A mere 45 minutes from Houston, there are acres and acres of beautiful wooded property that hold a secret. It’s not one of those creepy, dangerous, end up on the evening news as a bad story secret.
It’s a fun, a fantasy built, step back in time secret. It’s the Texas Renaissance Festival, and it is so much fun, I can’t believe that this was my first time attending.
The History of Renfest
The TRF was founded in 1974 by brothers, George and David Coulam, on an abandoned strip mining site in what is now Todd Mission, Texas, on 15 acres of land. It had three stages featuring small improv theatre groups, and merchants selling their goods on blankets.
The first year, the turnout for the event was 33,000 people. Now, the location spans 55 acres with 200 acres of camping facilities for patrons and workers. As of 2017, the TRF featured approximately 500 costumed actors that perform on 25 stages.
The 350 on-site shops include international food purveyors, unique artisans; merchants and craft vendors; human-powered rides; an abundance of performers walking among the guests; and the Queen’s Royal Finale (fireworks if weather permits) at dusk.
The fair hosts over half a million visitors annually, which peaked at 679,000 in 2016. It has been touted as the largest of its type in the nation, and based on what we saw, that could very well be true.
The festival has a different theme on each of the nine weekends. The theme sets the tone for performances, costumes, food, drink, art, shops, contests, and games throughout the festival grounds.
- Oktoberfest – A German theme, including polka music and dancing, and the serving of traditional German beer.
- 1001 Dreams – Fantasy theme, encouraging lavish costumes of wizards, fairies, and elves and including several fantastical contests, such as scavenger hunts and costume contests.
- All Hallows Eve – Medieval Halloween theme, including spooky decorations and contests, such as jack-o-lantern carving contests, to celebrate the holiday.
- Pirate Adventure – A Pirate theme, encouraging pirate costumes and including several sea-related games and contests.
- Roman Bacchanal – Roman theme, encouraging Roman costumes and hosting several Roman-themed contests and games such as toga contests and spaghetti eating contests.
- Barbarian Invasion – A Medieval Barbarian theme, encouraging costumes of medieval barbarians and including “barbaric” contests such as the “Barbarian Battle Cry” contest and eating contests.
- Heroes and Villains – Iconic figures of the past come to life.
- Highland Fling – A Scottish theme, encouraging traditional Scottish costumes and including bagpipe-playing and traditional Scottish food and drink.
- Celtic Christmas – Christmas theme, including Christmas decorations and music, and featuring Christmas-themed contests such as “Candy Cane Hunt” and “Guess the Present” contests.
The weekend we attended was Pirate weekend, and to be honest, I chose this particular weekend because of a dear friend of ours who seems to have a slight obsession with pirates. I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to see what his passion is all about and have some fun with it, and boy did we have fun!
As we walked from the beautiful wooded parking area to the main gates, we were impressed by the many costumed people headed in the same direction.
I can honestly say that I have never seen as many people in varying costumes in one place as I did here, including on Halloween. There were very young children, I mean toddlers, all the way to adults wearing costumes that ranged from the very simple to very elaborate.
There were fairies, lords and ladies, wenches, and pirates……EVERYWHERE!
With all these people headed to the park dressed in their Renaissance best, I was sure that what we were about to witness inside the gates was going to be magic. Once we paid our entrance fee of $32 each (you can get discounted tickets online) and had our bags checked (safety first), we stepped inside. I don’t think that either of us was prepared for what we witnessed. It went from a plain entrance to a magical fantasy land in just a few steps.
It is hard to figure out where to look first once you get inside. The people, the booths, the food, the music, it’s all just so magical and engages all the senses.
We stood there, just soaking it all in for a few minutes when my husband grabbed my arm and said, “Look!” I turned around and saw what would be the first of many amazing costumes.
The only way I can describe it is a 10-foot bat standing there staring at people. If this was any indication of things to come, we were off to a great start.
Another fascinating character that we came across was a “living statue.” This young woman had the most fantastic makeup and clothing that made her look like, well, a statue.
As I stood and watched her interact with the crowd, sometimes scaring people, sometimes not, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it must have taken her to create such an amazing look with makeup. The talent she has for creating such a believable look and then the patience to stand still and not open her eyes or speak for what I’m sure is hours on end is impressive.
One of the many fun parts of Renfest is the artisan booths.
Among the rows of booths, there were artisans giving demonstrations on everything from blacksmithing to glass blowing. I thought it was really neat to be that close to not only the craft but also the tools of the trade and those creating such beautiful items.
To be able to touch the tools the blacksmith uses to create everything from keys to horseshoes was, for some reason, interesting to me.
Something else that I noticed as we walked from booth to booth was just how dedicated these folks are to their craft. They can talk all day, and most do, about their craft and how they achieve the results they do.
Listening to them talk is like stepping back in time and listening to a leatherman or glassblower hundreds of years ago talking to a customer.
Of course, I had no idea what most of them were talking about, but it was still interesting to hear the conversation and old work terminology they used.
It was quite interesting to see the artisans crafting such unusual items. Their attention to detail and authenticity was terrific. I doubt I would have the patience for any of it quite honestly.
Of course, what would a great day be without great food? Renfest has no shortage of food and drink options. From pretzels to beer, the question was never what to eat. It was where to start.
One thing that made perfect sense to me was the turkey leg. After all, we were at Renfest and true to the period, eating with your hands in a semi-barbaric way seemed to make perfect sense to me.
We opted, instead, for the sausage on a stick, which was way more than this girl could handle, but it sure was tasty. It was a smoked sausage skewered and cooked.
It was the perfect option for walking around and enjoying the festival while eating.
As we ended our day at Renfest, I couldn’t help but think about how things were so different back then. People didn’t seem so stressed or in such a hurry.
Of course, when all you have is a horse and carriage to get around, how rushed can you be?
At any rate, maybe we should all step back in time a little and slow down. Take some time to decompress, relax, and just enjoy each other and life.
Maybe we need to put on a fabulous costume, have some fun, and relax every once in a while.