Saturday I went to the very first day of the very first year of the Joplin Renaissance Festival.
It was in a city park that seemed like about 5 acres in size, and it was at the end of a drive all the way thru downtown and then a few miles more. From the city street that ran along its front the ground sloped gradually uphill, and at the top of the hill all of the cars were parked. It was mostly grass lawn with scattered large trees.
There were three city park structures, a raised concrete stage with a high arched roof of laminated wood beams over it and a back wall that captured just enough of the sound without making it echoey, a picnic shelter with a lower arched wood roof that also had good acoustics, and a cinderblock building that housed a pair of restrooms. All of the rest of the fair was tents and canopies, and the other designated stage areas were just places in the grass. The restroom was supplemented with a large line of portapotties
I drove in from Muskogee that morning, leaving at 7:15 and getting there at about 20 till 10. There were no signs directing to parking. I saw a bunch trucks and vans and people who were walking about garb that looked like it could be an entrance, and I turned off the by it and asked one of the people where the parking was and he said he wasn't sure and he pointed out to me another man who told me to go back and look for a gravel road that went to the top of the hill. I fimally found a turnoff onto a gravel road with cars parked to its side and I followed it until I found a space under a large oak tree. I walked back downhill and encountered no fence or anything keeping people out, and I wondered for a minute if this was going to be open admission like at Norman. But I remembered the website mentioning an admission fee. Not really wanting to stiff this fair, I looked for someone I knew who was involved with the faire to find out what exactly was going on.
The first such person I found was brotherwilliam
near the picnic shelter where a pub had been set up, and he told me no, it was not open admission, but then he told me, "You still can get in", and he reached into his basket and handed me a little blue card and said, "Here is a performer's pass". Then he pointed out to me a white wall tent and said it was the blue room and instrument storage area, and that motherpockets
would be serving lunch by that tree over there as he pointed it out.
I still didn't know if it was really right that I was able to just drive right in and asked some more about it, then William said, "There's the man to talk to about it", and showed me to the Bruce that is the owner of this faire. I told him of how I was able to drive in unimpeded, and he said, "I'm not surprised", but no that was not as intended and he said he would "look into it after he had gone to get some programs from the printer.">
Shortly thereafter I saw walking by rowangolightly
in her Queen Elizabeth garb for the first time. with her hair done up in curls that framed her crown, and an immense ruff behind her neck. She looked the part so well that the only things still reminding me of her real identity were the eyes and nose that I had seen so many times before and her voice.
Brother William also told me that there would be a brief delay in the timewarp until the singing of The Star Spangled Banner
opening a Little League tournament in the ballpark across the street was over. It came in over loudspeakers as a few of us over in the faire stood with our hands over our hearts, and it was sung in a soul/gospel music style with lots of jazzy appoggiaturas. I asked him if he remembered how shocked everybody was when José Feliciano was when he sang it that way for the first time, and we both shook out heads at how this has become the norm.
Now that I knew where to stash the harp, I started back to my car to fetch it in, and while I was up there I heard God Bless America
over the loudspeakers again and watched a helicopter land near the ball field with a returning Iraqi war veteran inside, whose speech that he gave I was only able to make out fragments of in the windy distance. I finally got back down with the harp, and found the entrance to the tent guarded by a man who insisted that I show the pass to him every time I entered
Shortly after that in the pub was this faire's big discovery for me, a pirate singing group called Musical Blades, that sang in tight clean harmony with élan and gusto and lots of funny onstage patter with each other. They were as good as the Jolly Rogers. They had been singing for two years, and they were also from the Kansas City area.
I still had not seen anyone with any printed schedules, so started just walking about seeing what I came across. I was momentarily excited when I saw a saw a big sign saying "Charlie's Chicken", but instead of a real regular Charlie's Chicken I found that they were only selling turkey legs, pork and barbecue brisket sandwiches, and other usual renfair cuisine. They offered a cup with three chicken nuggets, which were not big enough for the price they charged. It wasn't until mid-afternoon that I discovered the cluster of food places that were on the other side of the fair from most of the other structures. Among them was a place that had a big plate of fried rice that was more than I could eat, but for nine dollars.
There were maybe 50 or so vendors, and many of them had some classy merchandise. There was a preponderance of clothing stores. The only thing I bought was a scarf to put around my neck that i discovered I needed in the morning when it was still a bit nippy and windy. (By afternoon it was sunny and in the 70s.) I wonder how the recession is affecting them, since almost all of what they offer can be considered luxury items.
I was told by somebody that there would be a dance session sometime 10-ish, and I happened across it and played harp for it along with Queen's Gambit.
