Kettle Corn Conundrum

Anyone who knows me knows that I walk around (almost perpetually) with a kettle corn-shaped hole in my soul.  Indeed, it may in part be the quest to fill this void that has spurred my love for festivals.  One of the first questions I ask is usually, “will there be kettle corn there??”  Luckily for me, the answer is nearly always “yes.”

It is the ubiquitous nature of the sweet and salty treat that fuels my biggest confusion: why do so many fairs/festivals/vendors screw the pooch so badly when the time comes to decide where to stick the booth?

While many foods are best placed in the thick of the action, kettle corn isn’t one of them.  Most “fair foods” are single serving goods that the patron eats right after purchase.  Kettle corn, however, is a multi serving snack that is also extremely bulky and awkward to carry after purchase.

It is for this reason that I would like to encourage the kettle corn purveyors to consider moving their booths to the entrance/exit area of the festival/fair.  This simple shift would almost certainly increase the sales of their product.

As much as I love kettle corn, if I know that I will have to tote my bags of golden goodness (yes multiple.  Don’t judge me) around for the rest of my visit, as much as it pains me to do so, I may decide not to buy it at all.  This scenario is almost too terrible to comprehend.  Please don’t make me choose between buying kettle corn and staying to see the rest of the fair!

Sure, I can hear what you might be thinking: “why don’t you just go back for the kettle corn if you want it so badly?”  Well, the first reason is that I’m probably pretty tired by that point.  Secondly:  I’m not the only person who faces this unfortunate hassle, so why should we all be inconvenienced?  Thirdly:  shut up.

One Ren Fest that gets it right is the St. Louis Renaissance Faire.  Their kettle corn is right at the gate as I like to think God intends it to be.  Others should follow suit.

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Festival Fun at Boster Castle in the Kingdom of Callaway

Yesterday was the Two Faire Wenches’s first experience at the Central Missouri Renaissance Festival.  Where shall I begin?  First of all, the weather could not have been more perfect.  It hovered right around 59 degrees all day which was absolutely ideal in multiple layers of garb.  Secondly, WHAT A LOVELY FAIRE!  The festival grounds were very easy to navigate, and the autumn trees really added to the picturesque setting.

While this is a smaller festival, that is far from a negative.  I personally enjoyed the smaller size of the venue because it was definitely more intimate.  I was also highly impressed by the number of people in attendance who wore some kind of costume.  It definitely added to the atmosphere and made it feel more like a group of friends playing together rather than a bunch of tourists visiting a theme park like some other Festivals have a tendency to feel.  That was a nice departure.  It truly felt like a market day or a festival day in a small village.

There were many fantastic vendors at the Festival, but one that I really enjoyed was the Village Books tent.  Village Books’s permanent location is in Columbia, MO.

...verily I cannot pass up a good book.

…verily I cannot pass up a good book.

They had me at the word “book.”  The tomes they had selected to bring back to the Renaissance were appropriately themed.  I, however, decided that I could not live without a book entitled Shakespeare’s Kitchen because it combines three of my favorite things:  books, food, and Shakespeare.

In addition to the vendors, there was a wonderful array of entertainment sprinkled throughout the grounds.  One such performer was Emrys Starsong, who writes much of his own materials in addition to performing songs penned by his mother and father.

Emrys Starsong

Emrys Starsong

One of my favorite songs from the set was a parody of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” that depicted a game of Dungeons and Dragons as told by the Dungeon Master.  While I myself am not a player (though when people find out that you dress for Ren Fests, many assume that you do play), I found the song very funny.

Another act that I enjoyed VERY much was Better Than Nun.   These two were great!  This was a hybrid comedy/musical act (as are most in the RenFest setting), and it appeared that a great many members of the audience found them as delightful as we did.

Two cheeky

Two cheeky “sisters” tell off-color jokes and sing bawdy songs. Perfect!

The show was lively and upbeat.  The song they sang about their vacation to “Hawai’i” was hysterical.  Another song that was quite well-received was the camp out favorite, “The Rooster Song.”  This group is fantastic.  Who doesn’t love spirited nuns?  😉  I can’t wait to catch them at future Festivals.

Another nice feature of the day was the University of Missouri Columbia’s Raptor Rehabilitation Project raptor demonstration.  Beautiful creatures.

