A love of faire: Characters keep visitors entertained at Bastrop attraction
Mar 11, 2013 (The Eagle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Inspired by Robin Hood, fairies and general merriment, the Sherwood Forest Faire has returned to the 25-acre plot in McDade to envelop visitors in an alternate reality, though they're only minutes from the city.
In its fourth year, and set in 1192 in Nottingam, England, the fair has grown from "just a seed," said Zane Baker, a director.
"The concept came, inspired by the Texas Renaissance Festival, which has been there about 40 years in the Houston area," Baker said in a polished English accent. "We decided we wanted to do something similar with the same sort of spirit, only we wanted to do something different, so it's not a carbon copy."
Baker said the fair has more than 150 vendors and about 1,000 people who work either on the staff or with independent vendors.
"This really was just a forest. And it was a jungle of a forest, overgrown with all sorts of things. You couldn't see from here to the chapel," Baker said, turning his Robin Hood-style hat toward a structure about 20 feet away. "Rather than try to build every little thing as owners, we cultivate a place and we've founded a town."
Within steps from the entrance, where visitors are greeted by costumed actors, Tiger Flores hammered at a burning orange strip of metal, curving the end into a pretzel shape.
Flores, co-owner of Earthen Metals in Elgin, said he has worked as a blacksmith for 18 years and was asked to set up a booth after a fair owner found his shop.
Flores pulled at a long handle, inflating a double-chambered bellows that pumped air into a bed of orange and black bituminous coal burning at 3,000 degrees.
Addressing a small throng of onlookers, Flores described the function of the bellows.
"What happens when you blow air on a fire It gets hotter," he said. "There's a top plate, a bottom plate and a middle plate. As I pull the stick, the bottom plate comes up, forces air through the pipe here and also fills up the top chamber. And that top plate falls to keep the air going."
Flores shoved a stick of iron into the heap of coals, waiting for it to heat up.
"Some people will say that the double chamber bellows resembles Congress; it has two chambers and produces a continuous stream of air," Flores said with a chuckle.
A passerby trudged through the forest, drinking from a long, hollow horn, and revealed behind him "The Horn Shoppe."
Valerie Newton, owner of the horn distributor, said the naturally hollow horns are purchased by a broad spectrum of people, not just fair frequenters.
"Bikers buy them. We have several people, obviously, that go to the teams that want to cut off the horns, who buy them," Newton said with a grin. "We do not discriminate. Rodeo people also find them very attractive."
Newton said the business also makes horns specifically for blowing, and "combination" horns for both drinking and blowing. The drinking and combination horns, she said, are covered with a two-part polymer resin that allows for cold, hot and alcoholic beverages.
"When [horn purchasers] do get obnoxiously drunk, they want to make noise," Newton said, laughing. "They won't sound any better, but they think they do."
Sipping on beverages from more conventional vessels, Raquel Martinez and her husband, Aaron, cheered on their young godson and cousin as they, along with about 14 other children, received a lesson at the "Children's School of Sword."
"Advance! Advance! Advance!" yelled the instructor, donning leggings and an elaborate English headdress. With wooden swords at the ready, the children marched forward to take on their imaginary competitors.
"This," Martinez said, gesturing toward the sword-wielders, "and some of the other plays are interactive with the different actors and artists who are here. They definitely get you involved, make you laugh, and that's what I think makes it different than any other. Coming from Austin, you have a lot of live music and shows, but here you get to interact, too, so it's really different."
Baker, bustling around in an elaborate tunic and leggings and still maintaining his English accent, said he couldn't quantify how much revenue the fair has brought in over the four-year operation.
"I can't even speak to that. I know we move a lot of it around, but we don't take much of it home yet. But that's the goal."
The fair, along U.S. 290 in Bastrop County, will remain open on weekends through March 31 and this Friday from 10 a.m. to dusk.
Tickets for adults are $18, and $10 for children ages 6 to 12. Children under 5 receive free admission. Discounted prices are available at www.sherwood forestfaire.com or at H-E-B stores. Tickets purchased between 10 a.m. and noon Sunday are priced "two-for-one."
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