The Kansas City Renaissance Festival is an intimate event. Unlike the "sprawl" of the Texas Renaissance Festival (TRF), the KC Faire is more compact, more concentrated, more "densely urban" than TRF. For one thing, the lanes are considerably narrower. Once the site fills with patrons, it gets downright crowded betimes! That is not necessarily a bad thing...
Add several thousand visitors all talking, laughing, examining the vendors' wares, watching the stage entertainments and listening to the music and you've re-created the atmosphere of an Olde English village on market day. Which, methinks, is precisely what the Faire organizers were designing toward!
Following my usual "plan of attack", my first order of business was to check out all the arts'n crafts booths at the Faire. On my first visit to Kansas City in '94, I'd planned to spend the entire weekend there: drive up on Saturday, do the Faire, drive home on Sunday. Right! I wound up driving home that same Saturday as I'd spent all but my gas money on some very unique and unusual artwork!!! Among my prizes was a plaster copy of a Vyking runestone; a ceramic statuette of the Neolithic Earth-Mother; a miniature sundial designed to be worn as a pendant and several original, high-quality, Wolf prints. In '95, I was just a tad more careful. For one thing, I was more interested in buying Xmas gifts for my friends and acquaintances than adding to my personal "art collection" (such as it is!). Not that there wasn't plenty of room for temptation, mind you...!
There was, for instance, a scribe who'd illuminated three of the songs from Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" complete with decorated capitals, illuminated borders and detailed maps--but he was asking $175 for each original piece. Granted, they were large works! He'd obviously put much time and effort into each one of them; they were worth every penny of his asking price...but they were well beyond my limited means--and still are. Ruth Thompson was also there again, with her fantasy artwork: I purchased two of her prints plus some black-and-white "proofs" as gifts. She obviously knew her audience well--young, male, horny--as most of her work featured undraped female studies, but frankly the "chainmail bikini" style of fantasy art has long since lost its' appeal for me. My preference now is for art with a mystical/magickal theme. These were far from the most unusual items offered at KC: some of the staves--which the woodworkers were selling--were pretty strange with animal skulls, feathers, furs and beads hanging from them! The photo (above) shows the Garment District, which's fairly typical of the streets and lanes at the Faire. Most of the shops offered ladies' clothing but there were a few medieval mens' shops with capes, doublets and hosen for sale, too. To the left and behind this view was the armourer's booth (photo, left). He had a unique Vyking "goggle" helm on display--but alas, it wasn't my size to begin with, I'd have had to exchange my spectacles for contacts in order to wear it if it had fit, it lacked the chainmail "veil" of the original and it cost $150 besides. Not that I wasn't tempted, mind you....! On the other hand, he did have--among other things-- Vyking-style shield blanks, a fine single-bladed battleaxe plus the finest assortment of polearms I've seen outside of Toledo (Spain)--all of which was to drool over!
My next stop was the SCA encampment. The large "knight" in the photo (below, right) was actually a huge statue made of ordinary stovepipe--but from a distance it looked both realistic and authentic ...for a giant! The SCA illuminator was also there, doing a demonstration of her art. She had a table display of various edicts and codicles from the local shire, showing her finished work. Naturally, I had to speak with her--not to mention taking a photo of her display "for inspirational purposes only" you'll understand! Like all the Rennies and SCAfolk at the KC Faire, she was both helpful and more than willing to explain her Art to me. For instance, she not only showed me several new reference works on the subject but she also pointed me to a new bookstore in Kansas City which actually carried those volumes. That bookstore, in fact, turned out to better than I could've hoped for: I dropped $45 on a dozen books and periodicals, mostly dealing with illuminations and medieval subjects. Considering the quality of the bookstores we have here in Harrison, Arkansas, that was, quite honestly, one of the more memorable points of my Kansas City trip... As usual, they had live demonstrations of SCA personal combat with various knights beating and thumping each other using a wide variety of swords, maces, polearms, battleaxes and morningstars. These are not, of course, real "live" weapons but rattan, styrofoam and ducttape "mockups". Still, each blow must strike with enough force "as if" to crush, pierce or thrust through actual armor in order to count--so that broken weapons are commonplace in these events... As are bruises among the combatants, with the occasional mild concussion, broken arm or shattered rib thrown in for excitement (the photo, right, was not taken at the KC RenFaire but at a SCA practice session in Pasco, Washington State, where I lived until 1981). Most of the combats were over quickly: the opponents'd circle each other for position until one would find an opening, there'd be a flurry of blows and one knight or the other'd fall to the ground, stricken. Only one combat lasted more than five minutes and that occured when a knight was first driven to his knees. His foeman circled for quite some time before finally rushing in over his shield to land a solid blow to the helm which must've left the first knight's ears ringing. Frankly, at my age and current physical condition, I prefer the gentler art of the illuminator's pen. The younger fellows are more than welcome to pound and pummel each other to their heart's content without me, thank you!
