So I was in the news again. Not because I robbed a bank or anything, although I am wearing a mask that hides most of my face. A photographer happened to catch me and my violin in the company of a pirate. Sword-shopping, if you want to know.
It’s Dragonfest 2021 recap time, everyone.
So as you already know if you’re a regular around here, Dragonfest is one of my favorite Renaissance festivals. I’ve watched it grow from its very first season in a parking lot to the sprawling chaos it is now. I was devastated when Dragonfest 2020 had to be postponed for Ye Olde Plague. But this year was perfect–new location, not a drop of rain, two days instead of one, and everyone who had been cooped up practically exploding with energy because we got to see each other again.
And, of course, watch our favorite sport, where two grown men on horseback try to poke each other to the ground with a stick.
It’s not every day you get to hear one of the Knights of Mayhem bellow “Do you want to see some bloodshed?” and have the whole crowd scream yes at the top of their lungs.
Just so you know, I had a really hard time finishing this post because everything was so awesome how do I cut anything out, so you should settle into your nest of cushions for a long one. And it’s super chaotic because even though Dragonfest is small, well, I tried to tell someone where the D20 keyrings were and gave up, pointing up the hill and saying “I don’t know. I’ve lost all sense of direction.” Renaissance festivals are like a little tent city without any real order to their lanes and alleyways. Or at least that’s how I made it feel, even though ours wasn’t that big, going at it in little pieces, trying to make it feel endless, make it last forever until I was so successful I almost missed the rock booth entirely–
Okay. Enough preview. This year, from the top.
So Violin and I got to the new location on the morning of the 30th. Said hi to the organizer, who was, per usual, running in six different directions (and seemed to be talking to himself thanks to a new earpiece). Found a place to stash my stuff with the Raven Wing troupe. Greeted Her Majesty Queen E. And then I still had a few minutes before the faire officially opened, so I started playing.
It’s a weird feeling, the first notes of the faire. By the end of the day, when we’re all laughing and tired, it feels like I can do anything. But there’s always that first push, when my whole chest is full of butterflies and I wonder if all the notes will fly straight out of my head. I get so focused on sounding good for concert settings, sometimes I forget how to relax and just breathe.
Anyway, there I was warming up, and this photographer runs up and says “Don’t move.”
I am slightly confused. He goes into that Master Photographer crouch in front of me, explaining that the tree behind me is changing colors and matched the orange of my dress exactly.
Artist people are so fun to watch when they get excited. It was a good way to start the morning.
The photo that wound up in the news came later in the afternoon. I’m getting used to that kind of thing when I’m in costume, so I didn’t think much about it, but my pirate friend isn’t as fond of having her picture taken. But somewhere on the internet, there’s a picture floating around of the two of us mock fencing, me with my bow and her with her sword…which is the thing I beg my little students not to do with their bows…but I’m an adult…I know how to be careful…yes, I know I’m a bad example.
It wasn’t until after the photographer had wandered off that my pirate goes “Why did we give our real names?”
I stood there, dumbstruck. We could have said we were anyone we wanted, and the reporter would have printed it.
It’s a normal thing at faires, not to use your real name. I’ve never had an alias that stuck besides “the Fiddler,” but I really, really want one. Some of my friends have two or three and change what character they play to match.
Which means I still have no idea what some of their “real names” are because we were introduced once and the rest of the time has been in character.
I should mention that this wasn’t an official Order event with my mercenary steel fighting buddies because they were busy resting up and getting ready for a big event…but about half of them showed up anyway. Mostly disguised as fabulous pirates. One didn’t recognize me until I started playing “Rains of Castamere,”–I was providing “boss music” for the LARP roleplayers who were happily pummeling our younger patrons with foam swords–and my Order acquaintance came running over to poke me.
The exception to this was m’lady Fleur, one of the chief members of the Order and seen throughout the day running across the fields (in a hoopskirt no less), waiting on the queen, making everyone feel entertained and comfortable, and causing general havoc wherever she went.
Playing for the faires is fun. But playing for the faires and doing it with Fleur? That’s another thing altogether. She talks fast and I don’t talk at all if I can help it, so it’s great fun to shadow her and be my usual mischievous self with whatever happens next. The first day we met at an event, she started speaking French and I dropped into German and we carried on a conversation all the way up the path into a convention building.
So when Fleur suggested doing a little quest for visitors, you know I said yes almost before we knew what we were up to.
