Charla Ward turned up her TV to 50 inside of her insulated home and could still hear the sound. When the thumping wouldn’t stop, Debbie Smith slept in a closet of the home she had just moved into a week before. And the deer that were spooked by the 96-hour party? They’re gone.
By most accounts, the first annual Middlelands, an EDM and camping festival that took place at the Texas Renaissance Festival grounds last weekend, was lit. An estimated 66,000 people flocked to tiny Todd Mission for the festival that was billed as a three-day deal but actually ended up starting a night early with an all-night pre-party.
But to the people who live near the festival grounds in Todd Mission, Middlelands, which will happen each year in the spring for the foreseeable future, was a total drag.
Residents insist that this isn’t the clichéd scenario of “I love outdoor music festivals, just not in my neighborhood.”
Yeah, the noise onslaught was the pits because it really didn’t let up between Thursday night and early Monday morning. What was also shocking is that they say they had no clue that Middlelands was taking place in the first place, which made the sanctuary invasion feel more extreme. Additionally, residents say that multiple calls placed to the Grimes County Sheriff’s Office, the Todd Mission Police Department and Texas Renaissance Festival staff went to a Kafka-esque loop of nothing.
Ward lives about one mile from the Texas Renaissance Festival in Plantation Lakes, a 200-lot development in Grimes County. She normally watches TV with the volume at 30, but the sound from Middlelands made her click the volume arrow up 20 times. It did nothing. “And I live in an all-brick home,” says Ward. “I love outdoor music…but the bed was physically shaking.”
Smith, a Houston transplant who had lived in Magnolia for years, wanted even more of a country living existence, so she and her husband spent months building a home on a five-acre swab of land located about two miles from the Texas Renaissance Festival.
The couple moved in April 28. Six days later, Middlelands fired up the stacks of speakers.
“Literally, Friday night was bad enough that I slept on the floor in our closet. I have no problem with loud music, but it was nonstop,” says Smith, 55, who adds that her husband was in the clear because he wears hearing aids. “When he pulled them out, he couldn’t hear the noise, but he could still feel the vibrations,” she says.
Before a 7:30 a.m. conference call Friday morning, Smith – who works from home for a Fortune 500 company and spends a majority of her 12-hour-plus workdays on the phone – first called the Grimes County Sheriff's Office, who told Smith that it didn’t have jurisdiction.
She was told to give Todd Mission PD a call. “They said, ‘We’re working on it. Give us a chance,’” recalls Smith, who says nothing changed. “I thought to myself, ‘I hope my boss doesn’t think I’m listening to rock and roll during the conference call.’”
Ward and Smith are used to the traffic chaos created by the Texas Renaissance Festival and have learned to plan around those weeks each fall. “You go to the grocery store during the week,” says Smith. “You improvise, adapt and overcome.”
Middlelands was a totally different behemoth, says Ward.
“Ren Faire shuts off at a certain time. This was from 4 p.m. Thursday to 1 a.m. Monday. You could physically feel the noise,” says Ward, who adds that a coworker found a young couple passed out inside a car with barf cascading down the window in the Brookshire Brothers parking lot in Magnolia. According to the Grimes County Sheriff’s Office, 42 people were arrested for narcotics possession (including ecstasy, LSD, coke and pot) and a handful for public intoxication over the weekend of May 4 to 7.
Would Middlelands have been more tolerable if locals had known about it in advance? Not really, says Smith.
“I’m all for the festival taking place until 11 o’clock at night or even midnight. If there could be quiet hours from midnight to 7 a.m., that would be fine,” says Smith.
“I probably wouldn’t have moved in when I did,” continues Smith. “It was disheartening. You feel like your home has been invaded. It’s like getting hit with a wet rag in the face.”
The Texas Renaissance Festival, in a prepared statement, had this to say:
The Texas Renaissance Festival and the producers of Middlelands would like to express our gratitude to the residents of Todd Mission and the surrounding areas for supporting the Middlelands event. We were very happy with details like traffic flow, security, and health and wellness, but as is always the case for any new event, there are things we can learn from.
First on our list is having better community involvement from the start in the planning of the event. The producers of Middlelands value community as much as we do. Your feedback is appreciated, your voices will be heard, and we will take that into account as we diligently work to reevaluate various elements of the festival.
Middlelands has the potential to be a fun and safe destination for locals and travelers, not to mention a huge economic boost for our community, and we look forward to working with local residents and business owners to make this a successful experience for all.
To that end, TRF and the producers of Middlelands will be hosting a Town Hall event at the Magnolia City Hall next Thursday, May 18 at 6 p.m. If you are speaking on behalf of a community group or HOA, please send just one representative. We look forward to hearing from you."
Maybe some of the rural wildlife will have returned by the time the town hall meeting takes place. Smith has a deer feeder in the backyard of her home, and she often admires the deer that come within five feet of her country home.
The last time she saw them was shortly before Middlelands came and went. “The birds are here, but we haven’t seen any deer,” says Smith. “They haven’t been back.”
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