Jacob is a Red-Tailed Hawk who is used as an Education Bird with the Project

Jacob is a Red-Tailed Hawk who is used as an Education Bird with the Project

This beauty is currently in the rehabilitation process and they plan to release it back into the wild.

This beauty is currently in the rehabilitation process and they plan to release it back into the wild.

And finally we come to the part of the day that I always look forward to:  the food.  There were two options to choose from:  the food booth and the food truck.  After seeing the massive volcano of nachos on other people’s plates, we decided we couldn’t hold out anymore.  We had to head to the Lilly’s Cantina Food Truck.

Honestly some of the best nachos I've ever had.

Honestly some of the best nachos I’ve ever had.

Yes, I took a picture of my nachos.  I told you earlier that I love food.  Seriously good stuff.  We saw somebody who got one of the burritos.  HUGE.

For now the Central Missouri Renaissance Festival is only open for one weekend, but according to Doug Wilson (one of the Festival organizers we happened to meet while waiting for our turn at the food truck), the hope is that attendance this year would be large enough to justify a second weekend.  I hope the second weekend happens next year so that more people will get the opportunity to discover this local gem of a Festival.

Kansas City Renaissance Festival: Wonderful Treasures, Priceless Memories

Whew! The last couple of weeks have been busy! I’m finally getting time to sit down and write my review of the Kansas City Renaissance Festival which I attended on Sunday, September 13, 2015.

I’ve been to the KC Ren Fest several times over the years and each time I find something new or interesting that pulls me into their world. This year did not disappoint in that aspect. Highland Fling was the theme of the weekend and it was the first time I’ve really seen any Highland games. From the very brief research I’ve done on the games, they were started a very long time ago to help condition and strengthen the Scottish army. Now they are a way to keep the Scottish heritage alive, measure brute strength and so I can ogle the hotties in kilts! (Hey, what’s a fair maiden to do while waiting for her prince?)

Coming from a town that has an annual fall festival, I always think about the food when attending a fair or festival. KC Ren Fest does not disappoint. I always go in thinking about turkey legs, but end up with a bread bowl of something and hopefully a stout coffee or ale. The White Stag Inn (see photos) is a fairly new feature with a pub-like atmosphere and wonderful bread bowls of Guinness Beef Stew. Yeah, my mouth is watering right now! The tables in the White Stag Inn are narrow and the bench is tall. While I’m average height (5’5”) my feet didn’t touch the ground. Swinging my leg was fun for a little while but made it difficult to chow down on the stew. The entertainment at the inn was passable but not as enjoyable as some of the musical groups elsewhere at the fair.IMG_0652  IMG_0657

Speaking of musical groups, one of the first stops we made (after getting some sweets) was listening to the Maguire Brothers. Listening to Irish and Scottish ballads always put me at ease and tugs at my Scots-Irish heritage. I could have sat and listened to them all day but there is more to pursue at the Fest than just music.

One of the best parts of the fest is visiting all the shops with handmade treasures. I did not purchase anything this year but last year I did lay out some coin for a few items. I purchased a one-of-a-kind, handmade headband from A Wench in the Gear that is decorated with brown/black/tan feathers that mold to my head and a lovely cameo that sits just above my ear. Everything in this shop is a one-of-a-kind and her corsets are made to order. You can use these for anything from Steampunk cosplay to general back brace for better posture. They are true steel-boned structure and molded to your body and don’t come cheap but are well worth the money spent.  

IMG_0736 IMG_0737

I got a lovely real rose necklace from Real Rose Jewelry. These are real roses that they have frozen in time and look Victorian and wonderfully old-fashioned. I chose the gold crescent moon for a whimsical look. The necklace goes with almost every piece of clothing I own to that is a pleasant bonus!

IMG_0740 IMG_0742

This was the first year I attended in costume and it certainly made the experience better. Being mistaken a few times for ren fest actors and being approached by the king and queen made me feel special. The costume I wore wasn’t authentic by any means, but was well made. While there are clothiers at the fest, I didn’t buy from them. I found most of my pieces on eBay where it is nice to find quality construction.

All in all, the Kansas City Renaissance Festival is a great way to spend a day or weekend. You will come away with wonderful treasures, a full belly and priceless memories.