For those unfamiliar with Renaissance festivals, the “quest” challenge works like this. You visit one of the players or vendors, and they ask you to go solve a riddle or talk to someone else, based only on their description. It’s a little like a side quest in a video game. I played one where a friend and I had to go find a plague doctor…of which there happened to be several present and we hadn’t a clue which was the right one. Of course that means we walked up to a random stranger and asked them cryptically about a quest…which is embarrassing, but that’s part of the point. Quests make you part of the world, and they make you go meet and mingle with the crowd instead of just browsing the vendors’ shops. It’s the whole point of the faire, to let go, to have fun, to be a little crazy.
But sending people on a quest? That I’d never done before, and I was more than eager to try.
Our game was simple. Fleur would send people my way and say if they could guess the fiddler’s tune, I’d give them a token, which they’d bring back to her for a prize. In this case, candy, because Halloween and also it wasn’t like we’d put a lot of planning into this.
Sounds great, right?
There happened to be one little troll (I use the term fondly, as in He Who Dares to Troll Me), one of Queen E.’s guards, I think, who happened to overhear our plotting. And he thought it would be funny (because it was) to pretend he couldn’t guess a single one and name a completely wrong song every time he heard me play. I caught on pretty quick, but…then he said “Thunderstruck,” and…
I’m a diehard 2CELLOS fan. I have been plotting, actually at the request of two young faire patrons, premiering their version of “Thunderstruck” at Dragonfest.
As in two years of plotting because of the cancellation.
So when the little troll said it, I gave him a look and heard the wicked little voice in my head say Go on. This is it.
Once in a while, people stop to listen when I play. Sometimes parents dancing with their little kids, little knots of people on their way to something else.
I have never had a crowd like I did then. Like, really. I’m not even sure where they all came from. It was just after the joust, so probably they drifted up from there, but as focused as I was on what my fingers were doing it was like half a dozen people materialized and encircled me like they’d been blown there on the wind.
It was enough to make me nervous, like I was onstage again. I don’t know where the troll got off to. But I played. I’m not sure I breathed, but I played.
Time does funny things when you’re a musician. It probably took me less than a minute to get through the verse and chorus, but it felt so much longer because I felt every note, wanted each one to ring clear, to be beautiful, because it was finally here, finally out in the air.
And then it was over and I was curtsying and hiding under my hat a little because I still don’t know how to accept applause well and Lady Kiki ran out of her jewelry booth (I’m actually pretty sure she did materialize at my elbow) to gush over the 2CELLOS before darting back to business, and I was laughing.
The troll didn’t know what a gift he gave me.
And yes, I’m pretty sure he still teased me after that.
I played that piece at least one more time, as the Knights of Mayhem were entering the tilting field. It’s become a tradition that someone in the crowd starts chanting “We Will Rock You” before at least one joust. You need some kind of fanfare for what’s about to happen.
I was lucky enough, since I know Her Majesty and a few of the courtiers from previous faires, to sneak into her pavilion and watch the jousts from there. Everyone wants to see the jousts, so the benches were always packed. I had a good view and people to chat with, and nobody much minded I planted myself there.
I probably rubbed this in a little more than I should have when I parked some patron friends at the end of one bleacher and they asked where I was going.
Cue me grinning like the little imp I really am. I had the best view.
Argh, I’m sure there are so many other things I’m forgetting to mention. Playing for the Goblin King and Faerie Queen (they gave me a lovely green peacock feather. It’s one of the things you can’t help collecting if you stick around faires long enough, peacock feathers). The pet-a-unicorn booth. Wandering into the booth that had “cursed amulets” on their sign as an accepted form of payment (and glow-in-the-dark necklaces, seriously, could you be cooler?), so many things! And that’s only the first day of the faire!
But I want to keep this post a readable length, so it’s best I stop gushing here for now.
And in case you’ve caught on to me and are wondering why the festival was in October and I’m only getting around to publishing this in February…
Yes. I’m aware it’s embarrassing. Remember that part at the beginning when I said this post was chaotic? Fun fact! Chaotic little me is trying to get a diploma this May, and sometimes it’s hard just keeping my head above water. I’m at least good at pretending to be organized, but when it’s violin competitions and recordings and exit exams and my last solo recital blaaargh what am I doing, my chaos bubbles up.
When it’s a choice between write the blog post and run for the hills and climb a tree, I won’t lie. Sometimes the tree wins.
In the meantime, stay tuned for Part II of my Dragonfest adventures–I have more music and mischief coming.