Middlelands Hopes to Gracefully Import EDM Vibe to RenFest Country

A different type of bizarro world is about to converge on the Texas Renaissance Festival grounds for the Middlelands EDM festival.EXPAND
A different type of bizarro world is about to converge on the Texas Renaissance Festival grounds for the Middlelands EDM festival.
Photo by Lisandro Sanchez
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Attention Lords and Ladies of the Middlelands campgrounds! A special announcement from Insomniac and C3 Presents comes from a land far, far away for those building their castles and kingdoms in the Texas Renaissance Festival Fair Grounds forest.

So goes another offbeat tease in a recent press release for Middlelands, a three-day EDM music and camping festival that will take place, rain or shine, at the Texas Renaissance Festival grounds, located about 50 miles northwest of Houston in sleepy Todd Mission, during the first weekend of May.

Along with five stages stacked with EDM acts as well as attractions such as 24-hour food trucks and people dressed as “cyber-wenches,” Middlelands attendees are encouraged to set up camp for the weekend at the 55-acre, mock 16th-century English township.

If throwing down a yoga mat on top of an old sheet on top of the dirt isn’t your scene, the festival offers splurge opportunities such as the Knight’s Quarters, which is a teeny furnished cabin for two (cost: $3,150) and the Regal Coach, where three to four people can pony up $5,450 and sleep in what amounts to a standard Winnebago. These costs are in addition to the $205 general admission fee — the festival offers a layaway plan for those who can’t pay the three-day GA cost in one go. (Single-day tickets cost $95 plus fees.)

In the weeks leading up to the debut event, scheduled from Friday, May 5, through Sunday, May 7, festival figureheads, who say that this will be an annual deal for the foreseeable future, are hoping that Middlelands becomes Texas’s version of the Electric Daisy Carnival, the crème de la crème of EDM fests. City officials are also crossing their fingers and toes for a big splash while local residents, for now, remain ho-hum about the over-the-top production that’s certainly going to strangle the already choked traffic flow in nearby Magnolia.

Middlelands is a first-time partnership between the Los Angeles-based Insomniac Events, which produces Nocturnal Wonderland and the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, and Austin’s C3 Presents, which heads up Austin City Limits Music Festival, Houston’s Free Press Summer Festival and Chicago’s Lollapalooza. Live Nation, which bought a 50-percent chunk of Insomniac in 2013, also controls a majority stake of C3 Presents.

The Middlelands lineup is listed alphabetically...
The Middlelands lineup is listed alphabetically...
Courtesy of Insomniac Events

Two years ago, Insomniac founder Pasquale Rotella, an enormous fan of Game of Thrones who throws Thrones-themed dinners whenever new episodes air, dreamed up Middlelands shortly after touring the Texas Renaissance Festival grounds.

“When I walked in, my mind was blown. The infrastructure is like walking back in time,” says Rotella about the RenFest site, which recently expanded its Fields of New Market Campground. “It was a dream come true in regards to having things already there that are aesthetically amazing. Between that and the site itself, the outskirts of the site, the trees, the forest, the grass, it is definitely the best camping festival site in Texas. It’s definitely up there with Electric Forest in regards to being one of the best in the United States.”

Terre Albert, CEO and general manager of the Texas Renaissance Festival, says that he was open to renting out the space for a festival just as long as it didn’t conflict with RenFest, which takes place annually in the fall and attracts close to 35,000 people per day; the 43rd edition is scheduled to take place each weekend from September 30 to November 26.

“Live Nation personnel have been coming out to TRF for many, many, many years, so I believe they recognize the unique situation and distance from Houston and the crowds that we were drawing and probably saw it as a viable option for a music festival,” says Albert. (The Houston Press attempted to speak to “King” George Coulam, mayor of Todd Mission and co-founder, along with his brother David, of the Texas Renaissance Festival, but our request was kicked over to Albert, who tells us, “George is essentially retired.”)

The estimated attendance for the debut version of Middlelands, which has been in the works for two years, is about 25,000 folks, according to Rotella, who can’t wait to showcase the festival’s bizarro-world attractions.

“We’re going to have all sorts of stuff on site — hula-hoop classes, movies being shown, a farmers’ market,” says Rotella. “We’re allowing people to have sound camps, which is really exciting to me. A collective of DJs or friends can set up a little sound system and a whole camp and entertain people at your camp.” Rotella says that Kristian Nairn, an accomplished DJ who plays Hodor on Game of Thrones, will perform during Middlelands.

