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Dragonfest 2022

Fairies, bards, bags of buttons, mushroom hats and turkey legs–

She’s back from the Renaissance faire, with pocketfuls of trinkets and stories to share!

Yes, this has taken me almost a month to publish. NaNoWriMo22 has been stealing all my braincells and I had a few internet crashes that deleted parts of the drafted post from WordPress.

(devastated bookmarkedone noises)

And the usual struggle with my cryptid-stole-the-trail-camera blurry photo quality.

Or, y’know, we could just say good things come to those that wait and that this is such a brilliant post it required that much time and attention.

Let’s go with that.

A brief explanation of Renaissance festival recaps for the uninitiated:

  • bookmarkedone, among other unexpected odd jobs, works at Renaissance festivals. It is as fun as it sounds.
  • She’s a bard. Violin. Celtic, fiddle, classical, and anything else the situation calls for. It calls for a lot you wouldn’t expect.
  • Yes, she could just stay on the classical stage and be a “good violinist…” but it’s so much more fun to run away to the realm of folk musicians for a day and be ridiculously OP.
  • There will be no photos of said bard in character/costume because of modern technology restrictions at work (and because of the blurry “the cryptid realized it was on camera” quality of every picture I take. To the dandelion puff with six-foot scepter who got a good photo of us together…I’m a smidge jealous).
  • Because there are scandalously few renfaire blogs/almost nobody who writes about what it’s like to actually work at these events, you’re about to read the perspective from the inside…which is very different from being a casual patron.
  • …we do these recaps every year, so I don’t really remember what else I’m supposed to say here. If stuff doesn’t make sense, hey! Go read the recaps from the last couple of seasons. We skewer pumpkins and cheer for bloodshed. Great fun.

Having apologized to our regular readers for the delay, we now return to recounting the adventure.

By the time I got there on Saturday, there was already a line.

No.

Not a line. There was a chain of people from the ticket booth through the little cut in the trees leading to the parking field, into the field itself and down a couple rows of cars.

It was long. Like a city block long. And I was getting there shortly after 10:00 a.m. The faire didn’t even open until ten.

I didn’t have time to stop and stare because I was in a hurry to get inside, but as I was hiking across the field, I did gawk.

I can remember the days when Dragonfest was a handful of tents in a parking lot. This was–a lot. I don’t have an official tally because no one bothered to tell me, but I’ve never seen this many people there.

And of course every one of them was going to hate me a little bit for slipping past without a ticket.

Normally I gloat about this (to my friends. Not to strangers. I’m not that rude). Violin gets me in places as I please. Concert halls. Renaissance faires. Museum fundraisers. No lines.

But that day…

They had these little wood stakes with cord at about waist height to keep people in the line, and after I was finally close enough to actually see the frazzled clerks in the ticket booth–

I realized I was on the wrong side of the line.

I’d hiked the whole way, chin up, consciously not looking to see if people were giving me the “doesn’t that girl know she has to wait in line like everyone else” looks, only to realize the entrance was on the left of the wall of people and I was on the right.

So I did the only sensible thing there was to do.

I ducked under the rope and stole into the faire I work at.

In front of about a hundred people.

Right.

So because I was only too aware everyone was watching me (it’s not like they had anything better to do; grass doesn’t grow fast in October and there was no paint to dry)

and I didn’t want everyone either

  1. to hate me for apparently stealing my admission or
  2. to go “well, she got away with it,” and follow me like a horde of too many petulant ducks–

I found someone taking tickets and waited until he had a breath so it was clear I wasn’t the miscreant everyone absolutely thought I was.

I know what you’re thinking at this point. “Why is she spending this long talking about the line?”

Because the character you’re about to meet pretty much made my faire experience this year, and I’m not skipping him.

Besides. It was an impressive line.

So there’s sort of a tradition among some ticket-takers at faires.

It’s the tradition of The Troll.

You’re here for the experience, right? Ordinary people don’t go to renfaires. Or if they do, they’re not ordinary by the time they leave. You’re here to have some fun. And we who work at the faire are going to give it to you–so why not make something boring (here’s your wristband, here’s your change, next), well, let’s say unexpectedly amusing.

Where do you meet trolls in fairytales, kiddos? Trying to cross a bridge. Gotta pay your toll. So if you meet “a troll” at the gates to renfaire?

