I am still working on getting caught up on pinball- and game-related content. There will be new developments to post about and I still have a couple of bar/arcade visit posts to add from late 2021.
In the meantime though, I thought I would post a few pictures from my attendance at Zoo Lights on its closing day, January 9. This was my first time going and though in a way I wanted to attend much earlier in the season, I am grateful that I was able to attend at the very end and perhaps it worked out for the best as the crowds were relatively light (pun intended).
Many of us in the Houston area classic arcade and pinball community are mourning the passing of Ken Graham, who left us on the last day of 2021 after losing a bravely fought battle with cancer. Ken was one of the owners at The Game Preserve and while I was not by any means a close friend or even a close acquaintance of his, I did appreciate his handiwork as an owner and game technician at The Game Preserve over the last few years. I, like many others in the Houston area classic arcade and pinball community, will miss his presence and personality.
Perhaps Ken’s main claim to fame is as one of the programmers on the 1984 arcade game Mystic Marathon. Unfortunately, Mystic Marathon was figuratively buried in the dust cloud that immediately followed the 1983 crash of the video game scene and didn’t really have a fair chance to catch on. The Game Preserve’s location in The Woodlands does have a Mystic Marathon machine for those who want to check it out.
For those who desire further reading, I have linked below to an interview by Todd Friedman of Old School Gamer Magazine where he asks Ken some interesting questions. This was published in the 2020 June, with the interview likely having taken place earlier in the year.
Most of the day went as previously planned. The only exception was the Rose and Thorny show which was cancelled and replaced with additional performances of Two Merry Men (more on that later). This was quite a shame as I had looked forward to Rose and Thorny, but such is life.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve visited the Texas Renaissance Festival (TRF). The last time was in 2008. The first change I noticed was that the parking entrance had been moved to the north side of the parking lot, off of County Road 302 (Finke Road). I am (was, anyway) used to entering directly off of FM 1774. The first signage I saw hinted that parking may have transitioned to paid parking; thankfully, for those who are trying to stay within a reasonable budget (like yours truly), free parking from row 11 or 12 back is still an option.
I begin walking up to the gate at around 08:36. I am at the south border of the parking lot when I hear what might be the opening cannon. Sure enough, I confirm the cannon was fired some 20 minutes early. I’m cool with it, though, as it means I will have more time to gather my thoughts and make any last minute changes to my plans.
I decide to stick with plan A and head towards the Odeon. I double check my map to confirm which of the many face painters was the one recommended to me (I had asked in a face painting group on Facebook in the days prior, as I was not sure if there were still artists at TRF using acrylic paint). The first picture in the gallery below (or the one you may have seen in a prior post) was from the seats of the Odeon, awaiting the start of Arsenne’s show right after I was painted by Minga Almquist, who I now highly recommend myself.
So yes, Arsenne’s show at 09:30 was the start of my day at TRF. He was just as funny as I remember him being in 2008. If memory serves correctly, I also made Arsenne’s show the first one I saw in 2007 and 2008, and there was a good reason for that. Arsenne’s humor is strong, but he does include more traditional magic/vaudeville acts, such as a fire torch juggling act at the end. This act actually ran over the hour-long slot by at least good minute or two; not complaining here, just stating the facts.
Next would come Sound & Fury at a nominal 10:30 start time, but which was actually a few minutes past. For those unfamiliar with this act, the website bills them as “vaudeville nouveau” but their banners still mention “Fakespearean players”. Basically, they perform plays done in the style of Shakespeare, using The Bard’s original characters but in new situations. This particular play was “Hamlet & Juliet” for example.
I had just enough time to make my way up to the Dove Meadow Stage for Tartanic at 11:30. I arrived a bit after the start time and then decided to go ahead and grab lunch while in the area, staying within earshot of the band (I heard every song but did not keep my eyes glued to the stage). This was my first time actually seeing Tartanic perform a stage show live; they were performing back in 2008 but there were other acts that I prioritized that year. I think it was after seeing Tartanic that I made my way over to John Coiner Designs to buy a 2021 wine goblet to go along with my 2007 and 2008 goblets. The design has changed significantly but this is still money well spent to me.
I remained in the vicinity of the Dove Meadow Stage for Saxon Moon at 12:30, which I did give my full attention. I had never heard of Saxon Moon until I penciled (actually, typed) them in on my schedule but they were well worth taking the time out to see. They used fire effects in their performance which added a little extra visual pizazz. There was a little slack in the schedule here so I did a bit more browsing of the shops between the Dove Meadow and Globe Theatres.
Next up, at the Globe, was Theatre of Fools performing The Chicken Show at 13:30 (1:30pm). This was the act selected by TRF to take the place of Ded Bob, the performer behind which had unfortunately passed away during the previous year (he did train an understudy who performs some of the other festivals, no word yet on whether or not Ded Bob might return in some form in a later year). I did enjoy the show somewhat, even though it was kind of obviously aimed at family audiences (i.e. children) and I did see some slight similarities to Arsenne’s act (kind of hard not to when I just saw it four hours prior).