Highland Fling Weekend at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival

This last weekend was the perfect time to head out to Ye Olde Festival of the Renaissance held in the City of Kansas.  Of course, the festival isn’t REALLY held in Kansas City.  It is held in Bonner Springs, Kansas, also known as “the home of the last free exits on I-70 for the next million miles.”  The temperature held steady at about 70 degrees and there was no rain in sight.  In fact, there had been no rain for several days before the weekend which made the ubiquitous mud found in the village of Canterbury a bit of a mystery (but then again, there are Barbarians running about during the reign of Henry VIII, too.  And fairies and steampunks and once I even saw an Emperial  Stormtrooper…).  The truth is, if you try to make sense of RenFest, you ruin it; so grab a turkey leg and chill out.

This particular festival is obviously doing something right because it has been going strong since 1977, and its longevity is evident in the high quality, permanent construction of the village setting.  The single-day admission price at the gate is $20.95 (advance tickets are $17.95 if purchased at participating retailers.  Many businesses also offer $3 off coupons for use at the gate.  Whatever you do, DO NOT ORDER YOUR TICKETS ONLINE.  There is a $2 surcharge, if memory serves, which practically nullifies your discount.  Do yourself a favor and find yourself a Walgreens…it is almost guaranteed they have the tickets), which sounds a bit steep, but when one takes into consideration that all of the entertainment is free (and there is plenty of that),  the per-hour price is only $2.67 if you were to stay from open to close.  We’ve never actually done that, though, because there is so much to do we exhaust ourselves well before 6 pm.

Before I go any further, I must admit that the Highland Fling is my favorite theme weekend at ANY Renaissance Festival.  It sets the bar almost impossibly high for the other weekends as far as I’m concerned. Why do I love the Highland Fling?  One word:  kilts (my favorite kilt-wearer is my own dear husband who looks positively resplendent in his great kilt, but I digress).  Another reason?  The Highland Games!  While we only stuck around long enough to watch two of the events–the tossing of the sheaf (using a pitch fork, a burlap-wrapped bundle of straw–weighing 16-20 lbs for men and 12 lbs for women–is thrown over a bar.  You get three attempts at each height, and at the end of each round, the bar is raised by a couple of feet) and the William Wallace Challenge (where, with arms either straight out or slightly elevated above shoulder level, one must hold a sword in each hand for as long as one can.  Once the swords drop below shoulder level, the timer is stopped)–any amount of time spent at the Games is sure to entertain.  One of the sure-to-please events is the Tossing of the Caber.  Why?  Because it’s always fun to watch people send a telephone pole sailing end-over-end through the air, that’s why.  I guarantee that you will walk away from the Highland Games thinking to yourself, “I could totally do that.  I wonder how hard it would be to make a sheaf….”

While the Highland Games are great fun indeed, those benches are a bit pitiless on the posterior after a while.  A very close second on the fun front to watching the Games, for me at least, is visiting the vendors.  While oftentimes I walk away from a shop having purchased nothing, the vendors still take time to talk to me about their products at great length.  Why?  Well, yes, I MIGHT buy something, but more than that, I think many of these artisans are truly passionate about their craft.  Case in point:  A Wench in the Gear shop owner and creative costumer C.C. Guice.  She spoke with us for several minutes about her custom corsetry.  She went so far as to show us the steel boning that she uses as compared to typical steel boning and explained in detail what makes her steel boning superior.  She also explained how she drills through the boning in order to set the grommets so you never have to worry about losing a grommet from one of her corsets…which if you’ve ever owned a bodice or corset with grommets through fabric, you know this is a real fear.  Every piece in A Wench in the Gear is a one-of-a-kind work of art patterned off an original design that cleverly combines a back brace structure in the back and a classic tudor corset in the front.

The only purchase we made this go around was a new shirt for my husband.  I was thrilled to walk in to T’ger Toggs and find a beautiful buttery yellow leine (basically a tunic) that will go perfectly with M’ lord’s great kilt.  It, of course, wasn’t called a leine…but that’s exactly what it is.  This shop offers VERY reasonably priced items for virtually any size man.  “The Yoke” shirt costs $38, and they have a pair of baggy peasant pants that will fit most waist sizes for only $28.  (They also offered a fantastic tip for laundering the shirt:  always hang to dry to lengthen the life of the garment.)