Oh, darling.

I knew a lady once who said she’d make kids swordfight with her (they were blunt practice swords, not real blades, I repeat, we are not handing children real steel) before they could go through the gate. Sometimes it’s just banter, they’ll tease you a little, chat about your costumes, tell jokes, be a little mean, pretend they won’t let you in until you answer a question or a riddle–if you’re in the mood for it, gate trolls can be great fun.

The catch?

You never know if there’s going to be one or not.

Up I walk, violin case on my back, to this gentleman in a hat with Dragonfest buttons,

and as politely as possible, I say, “I just want to let you know, I’m not sneaking in. I work here.”

Important note. They don’t brief the crew on who’s cast and who isn’t. Most of us don’t know each other before we meet there, on the grounds, that day. Oh, we fall together naturally enough, look after each other like family, but this clerk has no way of knowing I am what I say…and come to think of it, I have zilch way to prove it.

He looks at me, back at the ticket-counting he’s doing, then at me again.

And this is when I find out he’s The Troll.

“Do I believe that?” he says.

I stop. I think he’s serious. I’m just about to worry, when he says, “You know, I think I do.”

That’s it. Troll likes you, in you go.

I’m laughing by now, and I promise to come back to play him a tune later as my proof of employment. And since he’s a lovely person, he agreed to tell me a story, as a trade.

I love renfaire.

Argh. I put off writing this post for so long.

Because I have to decide what stories not to include or write such a huge post I can’t even muster the strength to proofread and finish it.

So much stuff happened.

You know I’m a writer, so I’ve honed my skills, paying attention to everything, remembering the details until I get a chance to write them down. But everything happened so much at Dragonfest that I started to feel like I was on a carousel, whirling around and around, the faces of people I met blurring together until I was left sitting on a porch swing clutching a pink rock and wondering where I’d gotten it.

The answer, by the way, is that a fabulous mushroom hat girl gave it to me. She asked if I’d like a token and offered me the rock or my choice from a bag of buttons. She wasn’t crew; she was just someone who wanted to share and be part of the fun. I played her a jig in trade, and she danced so the charms on her hat clinked together in the very best way.

And nearly stepped on her phone before a friend yoinked it almost out from under her heel and narrowly averted disaster, but that’s not the point.

She was actually one of two people I met like that at the faire. The other was a younger girl, probably the MG book author’s dream audience. She’d made what she called “spells,” and told us all about them–potion for strength, fairy dust–I can’t recall the others now, but she had a name and a gift for each.

Guys. Guys, this girl gave me fairy dust.

She was very serious about the whole thing, and so I reacted with proper respect. After she gave me the tiny bottle, she said, with utmost solemnity, that she’d only offered to give me fairy dust because I was very talented.

GUYS.

So, anyway, that girl is kind of my hero, and I’m keeping the fairy dust because it’s the coolest and I love it and yes, none of you stand a chance against me anymore.

You don’t say “Are we there yet?” at the faire. Munching your turkey leg, sticky and dusty and sweaty, pockets full of treasure, you say “When is the joust?”

It’s not like I have a watch. I don’t need one. When it’s time for the joust, the grounds empty to fill the stands, sit on the grass, perch on hay bales, crowd around too close to the tilting field and get cheerfully told off for entering “the blood zone.”

But there’s also that weird between-time while everyone is settling into seats and waiting for the knights to emerge on the field.

And that, friends, is exactly when I make my mischief.

A word of warning–there’s probably a very simple reason why I get on well with the gate trolls.

I played “Drunken Sailor” by the drink booth. Twice. The wandmaker got “Hedwig’s Theme.” Deadpool cosplayers (traditionally) get the theme from the Titanic (don’t…don’t ask). Most of the song choice thought process for me is, “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if…”

There’s a tradition, with the joust.

Ever heard of a sweet little film called A Knight’s Tale?

(first of all, if you want to understand renfaire culture, go watch A Knight’s Tale, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When you’re utterly confused, come back. That’s right).

Okay, so in Knight’s Tale, the soundtrack is primarily Queen songs. And the opening is “We Will Rock You.”

I mean, it wasn’t so much needing to learn it as being scandalized that it wasn’t in my repertoire. It had to be done.