At noon they held the daily parade of Shirefolk. All the performers, actors and entertainers marched through the Faire grounds with banners flying, greeting everyone. Because this was the "Arabian Nights" weekend, there was even a bevy of sleek and saucy dancing girls, shimmying and shaking--but the Prince of Arabia was notable for his absence. Among the characters were several of my personal favorites: "Friar Tuck" with chickenbone "relicks" of the Saints for sale; the Royal executioner stripped to the waist, wearing his black hood and twirling his headsman's ax at the same time; and especially the ladies of the Court all decked-out in long, off-the-shoulder gowns of velvet, brocade and faux ermine with plenty of cleavage showing. Ah, yes: there is still much to be said for the costumes of Olde! Of course the King and Queen of the Faire were there, smiling and waving to the crowd with supreme lese majeste. There were squires, knights, men-at-arms, various Lords and even a Cardinal accompanying the royal couple. Even if it weren't for the variety, sumptuous color and cut of all their costumes, the sheer pagentry of the event was well worth seeing! I was glad, however, to see a few familiar faces in the Renaissance crowd. Besides one of the wandering jugglers, this included the Pirates, "Toy" (a mime who acts like a windup, mechanical man), the Fickle Bitches (comedy with claws!) and several musicians we had all enjoyed when RenFaires were a lot closer to home. After the parade, I found a group of the Shirefolk enjoying lunch around the open-air kitchen in the Wildewood. They were serving beef stew in bread bowls ("trenchers"), which not only looks and smells mighty tempting but is an excellent repast with a renaissance faire wrapped around it. They were also serving a fine selection of imported beers, ales and wines...which was yet another temptation, too! A couple of Killian's Red Ales would've made the music and dancing much more entertaining, but the thought of navigating the busy streets and crowded avenues of Kansas City three sheets to the wind afterwards--especially as tired as I was by then!--kept that particular temptation at bay...
I did catch several stage performances--the Pirates' music show, for one; an amusing skit at the Yorkshire Wharf in which all but one of the actors took a dunking in the pond, for another--and some of the wandering musicians, most of whom were new to me. To my delight, they played lots of good, fast Keltic music: jigs, reels and hornpipes which set my toes to tapping! And there was even one bagpiper with whom it was my pleasure to get reacquainted. This was "Seamus", who lives in Springfield where he does the weekly "Gold Ring" Keltic music show for PBS Radio there. He'd performed once in our area, where we'd first met. He did his usual gig with the Lowland pipes (which're bellows-driven unlike the more-familiar Highland pipes, which're lung-driven), and then we chatted some about his music, the Faire scene and folks we both knew. He was most helpful, like all RenFolk. His descriptions of other Faires, in fact, helped set my feet my feet on the RenFaire road! Frankly, the Faires do seem to attract a most peculiar crowd, both as participants and observers. There were, for example, more tatooes than I've seen outside of the Navy--and even some of the guys had them! But hey: these're my kind of people--independent, creative and free-spirited. I might not necessarily agree or even endorse their particular/peculiar points of view, but so long as they don't try to force their ideas on me, they're perfectly free to believe and follow anything they wish.
Which, ultimately, is why I like the RenFaires. It's not the art or the spectacle or the pagentry or even the entertainment--it's the people themselves who make these events so special...!
This page created 9 March 1997.
This page revised 7 September 1997.