The golden Sun in splendor likest
Heaven Allur’d his eye:
Thither his course he bends
Through the calm Firmament;
but up or downe
By center, or eccentric, hard to tell,
Or Longitude, where the great Luminarie
Alooff the vulgar Constellations thick,
That from his Lordly eye keep distance due,
Dispenses Light from farr;
—Paradise Lost: Book III, John Milton (1608-1674)
The Sun of Righteousness
Saturday, 9 November, 2002 8:15am
While I can scarce believe it, this morning dawned clear and only partly cloudy — and it’s not raining. Holy crap, Batman. I find out when I get to the Festival at 9:15am that the TRF is tens of THOUSANDS behind where it usually is vis a vis attendance. This does not bode well; however, perhaps we can make up some lost time this weekend.
We have a new trumpet player today, Carl. Carl is something of a Renaissance man himself — has a music degree, but owns his own construction business, and has for years. Plays a mean trumpet, though. Of course, he does the thing that all our subs have done who have the fortune to start a piece that has an indeterminate or non-existent tempo marking; e.g., we started a Marcello piece at a much more dignified (pompous) tempo than usual, and for contrast we started Scheidt’s Centone V so fast that I nearly herniated myself before it was over.
I note that the group with which we share the New Market Gazebo always has little groups of dancers buzzing around them when they perform. Oberon’s Faeries are a fairly regular fixture around the gazebo when they’re playing. We never get dancers, dammit. We did, however, have requests this morning to play a waltz. Two waltzes, in fact. I started to point out to the overdoubleted ersatz Spaniard that the waltz did not exist in 1650, but clamped my mouth shut instead. To appease his insistent demands, we just played some madrigals in 6/8 and 3 /4 — really slowly. He danced with his similarly overdone partner and there was much rejoicing. Huzzah.
Ah, the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd. At least there are people here today — and as a result, we’re playing much better than usual. As other TRF performers will tell you: it’s a thankless task to play your heart out when it’s raining like a mutha, and the most people you see in your performance area are the goth teenagers you have to run out of your gazebo when it’s performance time. (Don’t laugh–we had to do that a LOT in the last few weeks–and they usually don’t want to leave without some posturing first.) In contrast, today, we’re playing to “packed houses,” all eight little cemetery benches filled. We play, we joke, we confabulate, and everyone’s enjoying it. Of course, every fourth request for Pachebel’s damned Kanon, to which Darryl lost the trumpet parts, ergo, we can’t perform. Every now and again a member of Istanpitta drops by and requests a Tielman Susato or a Praetorius dance piece [usually Al], but we do get fairly steady requests today for rags such as the Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary or Rondeau of Morceau. Folks know these from their weddings, and we usually acquiesce, unless we’ve played it within the last 15 minutes.
As promised, I now gift the Gentle Reader with what I consider to be the Ten Most Important Things I’ve Learned About the Texas Renaissance Festival. Some of these have their genesis in personal observation; others, related to my by true TRF veterans (not to be confused with “Rennies,” see installment 2). In my opinion, they are all vastly important for once and future employees of any Renaissance festival. In true Letterman fashion, I’ll start with #10 and work my way forwards to #1.
To-wit, the list.
10. The owner of the TRF is WAY to busy to be bothered. So don’t bother him. He’s busy.
9. No matter how long you’ve been at the TRF, there are at least a dozen musicians who have been there twice as long as you have. Don’t get cocky. ASK if you have a problem or a question; chances are there’s someone within 100 feet of you who can answer any query you have. In my wanderings around the Faire this year, I have yet to speak to a musician who wasn’t helpful in some way.
8. Some people are weird and disturbing because they’re paid to be. Others are weird and disturbing because they like it. Others still are just weird and disturbing. Make it your mission to learn how to tell each of these three groups apart. You life may depend on it.
7. Just because it looks kinda like a Renaissance town does not, in fact, indicate that it IS a Renaissance town. Unlike 1635 Sussex, there are, lamentably, Federal laws prohibiting the smoking of marijuana, and if you stride down Drury Lane (or whatever the hell that main drag is called) smokin’ it up, you will be arrested and removed from the festival grounds. Handcuffed. By a sheriff. In front of your friends. In front of strangers.
6. Women with grotesquely hairy asses should not display them. It’s not aesthetically pleasing. Garb that flaunts said hirsute posteriors is not historically accurate. Regretfully for many of these women, I must also point out that it’s not sanitary. Make of that what you will, but hear me, O ye wolves.
