(Pictures of Sherwood are posted in the picture galleries)
We went to the new festival, Sherwood Forest Faire, without very high expectations. After all, it is brand new. We have seen many a start up festival here in the North Texas area fail quickly…
And of course, our biggest obstacle was that we have TRF to use for comparison. I had to keep reminding myself that this was not going to be in-line with TRF by any fashion, – it is simply too new. It would not matter if they were just as large, had as many shows and actors, or anything. It is new, and has not had the chance to build its own “magical” feel that a well-established festival like TRF has. I had also been keeping track of their progress on the Sherwood web site, and had been thinking that they may have been rushing things a bit. Looking back after being there, I am actually very impressed with how much they got done in the amount of time they did it in.
We decided to go on opening day. What better way to get a feel for what it could become. (We hope to return before it ends, and see what changes (if any) they do, and see how the shops and actors stand up to multiple weekends.) After enduring many weeks of cold, harsh, rainy and snowy weather in North Texas, I was worried about conditions when we went. The weather in Texas can still get a bit nasty in February, and without much notice as we all know! However, the weather on opening day could not have been better! It started out sunny and cool, and developed into a wonderful mild temperature that lasted throughout the day. Perfect for a light jacket!
We made a point of leaving early (well early by my standards anyway), so that we would be there when the gates opened. For the record, Sherwood opens at 10:00am, and for a night owl like me, that extra hour makes all the difference!
First impressions can do a lot you know? And some of my first impressions as we arrived had me worried….
First of all, you have to drive about a mile down dirt/gravel roads barely wide enough for two cars to pass. I sure am glad it was not rainy or wet! And I was quite amused at the row of cows that were lined up watching the road in one pasture. It was obvious they were not used to this amount of traffic going by them. Ever hear about a cow standing at a new fence? This was how they looked as we passed by…
This dirt road led you to an open field parking lot that looked like it had only been clear cut in the past week or so. And as we were directed into the lot, they turned us away from the gate, and had us parking in what I would call the second section of the lot. We all wondered why we could not turn toward the gate. We could have parked literally 100 feet from the gate?? As we walked up the path, we quickly saw why we were led to the second section. The front section, which is on a slight down grade from the rest of the lot, was still way too muddy from recent rains. People would have got stuck for sure.
My next “first impression?” – If you notice above, I did not say “gates” – I said gate, as in single. Even with the limited opening crowd, I saw that this would already be a problem. And I didn’t see an exit gate. – Yes that is right, the “in” gate and the “out” gate are one and the same. Now mind you, it is larger than the ones at TRF, but not much. Imagine our two exit gates with the wall knocked out from between them. That is about the size of their only gate.
We walked up to buy tickets, and as we went back out to our place in line, I noticed that the tickets had bar codes, and a statement that said “all tickets will be scanned for authenticity.” For of those you reading this who are not Beefeaters at TRF, we found it very amusing! Our biggest headache the past few years have been the online printed tickets that we at TRF scan when you come in. Patrons love the online tickets, but working the gate as a Beefeater has made me HATE them. (Editorial here: as a patron, you should really hate them too! After all, they are what slows down your entry into TRF and have you standing in line at times!)
As we waited, I looked around, and was happy to see several familiar faces in the crowd. Not anyone I actually know or anything, but those I recognize from TRF. Of course, being out of uniform, I doubt anyone knew me – but we know who the diehards are! See them every year! To me, this was a good sign, knowing that other regulars were giving this new Faire a chance!
So we are standing there, evaluating the gates and scan tickets, when I notice that 10:00am has come and gone, and Sherwood has not yet opened. I really start thinking to myself that this was a mistake going there, etc. – that we were wasting our time, etc. And my thought was “not a very good way to make an impression on your new patrons by opening late.”
But at about 10:10, some actors appear above the gates at the top of the wall, and begin what I guess you could call an opening show. Some proclamations were made dedicating the new Faire, etc… to be honest, I am not real sure what all was said because I could not hear them the entire time. And the one actor I could hear? Well, he forgot his lines about half way through. Oops….
So finally, they open the gates, and the rush in begins right? Nope…. Their scanners did not seem to be working well for them (surprise! I could have warned you about that one!), and the crowd was only trickling in at a rate of about 6 people a minute. Remember, it was ONE gate, and only two ticket takers. (No Beefeaters I am afraid…) But they got smart, and scrapped the scanners, and simply just started taking tickets. (gee, been there, done that!) Once they did this, the crowd was able to enter quickly. I would have compared this opening crowd size to a rainy Sunday opening crowd at TRF. Because of that, entry was not bad. But if this festival succeeds, they will have to do some serious remodelling of the gate and how they have patrons enter and leave.
The small crowd was also a good thing given the design just inside the gate. It does not open into a court yard, but rather tunnels you down a walk way not much wider than the gate, between two shops. The one on the left is the “souvenir” shop, and I really can’t remember what was on the right. Had just one or two people coming in the gate stopped to look at either of those shops, it would have meant instant stopping of the crowd entering. If the crowds grow, this too will be a serious problem for them if there is no redesign of the gate and entry.
But once we made it past the entry, and past those first two shops, I have to admit I really was impressed. Sherwood had a very peaceful, calming feel to it. We went from a clear cut parking area into a wooded forest setting. My overall attitude at this point changed, and once again I had to reflect on things and remind myself that this was not TRF. And at this point (literally within minutes of walking in), I knew I was going to have a good time and enjoy myself at this new festival. (and for the record, and before you accuse me of being too critical, I DID have a very good time at Sherwood!!)
