2015 Ren Fest Recap

Another successful year at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival has come to an end. This was a really, really great year– the weather was lovely (only one really hot weekend), and internal drama (the bad sort) was virtually non-existant (and usually there is a LOT of internal drama).

It was also a great year for me. This year, after 11 years as a participant (5 of those on cast), I finally got up the courage to implement my very first idea for something to do at Fest, which was performing as a solo flautist. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the (several) other ways I’ve been part of Fest, but I really, really enjoyed doing the solo thing.

There are two was by which I measure success at Fest– audience engagement (measured partly, but not entirely, by tips) and how much I personally engage with fellow participants. I wasn’t sure how the crowds would receive a solo flautist. I honestly didn’t go into it expecting to make much in the way of tips, but I think I did fairly well. (I set a goal for myself to do a $100 hat the last weekend, and I’m proud to say I achieved that goal. That may not sound like a lot to some performers, but I was quite happy with it.) And I had many, many people indicate their appreciation in ways besides putting a tip in my basket, which is completely fine– in some instances, a kind comment or smile from a child can mean more than a tip.

The other way in which I measure a successful Fest season is how much I interact/connect with my fellow cast members and participants. It was a great year on that front, as well. One of the main reasons I had been reluctant to be a solo act in the past is that I worried that if I wasn’t part of a group, I wouldn’t talk to anyone and would just be alone all the time. And even after working/performing at Fest for 11 previous years and knowing plenty of people, I was still worried about that this year.

Well, I needn’t have worried.  I’ve noticed in other situations that if I go to things (like receptions at international education conferences, for example) alone, I actually do somehow step up to the challenge and talk to people I don’t know, or don’t know as well. That proved to be the case at Fest this year, too. I talked to several people I didn’t know or know very well (Jennifer, Marco, some of the Scots, new Terps, Peter, Anita, Manna and Manna, Dennis, Saskia, Stephanie, Penn, Cornelius, random people on the Fest bus) and reconnected with lots of people I did know (Jon, Chris, “old” Terps, some Scots, Randy, the Alein’ Whalers, Too Broke Blokes, Kate, etc). Of course, it seems every year that somehow I don’t get around to seeing all the people (or shows!) I intend to–notably Jamie (I barely made it to Queen’s Gate this year!) and the Bloodwake (whom I never seem to get over to visit any more). I only made it to like 1/2 of a Four Pints Shy show this year. Doing my own thing, I feel, for some reason, a lot more pressure to be performing all the time between my scheduled sets.

This year, I took a few days off – three Sundays and Fest Friday. One of the Sundays I attended with Gerard and the brother who were visiting, and I brought the kiddo out for a couple of hours Fest Friday afternoon, but I had two Sundays completely off. I also ended up working at the Fest booth at the State Fair on the Saturday of Labor Day (because they really needed people and I can’t sit around while someone needs help that I can give), so that’s three Fest days I wasn’t there at all and 2 others I wasn’t working. Consequently, I’m not really burnt out this year. I’m not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, I probably enjoyed Fest more because I had a few days off, even though the days I was off, I missed it. But now I’m not really ready for it to be over, whereas when I’m burnt out by the end of the season, I’m really ready for it to be over for awhile. I’m not sure which is better– to want it to be over before it is, or not want it to be over when it is!

I’m already looking forward to next year, of course, which will probably be the last year on the current site. That will be bittersweet as well. There is a lot of history imbued into that site, and a lot of magic that lives in its walls. I feel a great attachment to many of the physical spaces themselves, especially the Bakery stage area where I spent my first 5 years at Fest, Mac’s Pub, and The Estate (Terp’s green room area). I will truly miss the actual, physical space when the Festival moves.

But, as many have said, it is really we who make the Festival– the performers and participants and patrons who love the Festival, who created the magic that has seeped into the Festival grounds and structures. We will create new magic and memories at the new site. And the new site brings opportunity, as well– better parking and traffic arrangements, up-to-code buildings, flush toilets (maybe), ample camping (maybe), electricity (maybe) and less dust. I will miss the current site, but I am excited about the opportunity to be a part of building and baptizing the new one.