After all that shopping, it was time to decide what to eat.  You are spoiled for choice here.  There is practically almost any kind of food you can think of tucked away SOMEWHERE.  I had managed to avoid temptations through most of the day up to this point because early on I had decided that my very life depended upon devouring a freshly baked cinnamon roll.  I washed it down with a cold cup of cider, which, as a side note, the bees and I both found heavenly.   When lunchtime finally rolled around, we looked around at the food vendors’ offerings.  Turkey leg?  Nah…I can never do a turkey leg any real justice (I don’t like eating meat off bones and all of the tendons in the drumstick kind of turn my stomach.  Ok, so I’m weird).

Just as we were getting ready to toss a coin and just join a queue to select something vaguely fastfoody we saw an oasis emerge from the mists…oh, alright, we turned a corner and saw the sign for the White Stag Inn, okay?  The White Stag was a new addition in 2014, and by Jove what a brilliant idea it was.  Dining areas around the festival grounds are few and far between.  May the gods be with you if you hope to find an actual table.  This leaves you awkwardly juggling your fish & chips while trying not to trip over dogs and toddlers.  Enter the White Stag.  This is a RESTAURANT.  They seat you at a table and take your order.  While you eat you are entertained by a different musical act every half hour.  The ambiance is very pub-like.  It is dimly lit, but casual and fun.

For $10 you have a choice of about five different meal options, all served with either water or soda.  For an additional fee, you can have wine, beer, or Woodchuck Hard Cider, too.  I chose the Guinness Beef Stew which was DELICIOUS!  The chunks of beef were big and tender and the veggies were all cooked just to the point of being done but not mush.  Of course the highlight of the meal was the fact that the stew was served in a bread bowl.  My name is Goody Bronwen and I am a Carbaholic.  There, I said it.  Anyway.  Well worth the money.  M’ lord had the “Cuban Crusader” sandwich which was also pretty tasty.  The verdict:  my vote will definitely be to eat at the White Stag Inn next year.  Why?  The food was really good and–call me lazy–I like to sit down while I eat.

The final thing that I wanted to mention about the weekend was the entertainment.  We went to see the Maguire Brothers sing some Irish ballads, and we really enjoyed the show.  My favorite song in the set was an arrangement of a Gillian Welch song called “Caleb Meyer.”  I had never heard this song before, but I really liked their performance.  In fact, I YouTubed the original, and I have to say I actually liked the Maguire Brothers’ rendition of the tune better than Welch’s.  It’s amazing how well a song set in rural Appalachia that depicts the attempted rape of a woman by a drunken neighbor (who she ultimately kills with the broken neck of his own whiskey bottle) translates to Irish harmonies and arrangement.  It probably helps that Gillian Welch is a well-known Bluegrass artist, and if Bluegrass wasn’t directly influenced by the music brought by immigrants from Ireland and Scotland, I’ll give you a dollar (and when I say I will give you a dollar, what I mean is that I will never actually give you a dollar.   Ever.  Seriously.  Don’t even ask.).

If you’re looking for something fun to do, get a group of friends together and head for Canterbury.  You don’t have to attend in costume, but I will say that for me it amps up the fun factor.  Twice this weekend I was asked if I was a participant (meaning you are a part of the actual troupe of costumed players), which I found kind of cool.  I should really start lying and say “yes” because I think you get a discount on things.  Also, it pays to get there early because while the crowds are smaller, you stand a better chance of getting to rub elbows with the King and Queen on their rounds.  This year the King and Queen came over to us and asked M’ lord if he would be participating in the Highland Games.  For some unidentifiable reason this thrilled me beyond measure (if you have identified the reason for my elation as being that I am obviously a loser, please keep it to yourself).  I’m convinced the attention we received was due to our costumes. Interesting side note:  M’ lord was the ONLY gentleman I saw wearing the great kilt this year.  Interesting considering the modern kilt WASN’T AROUND during the Tudor period.  Oh well.  Neither were Barbarians, but we’ve already covered that ground.

M' Lord and I at the KC RenFest

M’ Lord and I at the KC RenFest

If you’ve never been to a Renaissance Festival before, this is a great one to cut your teeth on.  Of course, it will also probably spoil you because it’s definitely the biggest in the area.  They are open every weekend from September 5 until October 18, and each weekend has a different theme and different activities.  You’ve still got time to make it out this season if you haven’t already been.  Give it a try and I almost bet you’ll be back next year.   For more information, visit Kansas City Renaissance Festival