Next up was The Clan Tynker at 14:30 (2:30pm). I had a vague idea what to expect with this show; it turned out to be a circus act, once again somewhat aimed at family audiences/children. As an adult, I still found it very enjoyable and will likely make sure to see them next year. The show starts off with some tame stuff like juggling but progresses to a conclusion involving fire torch juggling with a couple of twists. Overall, The Clan Tynker put on a great show.
Then, as the 15:30 (3:30pm) hour approached it was decision time: try to make the Fire Whip Show, or skip it for more shopping/browsing or something else in the area? I went ahead and sat down at the Falconer’s Hearth for the Fire Whip Show. Adam Crack (as he bills himself) did not disappoint. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this and will definitely make it a point to have it on my schedule going forward.
Finally, I sat down around 16:30 (4:30pm) at the Polish Pub for Two Merry Men. This is a quite hilarious but also quite adult-oriented act. If sexual references make you squeamish, particularly those involving BDSM, you will likely want to skip this one. If not, prepare to laugh until your sides hurt. These guys received the last of my cash, which technically was not in the portion I had reserved for performer tips.
During the intro to Two Merry Men, I learned they would also be performing in the 17:30 (5:30pm) slot. This was due to Rose and Thorny not being available to perform for whatever reason. I didn’t stick around for the next show; I felt once was enough.
What I did wind up doing was going back over to the Globe for the Royal Proclamation and associated show. Right after this show, the performers led a group walk over to The Arena. I do mean literally “right after”, too; it wrapped up frighteningly close to the 19:20 (7:20pm) start of Solar Rain’s act. And unfortunately, right after getting to The Arena, I had to answer the call of nature. (I was already in the standing room only crowd in the top row.) It was a challenge enough to quickly find a restroom in the area. Finding my way back to The Arena was surprisingly difficult in the fading light. Word to the wise: don’t blindly follow the masses coming out of the restrooms, many of them are heading out towards the front gates to go back home or back to camp.
Solar Rain’s act was a superb lead-in to the fireworks show right afterwards. I did not have anything to drop in the hat at the time. I feel bad about this and plan to make good for it in the near future. TRF’s fireworks shows never disappoint; I was running low on phone battery so had to be judicious in how many pictures I took but I feel like I got a good representative sample without spending more than half of the show glued to my phone screen.
The drive home was relatively uneventful. The traffic patterns on leaving have changed as well. Everyone makes a right turn out of the parking lot onto CR 302/Finke Road. Before, the parking lot exit was directly onto FM 1774. Drivers would turn left for FM 1774 northbound towards TX 105/Conroe and right for FM 1774 South towards Houston. Law enforcement officials (Grimes County deputy sheriffs?) were directing traffic through the all-way stops at the TX 249/Aggie Expressway intersections; a nice touch as otherwise traffic could have easily been much more painful.
I didn’t mention the route in the beginning and maybe I should have. I chose the I-45 to TX 105 to FM 1774 route this time. Previously I had only taken the standard, more direct, TX 249 to FM 1774 route. I chose this route after reading the advice given by TRF staff themselves on the website. This recommendation was due to construction on the other route.
My only quibble with this route was the flagrant tailgating exhibited by a few drivers. Most of the speed limits are reasonable on TX 105 going east of Plantersville. However, apparently some drivers interpret any black number on a white sign below the words “SPEED LIMIT” as a personal challenge. It wasn’t as bad in the morning, though a few drivers did pass me. (Specifically, on the 60 mph stretch east of the Grimes County line.) But on the way home, I had one guy tailgate me quite aggressively to the point I had trouble seeing if there was traffic in the other lane (one of the stretches with a same-way passing lane).
I didn’t get pictures of all the shows but I feel like I did get a good representative sample.
For the fans who will also be there who might like to say howdy, I will be at the Texas Renaissance Festival on Friday the 26th. I know it is relatively late notice, but it’s partially on purpose. I will be there at least most of the day, if not true “cannon to cannon” as I did last time I went in 2008.
The tentative schedule is as follows:
09:00 Opening Cannon
09:30 Arsene (Odeon)
10:30 Sound and Fury (Odeon)
11:30 Tartanic (Dove Meadow Stage)
12:30 Saxon Moon (Dove Meadow Stage)
13:30 The Clan Tynker (Globe)
14:30 Theatre of Fools (Globe)
15:30 Fire Whip Show (Falconer's Hearth) *tentative
16:30 Two Merry Men (Polish Pub)
17:30 Rose and Thorny (Polish Pub)
Dinner / Open (Shopping etc?)
19:20 Solar Rain (The Arena)
19:50 Royal Fireworks (The Arena)
This is of course assuming that the performance schedule on the website matches the actual performance times, all of the above performers will be able to perform as scheduled, and I don’t see another reason to deviate (the most likely reason would be arriving later than expected).
I will elaborate more on this later, but I do hope once again to make this an annual tradition as I had started in 2007 and 2008.