I also look forward to bringing my son out with me more regularly next year, when I think he’ll be old enough to mind and stay near me while I perform. I often envy those who were raised at Fest (and those whose spouses are Festies, too), and I look forward to giving my son the experience of being raised in the Fest family, with the help of, literally, a village.

 

Fest 2013 (Very belated!)

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted. Life got in in the way. Part of that was Fest. Part of it was finding out I’m (finally!!) pregnant. Part of it was laziness. 😉 I will address the pregnancy in another entry, but this post is about Fest. (I will not dedicate a post to the laziness.)

This year was my 10th year working at Fest. It was also very different. And my best year yet!

It was amazing being part of a small musical group– for the first time I really felt like I had a place I belonged at Fest. My first 5 years at the chocolate cart were fun, but I didn’t really get to know anyone except the other chocolate wenches, which left me no one to hang out with when I was off shift. I met a lot of really nice, cool people when I was a beer wench with the Shakopee Jaycees, but I never really felt like I fit in there, either. And with Terpsichory I had a bit of a community and I really liked (and still like) the other Terps, but being one of the few musicians in a dance troupe, I always felt like I was a bit on the outside. This year, with Hardtack Jack, I was with a small group of people who shared the common interests of music and nautical things. The small group size enabled me to feel comfortable and really get to know the other members of the band during our weekly rehearsals, and especially at our out of town gigs before the Fest season. We are very lucky in that we all get along really well– we even got through the entire Fest season without driving each other crazy! Not that we never get on each other’s nerves, but generally we get along great and (I think) really enjoy each other’s company. I’ve been able to open up to them much more than most other people I know at Fest. I still probably have some opening up to do, but we’ll continue to rehearse in the off season, which means as we continue to grow as a group and learn new material, I can continue getting to know them and letting them get to know me.

Oh yeah, and I sing in public now. Like, in front of people. And solos too– not just as part of a chorus. And I’m perfectly comfortable with it. I’ve been comfy performing on flute for years, but singing is relatively new.  Surprised a few people, I think. 😀

Festing Through The Ages

This is an exciting year at Fest for me. Not only am I part of a brand new musical group, Hardtack Jack, but it’s also my 10th year as a participant! That means I’ll get my first service award– pretty cool! So I thought it might be appropriate to take a look at how I got into Fest in the first place, how I started working there, and what I’ve been doing all these years. Fest is a family tradition. Not in the way that it’s a tradition in some families, who participate together, in which the children grow up at Fest. But my parents started the tradition of taking my brother and me there once a year, starting I think in 1986. It was always my favorite summer/fall activity and I remember looking forward to our trip to Fest every year.

Early Fest experience… 1991Image

In 2002 or so, my brother started working at the chocolate booth at Fest. He got the job through a friend of his who worked for the chocolate vendors outside of (and at) Fest. In 2004, I started working at the chocolate booth, too. I worked there through 2008.

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Aside from the Minnesota Renaissance Festival (MNRF), I’ve been to a few other faires.  Here’s me with my dad in 2006, when the Olde World Ren Faire in Twig, MN was still open. I’ve also visited the Bay Area Ren Fest (BARF, haha) in Tampa, FL, and the Iowa Renaissance Festival in the Amana Colonies.

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Luckily my spouse enjoys Fest too– not as much as I do, but he comes out a couple of times a year, sometime in garb. This is 2008.

