By royal decree, it’s time once again for the Texas Renaissance Festival. The nation’s largest Renaissance theme park brings the magic of the 16th century each weekend from September 30 through November 26 with all the food, merriment and entertainment Texans can handle.
To kick off RenFest, as it has been dubbed over the years, the opening weekend will transport guests back to old Bavaria with the best of the “wurst” for an Oktoberfest-themed weekend.
“We have traditionally opened with an Oktoberfest-themed weekend because it is a traditional European event which people love and also is part of this area’s German heritage,” says RenFest spokesman Travis Bryant. Expect polka dancing, costume contests and a Bratwurst-eating competition this weekend.
It’s impossible to think of Germany without thinking of beer, and RenFest falls right in line with that logic.
“We have an onsite microbrewery called Brigadoon Brewery. They create a new brew each year," says Bryant. "This year, in honor of the heroes that helped during Harvey, they named it ‘Houston Strong.’”
The brewers will tap a keg on The Globe Stage, and the King will sample the first taste.
“It’s a traditional, more German way to kick off Oktoberfest,” adds Bryant.
Also sticking to tradition, the King and Queen will greet guests at the area's front gate at 8:45 a.m. before firing the village cannon to open the day’s activities at 9 a.m., and each evening will close with Royal Fireworks at 8 p.m.
In the interim, revelers can enjoy anything from curated entertainment and hundreds of artisans to eclectic food and drink options. Any foodies planning to attend are advised to save that appetite, because the list of offerings is long.
In addition to the noggin-size, oh-so-delicious turkey legs, RenFest also brings a vast array of cooking styles encompassing Asian, British, Cajun, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Polish and pretty much anything "on a stick" — up to and including chicken, steak and lobster.
“Any kind of food you like, you will find it here,” promises Bryant. “We’re as much of a food festival as we are anything else.”
You need not worry, dear festival-goers who fill up on food and don’t want to make the dreaded drive home during a food coma. RenFest allows for camping out, too.
Guests can continue the fun at the Fields of New Market Campgrounds, a sprawling, 200-acre camping space for RVs, trailers and traditional tent sites. It also offers cabins and sites for “glamping," the smashup term for glamorous camping. It involves a fully serviced tent that is set up by attendants.
Explaining the idea behind "glamping," Bryant says, “It’s for people who like the idea of tent camping, but don’t have their own tent…It’s roughing it without roughing it too much.”
Cabins and "glamping" work for us. We don't mind a couple of nights away from the city, but we like our chemically softened toilet paper and access to electricity too.
For a weekend dedicated to all things 16th century, that sounds pretty modern to us. But hey, RenFest keeps up with the times. We know this because it also hosts TRF After Dark. This weekly event is a costume gala for guests age 21 and older that features music, dancing, live entertainment, contests, food and just about anything else an adult-gone-wild at a Renaissance festival might enjoy. It lasts from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. each Saturday of the festival, with the first one this weekend's Masquerade Ball.
Running a festival for more than 40 years can be a daunting task, but RenFest has been a staple of Houston entertainment for longer than some of its most ardent fans have been alive.
Now entering its 43rd year, the annual occurrence would be, if it were a person, roughly the same age as Lil' Kim (woefully unemployed), Victoria Beckham (gorgeous android) or Derek Jeter (possible steroids). Lucky for us, though, the celebration is much anticipated and highly enjoyed by the masses who want to soak in a good themed weekend.
Yet, age is just a number, and RenFest isn’t slowing down anytime soon. It keeps the party going well into November, with another special addition this year.
In addition to the regularly costume-filled weekends and "glamping," the organization has added an extra weekend to its already-packed lineup this year, the Heroes and Villains weekend on November 11 and 12. For those unfamiliar, the complete list of themed weekends is worth a once-over to decide which week(s) best fit your fancy.
Speaking of heroes, as many Houston organizations are doing in the wake of Harvey, the Texas Renaissance Festival will donate a portion of its proceeds to damage relief.
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“We have been a part of the Greater Houston area for 43 years now. Many of our friends and neighbors were impacted by Harvey, so we felt it was important to give back to a community that has been good to us over the years,” says Bryant. “The festival grounds barely suffered, and we recognized how fortunate we were, so we want to help others who weren’t quite as lucky.”
RenFest will divide a portion of sales among the Greater Houston Harvey Relief Fund, the Lone Survivor Foundation and the Society of Samaritans.
Texas Renaissance Festival’s “Oktoberfest” opening weekend runs 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and October 1. It continues each weekend through November 26 at 21778 FM 1774. For information, visit texrenfest.com. Free to $30. Camping is $25 per vehicle per weekend.