So when I happened to cross paths with the new court jester…

Great guy, by the way. Jigged for me. Orange and blue motley that most definitely did not get its dye from the Renaissance era and We Do Not Care.

I stopped him in the King’s Tent.

“Might I petition you for some mischief?” I asked.

Guys. This man was so excited he couldn’t speak properly. When he finally got the words out he said, “That is literally my job.”

I told him what I wanted. All he had to do was start the rhythm. Stomp-stomp, clap. The crowd knows it. The crowd always knows it. I’d do the rest.

We split in different directions. He went left. I went right. The crowd heard us coming.

You remember that troll I told you about earlier (henceforth he will only be referred to as “the Troll” because I never caught his name. His official title is bard because he’s quite a good storyteller, but I think you can see how that would be confusing)?

His hands appeared above the heads of the crowd, clapping. Somehow, he and I wound up walking in step through the crowd, clapping, playing, confusing everyone.

There were patrons on both sides of the tilting field, and by the time the knights entered, they’d only just caught wind of what was happening, and half the patrons were utterly lost, but the jester, the Troll, and I? We amused ourselves, if no one else. The Troll was quite pleased with having music follow him around (the sort of “I could get used to this” satisfaction).

I don’t have the words to tell you how I was grinning.

After officially adding “rabble-rousing” to my resume…

I’m pretty sure I played for my steel fighting friends’ rivals.

Maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds. I knew there was a split a few months ago (I think I was graduating at the time, so I’m not really clear what happened), but it wasn’t until Dragonfest that I learned they’d formed their own fighting group.

Drama? Eh. Not really.

You’ve got to remember, renfaire players are family. We look out for each other.

And I’ve never been one to care about the drama of who stepped on whose toes anyway. The boys can work out their squabbles without me being involved.

So when one of the former members said I could play for their fight, if I wanted…I wanted.

A crisp fall day, watching men in full steel armor slam each other over the head with swords and axes while “Thunderstruck” is going in the background–what more could one ask for?

This. One could ask for this.

What you are looking at is the keyring designed by one of the young ladies on the crew. And the story she told me is that each fighter has a specific design (there was an adorable cat asking for carnage sticker…unfortunately the fabulous lady fighter that one was based off of wasn’t at Dragonfest so we didn’t get to meet). The one I picked out belonged to the axe fighter–I think he’s called the Woodcutter. Story goes the designer presented this adorable cat to him and he said no.

Don’t like it. Too cute for me.

Lucky thing, the designer said yes, it’s cute, and yes, we’re using it, because people like cute things and they’ll buy it.

Yes, we do, and yes, I did.

I told her the dangerous kitty would be joining my Plague Doctor Dragon on my violin case (from the year Dragonfest had to be cancelled. Dragon in a top hat. It’s great. None of my orchestra mates have ever noticed it), so now the dragon key ring has a friend.

She was understandably delighted by the idea.

I joked later that if the two rival steel fighting groups wanted to fight over who got the fiddler, I wouldn’t mind.

Because if they never book the same events, then I get to go to twice as many renfaires with my friends. Behold my devious brilliance!

(I did say you wouldn’t stand a chance now that I have fairy dust)

In retrospect…one of the lieutenants from the original group did get in touch out of the blue this week…

(sounds of bookmarkedone hoping she hasn’t been too devious for her own good)

Anyway, more stories!

I’m running out of space in this post for everything that happened.

I went back to the line and strolled along it for a while, trying to give the people waiting something entertaining and wound up appearing at the same time that King Henry arrived to greet his guests and tell them the joust had been delayed so they wouldn’t miss it…so it looked a bit like I was a king’s bard.

There was a little man in a Hogwarts T-shirt, crown, and cape, so I played “Hedwig’s Theme” for him. There was a little Gandalf with his dad who looked understandably put out on hearing it (no Gandalf likes being mistaken for Dumbledore). So the Shire Theme followed, and I think they were both mollified.

I made fun of my friends (still waiting in line, ha, ha), full knowing that none of the other people in the line knew that I’d brought them and would probably be thinking I was just very comfortable striking up conversations with perfect strangers.

Met a couple of mushroom hat girls later who told me they’d stood in line for at least an hour.