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Somewhere along the line while working at the chocolate cart, I started playing Charlotte Rowan, my pirate persona. But after 5 years selling chocolate, I decided it was time to try something new. In 2009, I worked as a beer wench at Mac’s Pub through the Shakopee Jaycees. Mac’s is known as the pirate pub, so we usually hold our annual pirate invasion photo outside of it:

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(Photo Credit above and below:Jamie Piekkola)

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Slinging beer didn’t really turn out to be my thing, so in 2010 I joined Terpsichory Courtly Dance Troupe as a musician to provide music for the dancing. I had to curtail my piratical nature a bit, as with courtly dancers it didn’t make sense for me to be a pirate… but I was still a pirate at heart! I was with Terpsichory for 3 years. Unfortunately I don’t have a record of who took the following photo… I know it was one of the pros. I love it though! Image

On days off I got to be incognito!

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2011: Still with Terp, slight costume change.

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Cool HDR photo by Majikboxman:

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Pirates in 2011: Image

Terpsichory, again by Majikboxman: Image

2012: My brother came to visit, all the way from Vegas! (It was also my parents’ 40th anniversary.)Image

Now, in 2013 I’m back to at least being a sailor. Under a new name, Callista Seaborne, with my band, Hardtack Jack. (Sadly in this pic we’re missing one member.) Image

Hardtack Jack’s Debut Performance; or, Mudpocalypse

This weekend, my band, Hardtack Jack, had our debut performance and gig at the Iowa Renaissance Festival in the Amana Colonies. It was simultaneously a great time and probably the worst fest experience I’ve ever had. Allow me to explain.

The bad part was mainly the weather. It was really, really bad. Saturday it rained pretty much all day, not all that heavily, but enough to basically restrict us to our covered stage area and the trailer. It was also chilly, and the combination of the two seemed to keep patrons away (and I can’t blame them).

Our first few sets were a little rocky—I screwed up notes several times, partly due to nerves and partly due to cold fingers. I also sang one of my shanties in the wrong key. 😛 For that reason it was probably good that our audiences were pretty small, especially on Saturday morning. But by the end of the day, we were getting in to the groove a bit more, and we were asked to do a song at the closing gate show. We did “Whale of a Tale,” which everyone seemed to enjoy, and then we all sang “Health to the Company” and it was very nice.

That evening we went to dinner in the Amana Colonies, at a place called the Colony Inn that had delicious German food and fruit wine. I should have brought some of the wine back, but I kind of forgot about it in all the chaos that ensued over the rest of the weekend…

Sunday it rained most of the day again. We had a bit of a break when we were able to play a few songs outside of our stage. We acquired a fan who listened to us for quite awhile and requested a few songs and sang along. He actually stood uncomfortably close to us, but he was a nice enough guy. At about 4:30 the torrential rain hit—it rained so hard that we couldn’t even really do our last show, because the rain on the roof was so loud we couldn’t even hear each other. This went on until around 6, and flooding ensued. Everyone’s cars were near to flooding, getting stuck in the parking area, and my bandmates S & J’s trailer that we were using as our home base got seriously stuck.

For dinner, S & J planned to stay in, but they were kind enough to let me drive the Suburban so I could accompany C & JP back to the hotel they were staying at and eat at the Ox Yoke, which was nearby. There we encountered a woman who had been at a couple of our shows on Sunday. She had requested “something by Gaelic Storm” right when we were already about to play a Gaelic Storm song, “Lover’s Wreck.” Strange coincidence! Anyway, we had an interesting conversation with her and she told us she took some pictures of us, and she exchanged cards with C so hopefully we can get copies of some of them.

Fest 2012: Final 2 Weekends

6th Weekend:
This was a one-day weekend for me, as I had a band concert on Sunday. That was good. I needed a break, as the Fifth Weekend Effect was still upon me. Saturday was chilly but not too bad. Not too much else to say about that.

Closing weekend:
It was excellent this year. I rested up on Friday (had the day off work) and planned to hit it hard on the last weekend and go out with a bang, and so I did. I participated in some of the social dances both Saturday and Sunday (dances where I don’t like the music—I stuck our violinist with it, since she’s big on playing melody for everything, she can play the crappy ones, too). I “talked” with Twig, our lovely famous fairy who communicates only through gesture, facial expression, and a pan flute. We did a repeat of the Butt Percussion bit with I Arroganti, except with double butts this time. All good times.