5. BRING YOUR OWN DAMNED TANKARD. Yes, vendors at the TRF will have virtually any accoutrements that you may need or want — tankards, food, hats, costumes, swords, cloaks, and a bunch of other cool stuff. But ask yourself, “Self, is a coffee cup, no matter how cool, worth $45?” You will no doubt answer yourself, “No, self, it is NOT worth $45.” We picked up three perfectly serviceable tankards at a dollar store for a dollar. Here’s a big hint: most of the vendors at the TRF have websites of varying quality, and all of ’em sell their stuff online. As miraculous as it may seem, and as my old friend Adam Smith points out, when the demand decreases, the price goes down. By almost 50%, in some cases. Ergo, git yer shit either several months before the Fest, or immediately afterwards. Other stuff you should bring yourself besides a tankard: Soda or water or whatever you want to drink; $2.50 a hit for a 12oz. Coke is reeee-diculous. Food — $4 for a ration of desiccated dogmeat on a stick is also a bit steep. After the first few weeks, bring a book; no matter how much you love a Renaissance Festival, after 12 to 15 breaks of wandering around and seeing the same old shit, it will get old. I recommend a few of Clemen’s longer works, such as Innocents Abroad or his Autobiography, or perhaps some series novellas, such as Richard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, or the British navy books of Douglas Reeman (Alexander Kent), Alexander Pope’s Lord Ramage cycle, or my old standby, Forster’s Hornblower series. I would NOT recommend Patrick O’Connor’s Aubrey/Maturin volumes–they are REAL literature, and require a more lengthy reading-time than 45 minutes.
4. “Look, don’t lick.” This one courtesy Thea Goldsby of Istanpitta, in reference to the Xena Brigades. Remember, just because you can sit a bag of fatback on a shelf don’t make it lean meat–it’s still a flabby, greasy sack o’ adipose. Bustiers can indeed work wonders, but don’t be fooled. Besides, you don’t know where that’s been, and the ‘five second rule’ that applies to food dropped on the carpet at home does not apply to carnal relations.
3. Watch your mouth. The bloated dude in the pink dress you’re saying rude things about may be the loan officer across the desk from you next Tuesday morning. The TRF attracts all kinds — neo-goths, SCA folks, historical reenactment types, musicians, dancers, avid hobbyists, and, of course, a liberal sprinkling of bonafide freaks. You can’t always tell them apart.
2. Come prepared for every possible climatic contingency. Most RenFests are held away from the roar of the citified crowd, for obvious reasons (although the TRF is within a mile of a railroad track; on those occasions when the train comes through, whistle a-screamin’, diehards at the Festival run about howling, “The dragon! The dragon!”) Just because it’s decent weather when you leave may not have any bearing on what it’ll be like when you get there.
1. IT’S A JOB. Playing a Renaissance Festival is just like playing any other gig–show up on time, play the best you can, and remember that you’re a professional. If it’s not funny to botch a solo in Ellington’s ‘Shiny Stockings,’ and it’s not funny to miss your entrance in Brahms’ 4th, then it’s not funny to miss your entrance in a Palestrina mass, even if no one’s listening.
Thus endeth the lesson.
Sunday, 10 November 9:15am
It’s LOUD BAND time. This morning, the ensemble consists of four shawms (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), one “sackbut,” and The Rauschpfeife From Hell. I could go into great technical detail about the shawms and the rauschpfeife, but suffice to say that the sound, volume, and timbre of these early double-reeds will peel paint. We whizzed through a few 13th and 14th century pavanes and galliards before I had to leave–Jeez, what a sound. I’m hooked.
Ran into a troll during the break. There’s a whole family of them who have apparently made the common mistake of equating “Renaissance” with “Middle Earth.” However, it’s hard not to like Mama T. She stays in-character ALL the time, and usually has a bawdy word or three for patrons and performers alike. God bless you, Mama T.
Dropped by to watch/listen to Istanpitta a bit during the break. Ever notice how the last syllable of the Latin “animus” sounds a lot like the English word “moose?” Al did. At least one of Istanpitta’s audience was absolutely knocked senseless by this linguistic revelation.
I’ve met lots of interesting musicians while doing the TRF gig, and got to know some that I knew already a lot better. The players in Wolgemut (named after Michael, the woodcutter, I assume, although they say it means “Good time party feeling”) are particularly wonderful; every review I’ve read about them uses the phrase “high-energy,” and with damn good reason. I wish I could give a link for them, but every link I’ve found for them is either a “404: File not found,” or, in one case, “Datei nicht gefunden!” Don’t get me wrong–there’s a lot of CRAP to be heard here, too, and as I’ve mentioned before, I have a particular detestation for the guy who makes the teeny saxophones.
The TRF has lots of dancers, too, although I have a soft spot for Sahira, the tribal dancer (that’s “belly dancer” for the unitiated), since she actually seems to know what she’s doing and not just shakin’ the booty. However, as evidenced by the picture, the Bubbas just see the booty. Yee-haw.
Then, of course, there’s Istanpitta, whose members — Thea, Michael, and Al — I’ve gotten to know a bit better as the last 7 weeks have progressed. I now own both their CDs, and have a great respect for ANY early music group who makes an effort to play music of their chosen period with both historical accuracy without being dullards about it. As I’ve always held, a political rant set to music is the same no matter what era you’re contemplating (I’m thinking of Garrit Gallus here) and, in a similar fashion, a love song, boys-and-girls-together dance, etc., is the same as well.
And there you have the penultimate weekend; I enclose the photograph to the right for the sake of completeness. I don’t know what it is, or how it ended up on my digital camera. Kinda spooky-like.