I felt really bad about this for a while–it was nobody’s fault, of course, and the ticket trolls were doing their absolute best to get everyone through as fast as possible–but I heard we got nasty review about it online.

(cue bookmarkedone being slightly crushed)

I felt better after hearing about the lines at DragonCon. Someone told me the “line was part of the experience,” a way to meet other patrons, slow down, anticipate what’s to come. I hope that’s true and most of the patrons felt that way. The Troll and I agreed to come back and play the line together the second day (spoiler: I didn’t make it because I was physically exhausted and almost fell asleep in a hard kitchen chair. I’m sure if we had done it together, the line would have been an attraction in itself).

But enough about downsides.

I saw Lady Jillian of the Famously Amazing Hair Clasps (my bestowed title for her, not her official one) and bought more hair sticks because they’re pretty and make me feel like a little wizard,

The rock booth lady (whose name I do not know), but who happily sold me a chunk of carnelian and chided me for not playing closer to her booth (we’d been next-door neighbors at the last faire when I was with my mercenary buddies). I played Paganini 20 for her and chatted with her daughter, who is already an accomplished jewelry-maker herself. I poked through their rings (wire wrapped. All handmade. Gorgeous), and asked her if they were arranged by size.

She bit back a sigh. They were, at the beginning of the day–

I was already nodding, commiserating. After a hundred hands passing over the shiny baubles, any organization was quite undone.

And I saw Lady Kiki again, of the famous earrings (and 2Cellos fan). There was also a booth with little terrariums with wire trees (the wind was blasting the tents down, so the little globes didn’t stand a chance. Two were shattered, at least). The proprietor told me she has a video of last year’s performance in her phone.

This was…a somewhat odd announcement? I get a lot of comments working at faires, and you learn to roll with the weirdness of our lives and professions, but is there an appropriate response to a stranger saying she has a recording of your playing?

She was actually very nice and said she shows it to people when she’s persuading them to come to Dragonfest (you should come! see this cool fiddler? don’t you want to listen to her in person?). So that’s flattering. And considering the number of photos/videos people have taken of me performing with (or without) my permission…honestly I probably shouldn’t spend the time thinking about it.

There were also a few new vendors this year, so since I’ve been attending or performing at the faire every year since it started but one–

I had ample opportunity to spread my arms wide and say “Welcome to Dragonfest!” like that scene from the first How to Train Your Dragon film.

It’s every bit as satisfying as it seems.

And of course, one must visit the fairies.

I mean, what are you even doing if you don’t pay a visit to the Fae Court?

Or in my case, an empty tent with one slightly forlorn gentleman guarding it because the fairies were out making mischief and drinking tea.

We had a nice chat, anyway. He told me the fairies had flown, and I nodded a little to myself and said, “Yes. They tend to do that where I live, too.”

That’s not to say I didn’t see them. They were scattered across the faire, charming everyone with bubble wands.

Life always can use a bubble wand.

I’m sure I’m leaving out so many stories. The gymnast tumblers who were so good at their art. The kind lady who offered to let me stash my violin case with her instead of under a tree and made sure I would do so again on the second day so it wouldn’t sprout legs or get tampered with. Thistlegreen playing “John Ryan’s Polka” with me first thing in the morning on his pennywhistle. Listening to the Troll tell stories on the little stage at the end of the day, all of us cozy and tired out. Said Troll inviting me to have a stage set, even though I hadn’t been scheduled for one (I declined…but that’s not to say I wasn’ t very much touched at the offer). Losing the Tree of Life pendant I bought at my very first gig with the mercenary fighters (a little heartbroken, but I’m half hoping someone else picked it up and has a faerie treasure now. It’s what I get for running to greet my fighter friends and leaving it on a cord it could so easily slip off of). Trolling the Larp and HEMA fighters with song selections. Everything. Everything, everything, that I can’t put into words, all the sounds and smells and sights and friends that you simply have to be there to understand.

It’s all done for another year. Everyone’s packed up and gone home, cozying in for the winter season. Won’t see one another again until spring.

So we’re left with the frost on the windows and the trinkets and the memories.

And the plots. And the plans. And the practicing of repertoire for next faire. And the maps.

Because, you know, the world is full of faires. And what sort of people are we if we don’t daydream about seeing the very best of them?

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