I was impressed with how much they got done in the time they did it, and was impressed with little details others might not even notice. The very first of which was the way they built the perimeter fence. They used rough cut, log looking boards rather than standard fencing. As to be expected at a new Faire, not all of the perimeter had shops or buildings in front of it, and they did a good job with keeping the fence “in character” so to speak. There were a few places the fence could be higher to hide the “real world” that lay beyond, but as some of us noted, when the fence was built, that semi-trailer and other real world objects were probably not there. An easy oversight that is an easy fix though and I am sure it did not go unnoticed.
The low fences might also be explained this way? At 6′-3″, I might be seeing things from a different perspective. For example, throughout the site, there were many signs in the shapes of an arrow that would direct patrons to various places. The first one we encountered just happened to be the sign for first aid. I was rather amused that the “first aid” sign happened to be mounted at the perfect height to be at eye level for those of us in the 6’ range! It kind of became the quiet joke between me and the Capt. during the day, as it seemed that all the signs were posted at about this same level… we could just imagine some 4′-6” person running around, standing on their toes, putting the signs up as high as they could!
Other little details did not go unnoticed. Taking the effort to conceal the electrical boxes around the site was a nice touch. I have been to other Faires that did not pay attention to the little things like that. Until you have compared a few, you would not understand how important this type of attention to detail is. Every time you see something “real world” while at a Ren Faire it steals some of the magic away. Every fan of the Faires reading this knows exactly what I am talking about.
Within just a very short time (and as soon as I had a beer in my hand), it was very obvious some serious effort went into the design of this Faire. The layout had a nice, natural feel to it that allowed you to wonder in all the right directions at any time you wanted. Some in the group said things such as “well, this one is so much smaller, it would be hard not to go where you wanted to be at any time.” I disagree. Sherwood is large enough that if the layout of the paths were done different, it could be very hard to navigate your way around. The layout also holds much promise for growth of the Faire, allowing it to expand as it gains popularity in the coming years, without actually going beyond the perimeter that is already in place. For instance, I think TRF has reached it maximum potential as it stands now. If TRF wanted to grow and still maintain the open, free-spirited feel, it would have to expand its perimeter.
One thing that seemed to be lacking were cast members wondering and mingling with the crowd. I guess I never noticed just how much that adds to the experience. It was noted and missed by almost everyone in the group. Being a new faire also might explain the lack of shows or independent performers. Just did not seem to be as many as one might expect. But this too I expect will change if Sherwood grows.
Food: – although there was plenty around, it was not always that easy to find. And for a start up Faire, I would also say the price of most of it was a bit high, yet portions seemed to be a bit low. Of course we did not get to sample all of it, but what we did get to try seemed to be about par for an event like this. Wife was really disappointed when she went to get a “blooming onion” that she was craving. One of the biggest food signs we saw during the day was for the onions, and she was promptly told “we don’t have those.” (Suggestion? Take the fricking sign down then, ok?)
Beverage locations were easy to find, and nicely spaced throughout the grounds. I did like the fact that you could get sodas, waters, and booze all at the same location! However, what I found annoying (and for the record, I find it just as annoying at TRF) is that the food vendors do not sell drinks, and the drink people do not sell food. I have always found it irritating that I have to go one place for my food, and yet another for drinks. But I am sure it has something to do with vendor contracts and all the “behind the scenes” stuff we never know about.
And of course, speaking of drinks and booze leads into the next topic: – restrooms! I was very impressed that Sherwood spent the extra money to get the “Royal Potty” trailers rather than the normal porta-potties you are used to. (And no, I am not being a smarta** by calling the “Royal” – that really was the company name on the side of the trailer!!) Anyway, if you have never seen these trailer set-ups, you are really missing out in the world of modern porta-potties! Each trailer had three individual rooms, two for the ladies, and one for the men. They are spacious, lighted, air conditioned, have normal sinks, etc… The ones I went in even had artwork on the walls! (and no, not “that” kind of artwork Wheatfield!) I mean framed pictures!
Now the first time I had to go, it was no big deal. Walk right up, went in, and took care of what needed to be. But that was after only one beer, and early in the day. The next time (now after a few beers and a water and maybe even a soda or two), I really should have planned ahead. Yes, I walked right up – to stand in a very long line! It seems I am not the only one who had a few beers! All the men’s rooms had long lines. While standing there, one guy even mentioned that when he was done there, he was going to go get another beer and get right back in line. He said the timing should be about right. (Kind of reminded me of nickel beer night back on 17th street in Huntsville. Stand in line, get your beer, and go get back in line.) Anyway, the ladies did not have it quite as bad. Since they had two rooms on each trailer, their line moved twice as fast, but they still had a line. One lady came out and looked at the guy’s line, and asked “so how does it feel to be on the other side standing in line boys? Now you know how the ladies feel at most places!” My quick reply to that? “Well I don’t know about you, but that fence post behind the trailer is starting to look kind of tempting to me! We still got you beat on that one!” (Of course, I did not use the fence post, but I would not be surprised to find out that they did get used as the day went on…)
So, BIG thumbs up to Sherwood for getting the really nice porta-potty trailers, but thumbs down on the number of them. I am sure it was noticed and something arranged to remedy such a problem.
Overall review of Sherwood Forest Faire? VERY impressed for a first year faire. There are improvements that can be made, but anything I noticed has already been noticed by the organizers I am sure. They seemed to have found that one last corner of the Rennie schedule that could support another Faire in Texas. My only concern on the schedule? It backs right up to the start of Scarborough. We know of people that will be working the six weekends at Sherwood, and go straight to Scarborough the following weekend. We will see how 14 straight weekends wears on those who try to manage working both Faires. (Eight in a row is enough work for me at TRF – I could not imagine doing another six after that!)
Will Sherwood grow over the years? I think so, and really wish them the best of luck! Don’t know about everyone else in the group, but do know the wife and I will return, and actually look forward to watching that “special magic” develop for Sherwood Forest Faire!