At about one in the afternoon I saw a cauldron of soup being served out by Motherpockets, and I noticed that everyone else being served had their own bowl, and I asked and got confirmed that i would have to have one too. She asked if I was on the cast, and I showed her the performer's pass. I figured I would have to have one for OKRF if she was going to be serving there too, so I looked around thru the vendors for a bowl but only found a place selling some arty and fragile looking porcelain ones. I want back to my van to fetch my plastic coffee cup because that would be better than nothing, and this time found that red plastic open mesh fencing had been unrolled against a line of drive-in stakes bordering the parking area. I lifted up the bottom and crawled underneath it to get to my van, then I walked back looking for a proper gate to go thru to get back inside. It turned out to be quite a walk from the tree where I had parked. They were taking money and stamping hands at it, and I got thru with the performer's pass. There still weren't any schedules.
I returned to Motherpockets, and this time a young man was serving out the soup, chicken with wide noodles. As he put a ladleful in my cup, I asked, "Do you know how much salt is in this?" He didn't know, but called back to Mother pockets who was sitting at a picnic table, and she called back, "Lots"
Upon hearing that, I asked the man to pour it out, then I walked around the pole and rope bliss rail they had set up in front of the pot and over to Motherpockets and said that I would be performing at OKRF, that I had high blood pressure and was on a salt free diet, and if she was going to be serving there, some kind of arrangement would have to be made.
She was a little flustered for words for a moment, then she finally said, "As far as we know, we just make the food for all and we don't make any special dispensations. If you want some bread, we've got it. Soup is just a high salt food. That's the way it is."
I mumbled, "It doesn't have to be that way" and just walked out and left.
If this person is whom I will have to be getting all of my chow from at OKRF, we've got a problem and it ain't in Houston. It's not simply a matter of taste, it is not a "special dispensation", it is a life and death matter for me. How much salt is she gonna be dumping into the scrambled eggs for breakfast? I'm gonna be talking with Karen about this before next weekend.
Later in the afternoon, at about two, I was returning from my van once again after shedding some layers of clothing in the increasing heat, and I was stopped by a woman who said she was the E.D. (entertainment director) of the faire. She said to me, "I have been told you have a performers pass."
I said yes and pulled it out of my purse and showed it to her. She said, "Might I ask where you got this?"
I said, "Brother William gave it to me"
Then she asked, "And what makes you a performer at this festival?"
I told her I was playing for the dances, and I performed on the harp at the Oklahoma faire.
Then she said some words I don't exactly remember about her "cast list", and how all passes were supposed to be only for people on that list. She also mentioned that she had been informed that I had gone around to Motherpockets. She was never hostile to me, but talked calmly and politely thruout. She asked me if I recognized her, she was the ED at KCRF and she remembered talking to me -- but I didn't recall right off. (Later I remembered when thebruce
had sent me to seek her out to ask permission to play at their maypole back in 2003, but that's the only distinct memory I have.)
My final words were, "All I know is what happened to me this morning", then she extended her palm toward the pass that I was still holding in my hand and said, "So I can just have that back and everything will be satisfactory." I let her have it without another word.
Now I had to get back in the tent to get my instrument for the afternoon dance show, without the pass. I told the guardsman that I had had it taken away, and he said, "Well I'll still let you back in; I recognize you.
I was out in the dance field just before we started the dancing when I saw William walking up the path, and I started walking toward him to tell him what had happened, but when I was still about twenty feet away I heard the ED's voice saying "Brother William, might I have a word with you."
Instead of continuing on toward him, I went over to the royal pavilion tent for a while instead and got into an intense rendering of Skye Boat Song
with Queen's Gambit before we all went over to the dance field.
Interspersed thruout this personal scenario were visits to familiar acts such as Queen's Gambit and The Bedlam Bards. I got to sit thru all of the Lord Mayor's Company's show (I only get to see the last 15 minutes at OKRF). Howl-O and Lord Kerridwynn were also there but I missed their shows and saw them only at Last Huzzah. At that same huzzah I saw a trio of wenches who sang bawdy songs in close Andrews Sisters style harmony, and I'm hoping to find out who they were and hear them again.
I decided to drive back to Muskogee in the evening, as motel rooms can add a lot to the effective price of admission to a day of faire. What would have brought me back a second day would have been jamming opportunities comparable to Norman or Scarborough.
It took them until the middle of the first day to straighten out a few administrative tangles, as have also seen at other start up faires (like Fayetteville two years ago), but they did a lot of things right. I was able to hear music without too much interference from Gypsy drums and crowds cheering for jousts. (There wasn't a joust at this faire, but there was a camel ride.)
The patrons were mostly in garb and coming from distant faire homes until about noon, then mundanes predominated until about three, and the paths were filled with people. The 150 or so seats at the amphitheater stage were almost filled for the Lord Mayor's Company, and the audience responded loudly to their cues. An audience of comparable size was in the pub.
All in all, I'd say this faire is off to a good start.