“Halt, good sir!” A variety of Middle English vernacular accompanied the spectacle that was the celebration of the 37th season of the Texas Renaissance Festival in Plantersville, Texas through November 27. The festival, critically acclaimed as one of the largest and most entertaining 16th century themed festivals in the nation, comes alive every weekend for a period of 8 weeks during each fall.
Upon handing my ticket to a knight guarding the medieval gateway entrance to the festival, I saw a vast expanse of authentic shops, food stands, and costumed revelers. As far as the eye could see, boisterous colors, sitars and harps, and furry pet dragons supplemented the festive atmosphere. Almost 40,000 people, dressed in corsets, pantyhose, and medieval attire, kicked up dust along the Fair’s pathways during my visit on November 12.
A bit overwhelmed by the excessive amount of things to do and see, I began my day with a visit to the face painting booth at the front of the festival. Choosing the design I wanted and sitting in the designated chair, I listened to the wizened face-painter tell me about the some 25 years she’d been doing it professionally and the 17 years she’d been with the “TexRenFes”. She spoke of the festival with reverence, admiring the variety of characters she meets and stories she hears. Within minutes she had finished, dusting red and black glitter around my eye, and I set off into the patchwork maze that was the fair.
The sections of the fair, mapped out in an informative catalogue, contained clusters of shops. Some boasted steamy turkey legs and plates of potato skins – any Middle English food dish you could ask for. There were a variety of artisan boutiques, all filled with willing customers, where anything from hollowed out horn canteens to hand-casted battle armor and weaponry could be bought, though many of the prices were steep. For the more active attendees, games and activities included a human catapult, archery competitions, jousting tournaments, dragon swings, carriage rides, rock-climbing, the haunted “Slayer’s” castle, and even pony rides for the kids. Stages throughout the festival featured acts from fire-eaters and puppeteer comedy acts like “The Ded Bob Show”, to gypsy dancing, traveling musicians, and magicians.
The complex grounds provided such excitement and flurry getting lost was practically a part of the experience. Even after being there for six solid hours, I still often found myself wondering into an unexplored section. Upon dusk, the shops began to close down, as they were lit only by the sun’s natural light. Knights checked for open alcohol containers as the humongous crowd started to file out the gateway and load into their cars. Though the traffic was noticeable upon entry, the simultaneous attempted exit of 30 tree-lined lanes full of cars provided for an utter stand-still. Literally, we sat in the parking lot, not moving, for over an hour and a half. After hours of walking around, getting dirty and working up a sweat, a three hour drive home was definitely not appreciated.
Regardless of the traffic mayhem, the renowned festival was a step back in time and an incredibly unique experience everyone should get to enjoy. Next time you find yourself bored on the weekend during fall, get family or friends together and take a drive up to Plantersville, just outside of Houston. The Texas Renaissance Festival really is the rebirth of an old world.