of our conversation, a fellow RenFaire employee clambers into her 2-wheel drive Blazer–and promptly gets stuck. Eduardo and I wade through the muck, get in front of her truck, and push ‘er out. She is profuse in her thanks. I’m just glad she didn’t hurl gobbets of muck onto our sodden bodies, a la “Meet the Parents.”


We’re almost done with our final set. Darryl gets a wild hair. We start playing Texas Brass stuff. The real Texas Brass stuff. Including a wild improvisatory jazz solo by Eddie in the middle of Pilska Polka. I keep glancing over my shoulder, expecting to be hauled off to the dungeon by the legendary, and perhaps mythical plainclothes Renny police I’ve heard about, but the crowd loves it, and we don’t attract any attention to ourselves, somehow.

Later, I go to the Mockingbird gazebo to catch ‘pitta’s last show. Al is apparently affected by the same virus that got Darryl; in the middle of one of their medieval dance numbers, I notice him improvising 9th and 11th chords on his lute. Ye Olde Blue Notes. I respond with a hearty “Liberum Avium!” If I had been in possession of a Bic lighter, I would have waved it slowly to and fro. Best part: they understood the joke. You know you’re in excellent company when you can make a stupid-ass joke, in Latin, and more than one person gets it. As I am fond of saying, “Si hoc legere scis nimium eruditionis habes.”

A non-Terpsichorean porkchop

A non-Terpsichorean porkchop

And, since I’ve never heard their 4:30 set before, I get to hear the famous Dancing Pork Chop number (actually one of 427 Cantigas de Santa Maria).

So, while not a particularly rewarding weekend, not a particularly devastating one, either. I think I’m getting some kind of RenFaire callous; things which elicited a “wow” or “yuk” from me 5 weeks ago now are lucky to get even a second glance and a yawn. Everything has been attenuated, somehow — it’s not that I am jaded, yet, but I’m not eager to go running around the Festival anymore. In short, the whole thing has been Prozac-ed, to verbify. I started bringing books to read during the breaks two weeks ago, and I actually sit and read ’em for the most part now. I’ve went from “everything old is new again” to “everything old is, well, old” in 5 short weeks.

Next week: The Ten Most Valuable Things I’ve Learned About the TRF.