Scarborough Renaissance Festival (or, as we locals call it, Scarborough Faire) in Waxahachie, Texas, is a great way to spend the day. You won’t find a lot of Steam, but you will have a good, fun, family-friendly time. The Steampunk movement doesn’t have a lot of its own festivals. There are a few, to be sure, but most of them are relegated to the fringe of Ren-Fests, as part of the French Salons, Workshop, and Forge crowds. The two are technically a couple of hundred years apart, but this is really only a sore-spot for the purists of either crowd. Certainly most people don’t care, and at least the two genres are closer in scope and spirit than, say, Zombies and Trekkies, whom you will also sometimes find wandering the fairgrounds.
So it was with some degree of hope that we attended Scarborough Faire in hopes of finding a little Steam. Individually, I found a few items here and there that were of great interest. One, a hat shop called “The Hat People,” was a mixture of delight, disappointment, and irritation. It started when, while my son and I were riding a camel, we noticed that our walker was wearing a really cool hat, something like a shorter version of the top-hat, made out of stitched together leather. If a set of goggles had been added, with a mainspring for a feather, it would be perfect.
The gentleman was very helpful in describing the place he bought it, and how to get there. It still took me a long time to find the place because no one really knew what I was talking about. Most of the hat-venders out there either sell hats like the one I’m wearing (upper right), or the foppy beret-kind, or top-hats made of cloth. There are almost no leather hat dealers of the sort shown in the photo. Except for one, “The Hat People.” When I finally found them, they told me the name of the hat I was looking for was “The Medicine-Man,” and that they stopped making it years ago on account of their millinery machine being stolen. I was quite disappointed about that. But then while talking to them about Steampunk, they nodded, said they did indeed make such hats, and showed me two models they’d brought with them and stuck behind the counter. One even had a working clock built into it. When I asked if I could snap a photo of their steampunk hats to show on my blog, and drum up a little free advertising for them, they declined. That was the frustrating bit. To be fair, there’s another haberdashery at the Faire who apparently sent people in to photograph the hats, and even sent a “spy” in to work for them, and stole their best hat designs. So now they allow no photography of their newer works. As a consolation prize, they gave me a business card if I still wanted to throw some business their way.
Disappointed, we then headed over to the jousting match, where they put on a rather impressive show, compared to previous years.
This is the part where I really need to give photo credit where credit is due. My wife, Aimee Libra, really has a knack for photography that I myself lack. Anytime you see a really great photo on this site that seems to just capture the essence of the moment, it was almost certainly taken by my wife. Especially if I’m in the shot and she isn’t. I’ll try and remember to give her the full photo credit she deserves from now on. Here’s some more of the beauties she took.
My only complaint about the jousting match is that their sound-tech dropped the ball a bit on the Scottish commentator’s sound-check. Between his accent and low voice, they really should have corrected this on the sound-board. The Scottish Captain spoke too fast, with too much of an accent, and a little too-rehearsed on his words, and combined with the poor sound quality, most of the commentary just came across as a steady low rumbling of occasionally identifiable words. In many places, the Scotsman just sounded bored. However, the fight choreography was better than most years, and the action rarely let up for very long once the pageantry ended. Some videos, shot by me, for your enjoyment.
While obviously the sword-fighting must be choreographed for safety reasons, the jousting itself is not. You just can’t safely choreograph a joust for a live performance and make it look right. So you’ll never see the same match twice. Unfortunately, if the knight you’re rooting for isn’t as skilled as his opponent, you might see the same round repeated, time after time. Sir Orrin, despite putting on a good show for the rest of the match, did not do so well at the jousting and was quite thoroughly trounced by Sir William. After the jousting, things degenerated pretty quickly in to melee, and even the commentator got involved in the fights.
After the jousting, we wandered around a bit more. We enjoyed unique favorite foods that we can only get at the Faire once a year, like roast turkey legs, Italian ice and tamale pie. I also discovered a porter there, Spatten, which tastes quite good so long as it doesn’t warm up. I also enjoyed some hard pear cider, and various other drinks to keep me well-lubricated the entire time…
The boy enjoyed many rides on animals. Indeed, most of the money we spent either went to food, drink, or animal rides. What little wasn’t spent on it bought the boy a pair of yellow butterfly wings and a wand (not shown), because he is quite insistent that he is “a yellow butterfly. Not a blue butterfly. Not an orange butterfly. A yellow butterfly.” He’s two and a half.
Still, we weren’t finding a lot in the way of steam. However, we did find a rather impressive feature at The Faire, the world’s only portable Carrilon, Cast in Bronze.
There’s a bit of a story behind this, which you can read most of by visiting the web site. However, of particular interest is that there are only a few Carrilons in the world. It’s sort of like a piano that uses keys and foot-pedals to operate the clappers in over 35 bells. However, of the ones left in the world, all except one are fixed in place. This is the world’s only portable carrilon. Why? Because even the portable one weighs 4 tons! It is also the only carrlion maintained exclusively through the proceeds of performance and CD sales, rather than through government or charity assistance. The show itself is rather melodramatic, with a masked man playing the thing like Captain Nemo on his tenth espresso, and borders on slightly hackneyed, but I must admit, he’s really good, and I admire the art he’s keeping alive through his own hard work rather than charitable assistance.
Each visible bell in the photo appears to have the same inscription along the crown, “Petit Verdin Co., Cincinnati, OH Hall – 1980 Petit Verdin Co., Cincinnati, OH Anno Domini MCMLXXX.” Then, upon the bell is printed different names and a quote. On the front left is “Kimberly Leine Hall – Love and good cheer,” on the right is printed “John Phillip Hall, Herrie Hall – When bells right, hearts sing.” We then wrapped up our visit by watching the Don Juan & Miguel Comedy Adventure Show. It’s kind of like a Castillian Vaudville act and is rather silly.
By this time the sun was setting and we were all a bit tuckered. We barely saw a tenth of what Scarborough Faire had to offer, but that’s why some people get season tickets and “Friends of Faire” parking passes, because it’s worth going back if you liked it, and no two shows will exactly turn out the same, thanks to our friend chaos. We won’t be back this year, but we will next year, and the year after that. It was a good day, but it was time to head home.
Overall, I give Scarborough Faire 240 out of 300psi on the Steam-O-Meter. Despite the near total of steam, frustration with some of the vendors, and the frankly exorbitant prices, it was a great way to spend the day with the family, with a near-endless amount of entertainment. I recommend you visit them before it ends in two weeks.