Despite the secluded location, Rotella and Albert aren’t anticipating any logistical hiccups. Insomniac and C3 are responsible for security and event staff, medical personnel and the post-festival cleanup. The City of Todd Mission will provide police, fire and traffic-control personnel. “Everyone is really excited,” says Rotella. “We have everyone’s support, and we go through everything together and get everyone to sign off on every aspect of the show.”

Getting to the site, however, might be a whole other production.

...and this pre-party is probably going to be mental.
...and this pre-party is probably going to be mental.
Courtesy of Insomniac Events

From Houston, whether it’s cruising up Interstate 45 to the exit for Farm to Market Road 1488 or via Texas 249, pretty much all the roads are torn up in Magnolia leading to FM 1774 and Todd Mission. At least it feels that way. And that’s on a normal day, such as at 3 p.m. on the regular Friday afternoon when the Press drove to Magnolia via I-45 and FM 1488. We sat in a bath of brake lights for more than 30 minutes.

That’s because, in order to accommodate the area’s population growth, the Texas Department of Transportation is currently widening, extending and improving the major thruways in and around Magnolia and Todd Mission. A flyover for 1488 is currently in the works and scheduled for completion by September/October, but improvements to Highway 249 won’t be wrapped up until 2019 at best.

Whenever RenFest is in season, the traffic is, in diplomatic terms, complete crap. If you believe the rants online, it couldn’t have been any worse than last year, when 678,550 people converged on RenFest 2016, shattering the previous all-time attendance record.

But some folks sat in traffic for two, three, even four hours, only to turn around and go home. Perhaps worse, some lucky ducks who actually made it to RenFest were blindsided with a two-hour or more bottleneck just to get out of the parking lot.

“It’s a horror show,” a commenter posted on an online thread. “A nightmare hellscape!” wrote another. “That place is cursed. Stay away.” “I will never go back to the festival, not worth it.” “This shit has been going on for years.” “Luckily we passed a gas station so I bought a six pack (I wasn’t driving) which made my experience much more enjoyable.”

You get the idea.

“This is the first time, so we don’t know what the traffic will be like,” says City of Magnolia council member Anne Sundquist about Middlelands. “It’s not going to be quite as difficult to maneuver through it as for a regular RenFest weekend.”

Albert says approximately 45 traffic control officers will be on hand, and 20 controlled intersections leading to and out of the grounds. “We control a crowd on average of about 35,000 people,” says Albert about RenFest. “I don’t expect that they’ll have that here on this event, not even close to that, so our traffic control will be overkill. I don’t expect any problems.”

Sundquist downplayed the overall traffic woes in Magnolia.

“I haven’t seen anybody in any sort of upset. If they’re upset, they’re keeping it inside their vehicle. That’s a good thing,” says Sundquist, who adds that the slick practice of cutting through one of the three area subdivisions in order to avoid the mess on 1774 during previous RenFests, which irked residents to no end, has been put to a stop. “I think the RenFest is trying to be very respective to people who live in the area, and we’re just all trying to find a happy medium.”

The Press attempted to take the pulse of Magnolia residents about Middlelands by visiting Magnolia Diner, a 1950s-themed, good ol' rock and roll Americana eatery on FM 1488. Nobody was aware of the upcoming festival. Even Sundquist, who spoke to us a month before the festival was scheduled to take place, didn’t have the dates burned into her brain. (Magnolia mayor Todd Kana and council member John Bramlett were unresponsive to multiple interview requests.)

While Magnolia’s businesses and the city’s tax base will experience a monetary injection from Middlelands, a question remains: Will festivals other than RenFest become be too burdensome to locals? City officials don’t think so, especially after all that road construction is completed.

“Looking beyond this particular festival, I’m hoping to get knowledge on how to operate something like this for other genres of music," Albert adds. "We’re definitely unique, so country, classic rock or anything else would be great. I suspect that this won’t be the last festival that comes in this direction and looks to use the facility in the springtime, because there’s just not enough three-day camping festival grounds out there. I mean, name them. You can’t name hardly any.”

“RenFest kept growing a little bit each year, both in area and in population in those attending,” says Sundquist. “People will have to get used to it.”

Middlelands sets up camp on the Texas Renaissance Festival grounds from May 5 to 7. Learn more at middlelands.com.

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