RenFest's Opening Weekend Lets Houstonians Time Travel to Middle Ages

Hundreds of visitors to Todd Mission stepped into a time warp this weekend, as the Texas Renaissance  Festival opened its gates for its 42nd season. Everyone from a shirtless man in Ray-Ban sunglasses carrying a bottle of red wine, to a woman in a bright blue Cinderella dress—complete with six-foot-long train—seemed to be enjoying themselves on opening day of the two-month-long festival.

The version of the Middle Ages on display at the RenFest isn’t exactly completely historically accurate. Costumes ranged from leather dominatrixes to Star Wars storm troopers to Anonymous-style Guy Fawkes masks. There was also a fair amount of lederhosen on display, as the weekend’s theme was Oktoberfest.

“It’s the greatest people-watching opportunity anywhere,” said Mitch Gaspard of the festival. He should know, since Mitch and his long-term partner, Sandra Hand, have been going to the RenFest every year since the festival opened. For decades, the two have gone decked out to the festival as the French King Henry IV and Queen Marie de’ Medici. (Between the two of them, Gaspard estimated, they have about 80 costumes. They’ve even built a separate room to store them all.) They’ve watched the festival evolve from being a collection of tents and carpets on the ground to the massive, medieval extravaganza it is today.

Despite it only being opening day, none of the acts we caught seemed rusty. Christophe the Insulter—who, as his name implies, will insult any audience member if you pay him enough—impressively managed to work in references to both Saint Francis of Assisi and Cousin Itt, and to quote Alien within about ten minutes. (Parents, do not take your children to see his act unless you want them to acquire a very thorough understanding of female anatomy.) Meanwhile, the band Saxon Moon livened up their set with blasts of fire and a hula-hooping performer. The band was nominally inspired by the music of the Middle Ages, but their drummer said the band’s influences also included country, heavy metal, dubstep and early Nintendo. Though to be fair, we were a bit far back in the audience so maybe they didn’t actually namecheck the videogame maker—but some of the tunes definitely sounded like the music that plays whenever Mario confronts Bowser.

Gaspard and Hand recommended that festival goers check out the Ded Bob Sho, which was packed on Saturday afternoon. “There’s something here for everybody. It doesn’t matter how old you are,” Hand said, adding that you can’t expect to explore the entire festival in just one day—though it’s still worth trying. “I decided, at 84 years old, maybe it was my last day. And I was gonna spend it here.”

This year is your last chance to visit the festival before its off-season facelift. Next season will see the RenFest expand to add three more acres to the park, to create a storybook village-type area, as well as a new themed weekend.

But if you don’t happen to make it out to Todd Mission before the end of the RenFest on November 27, you’ll still have a chance to explore the festival’s grounds soon. As we reported Friday, this spring, the RenFest’s grounds will be used as the new home of Middlelands, a three-day-long music festival from the producing companies behind Electric Daisy Carnival, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits.

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Carter is the Houston Press fellow. A Seattle native, she graduated from Northwestern University and also has written for Elle, Los Angeles magazine and Ms. Magazine.
Contact: Carter Sherman