Closing day was great. Every year, the closing gate show on closing day is really more for the “inhabitants” of the realm than the patrons. There are special performances, lots of singing, and of course crying and hugging. Usually, my group and I don’t participate much in the closing gate show, and last year I even missed all the emotional stuff because we were off on the side doing our own thing. I didn’t like that—it made me feel like I lacked closure for the year.

This year was different. Our director got us into the closing gate show (!!) to perform the French sword dance, Buffens. I was a bit sad that I didn’t get to play flute for it (in front of the King and Queen and everyone else), but I had to provide rhythm. So I performed a vital but unglamorous function. Still, everyone seemed to be impressed with the sword dance, so that was fun and awesome for the group.

Fest 2012: 2nd Weekend

Sunday I went to Fest, and it was good. I wasn’t in the best mood– not a bad mood, but just kind of meh– so toward the end of the day I kind of lost some motivation. I was a bit frustrated because in my role as music director, I had assigned parts for every piece, in an effort to avoid “Who’s playing what?” before every song, and also to avoid having people play parts they don’t really know. That should not be done in a performance setting. But people kind of stopped following the parts I assigned, and there were several moments when someone was playing a part that really didn’t sound good, or that was a bit out of range on their instrument, or that just threw off the balance. UGH! So frustrating. I don’t mind people switching around a bit or (obvious) covering more crucial parts when we are missing the assigned melody player, but come on! Do they think I assigned parts just for fun? This is why I sometimes feel frustrated as a musician in this troupe.

Aside from that, though, Sunday was a pretty good day. It was hot, but that happens. I hung out with the pirates for while, which was very nice and fun and relaxing. They talk about guns too much for my taste, but they are all nice folks. I’m considering just getting a season pass next year and hanging out with them as a patron. I’m kind of sick of all the drama that can be associated with being on cast. But I also love feeling like part of the family/community, hanging around after hours, etc, so I don’t know. I also had the idea of starting a sea chantey singing group for next year, and that idea is still around, but we’ll see how I feel at the end of the run. We’ll also see what my life circumstances are next year– with any luck I’ll have a baby or one on the way, but then again that’s what I said last year.

Random Musings on a Friday Morning

It’s Friday. Work is boring. I want to be at home!

Many exciting things coming up. First, of course is Fest this weekend. We’re supposed to have great weather (again!!) so I am very excited. Also, I gave comp tickets to several of my coworkers, so I should see a few of them out there this weekend. I like the idea of my work people seeing me in a completely different environment, partly because my role in that environment is, I think, completely unexpected to most given my demeanor at work. They don’t expect a quiet, reserved person to dress up in funny clothes, play music and SING in public, and play a silly part-pirate character.

I like doing things that challenge people’s perception of me. There was an essay in our high school newspaper that I will never forget, written by this really cool senior (I was a sophomore at the time, I think) about challenging people’s pre-conceived notions of who you are. He said, “Everyone has their own pre-conceived notion of who you are. They’re never right. Show them. Make them think you could leap tall buildings in a single bound if the thought occurred to you.” One of the best compliments I ever received (I can’t even remember who said it now, and I’m not sure it was intended as a compliment) was “Every time I think I have you figured out, you do something completely unexpected.”

One of my favorite coworkers is coming to Fest on Labor Day, which is also her and her wife’s wedding anniversary (same-sex marriage is not yet legal in MN, but I attended the wedding and it was every bit as legitimate as any other wedding I’ve ever attended). I want to work with the guitarist in our group to serenade them with a love song. I can’t decide what song, though. I have music for the love theme from Romeo & Juliet (the 70s movie version), and I think that would sound really lovely as a flute and guitar duet. But it also kind of has tragic overtones, so maybe I should pick something more uplifting. I don’t know. I have time to give it some more thought.