Somewhere off Farm-to-Market Road 1774, nestled in the woods about an hour and a half away from Houston, is a place called Todd Mission, Tex. You might not recall the name of the town sandwiched in between the "big cities" of Plantersville and Magnolia, but you're well aware of events that transpire there eight weeks in October and November every year. The Texas Renaissance Festival.
Hear ye! Hear ye! If you, like I, have written off the Ren Fest as "kid stuff," take heed!
To celebrate the festival's 40th anniversary, organizers have added another sparkling jewel to the king's crown: King Midas' Masquerade Ball. Debuting this year, it's described in the press release as "an unprecedented celebration of magic, mystery, and imagination...It's sure to be a party beyond your wildest dreams!"
While most of Ren Fest might be considered a family affair, the Ball is not. Every Saturday through November 29, after the fair closes, the Ball opens. Leave the little ones with a sitter, because guests at this soiree must be 21 and over.
Let's cut to the chase: This is not your Grandma's ball. It's not stiff and stuffy...and isn't all that prim or proper, either. It's loose and lively. And with complimentary domestic beer and house wine until 11 p.m., plus a buffet of tantalizing hors d'oeuvres all night long, there's no mystery why it has been selling out.
Imagine one part three-ring circus and three parts Vegas stage show, mixed with a nightclub and the dream prom you were hoping for as a teen, then add a jigger of dramatic Shakespearean soliloquies, and the show comes close to making the perfect cocktail of fun and fantasy.
Pan is the master of ceremonies for the night, and he spits out more tawdry, rapid-fire double entendres and sexual innuendo than Mae West and Jayne Mansfield combined. Along with the other mythical creatures in Pan's entourage, King Midas' court makes up the bulk of the entertainment for the evening's festivities.
Ball-goers Julie and Jen, 24 and 25, have been coming to Ren Fest since they were teenagers.
"We come every weekend and haven't missed one in over a decade," says Jen. "We thought this would just be a fun extension to our weekend." That seems to be par for the course here. Lots of regulars, most in custom attire, dress to the nines. Some guys and gals even bring their own ceramic or pewter tankards to pour their adult beverages into.
I incurred a slight misunderstanding, however, in thinking a mask and period costume or black tie are suggested. They are not. However, costumes may reflect any period or fantasy, "including -- but not limited to -- classical, ren-aissance or modern formal wear," the press release says.
Wearing a suit was out of the question. For one, it seemed like it might be a hassle. I mean...what if you want to go to the Renaissance Festival before you go to the Masquerade Ball?! And the real reason: When at Ren Fest, do as the people of Ren Fest do.
Due to my lack of planning and overall laziness, all the good costumes at Frankel's Costume shop had already been rented. I had to go with "Plan B": Dress as a peasant. (Partly because that's all I could afford.)
So I rolled up to the Ball wearing a light, see-through linen tunic that exposed my unsightly chest hair and pants that felt as if they were made out of a burlap sack, cut to look like MC Hammer's pajama bottoms. A lowly pauper, I was still greeted by many a masked maiden asking to touch my beard (don't tell my wife).
Wearing masks puts people at ease. People here are open and inviting, and the masks add a bit of mystery to the whole affair.
Story continues on the next page.
The Ball is housed in 15,000 square feet of tented pavilion with all the modern amenities, including -- and most important -- air conditioning. You first step into a courtyard with a beautiful and exotic garden entrance. The main ballroom is for dancing and entertainment, and two rooms -- one left, one right -- are V.I.P. and dining.
Periodically, between performances by contortionists, jugglers, tightrope walkers, magicians and the like, the cast personally invites the guests to dance; the first song spun is Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." After that it's a weird but fun mix: Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off," "Midnight City" by M83, newcomer Meghan Trainor's summer jam "All About That Bass." Later in the evening, the crowd gets treated to the hokey pokey, the bunny hop and a little more formal "couples dancing" by way of classical music.
Judging by the hush that falls on the crowd, the aerialists are easily everyone's favorite part of the night. Two ladies hang from the rafters, and I overhear a gentleman dressed as a barbarian say, "Holy shit! Just looking at that scares me."
"This thing has been two years in the making," says Dan Lowe, Ren Fest's vendor coordinator. He explains that while theirs is inspired by the Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade Ball in L.A., it's built by Texas Ren Fest artists to be all their own. He wants everyone from Star Wars to Superman cosplayers to come out and enjoy themselves, Lowe adds.
Now, with the clock striking 1 a.m., all good things must come to an end. If only this poor peasant could save a little extra money to come as a jester next year.
21778 F.M. 1774, Todd Mission, Tex., 281-356-2178, texrenfest.com
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