These Year in Reviews are not, what I call, official “reviews”. Like last year, they will be a series of musings, learned lessons and stories of what I experienced through out the year. Of course, reviews are featured but they are blended in with everything. The theme of FIRSTS sum up the beginning, middle and end of my year, as you will see. Enjoy my year of 2016 in the Michigan Geek Scene.
Let’s continue on with the Summery months of July and August. Video games, steampunk, Medieval and Renaissance Festivals imprinted their experiences into my memories during my summer of 16. What did the last events of summer have in store for me?
My review of the event can be read here. I’ve been very fortunate to attend every GR8bit Live since inception and I plan on continuing to do so. This year the main event of Saturday fell on my birthday. Joe Harvey lead the Pyramid Scheme crowd in singing happy birthday to me. I’m pretty sure the majority of the people had no idea who I was or cared if it was my birthday to begin with but they sang nonetheless. My fondest memories of the 2016 event happened after the event’s conclusion. I was invited to dinner with the group of musicians. I never expect to be invited to gatherings such as this because I consider myself an outside observer. Why would a journalist hang out with people from a tight knit musical community when he is not a musician himself? Just because I am granted a press pass does not mean I am entitled to be at the “afterparty”. When the invitation came my way, I was honored and accepted the offer. At Peppino’s, we sat down at a big group table and conversed. It’s nice learning more about the people behind the awesome music in the Video Game Music scene. I talked with Lauren (from The Returners) at length about numerous things including school and being true to yourself. The gents from Knight of the Round were cool as always. It was nice catching up with Gimmick and Arc Impulse. These experiences mean more to me than press passes. GR8bit Live was a great way to celebrate my birthday and the last day of my two week vacation from my real job. Huge thanks to Mark, Joe, Jay, Sarah and all of the bands for making my birthday awesome.
BlackRock Medieval Fest
So nice, I visited twice. In fact, BlackRock was one of the two events that I visited twice in 2015 and 2016. I do believe that I was originally going to visit another event but I didn’t feel like driving farther to an event that wasn’t going to hold my interest for too long. This mid-sized event is held in Augusta at the Olde World Village. It is worth the travel to the second largest Renaissance festival type event in our state.
The Battle of the Gods was the theme for this year. No particular religion or mythology was used as a basis for the theme. The back story of the battle is as follows: The village of Garron Hollow was suffering from sickness. A woman name Siobhan prayed to Slaine (Mother of the Gods) for help everyday. As her prayers went unanswered and her family started to fade away, she begged for their safety to the God of Death, Scathach. He granted her request in return for her soul. The family recovered and Siobhan snuck out to meet with Scathach to keep her end of the bargain. Her father, Artur along with her sister Yara and brother Bram pleaded for her not to go. Siobhan hesitated and the God of Death opted to take her father instead as punishment. As this was about to happen, the Mother of the Gods arrived to stop the deal. Turns out that Scathach created the village sickness in order to make Siobhan come to him. Unbeknownst to her, Siobhan was actually a Goddess herself. She was created by all of the virtuous Gods. Scathach did not want to give her up since they made a deal. It was decided that a series of battles for the fate of Siobhan would take place. How would the story turn out? You would have to visit BlackRock to find out.
On a side note, one my favorite characters was the naughty old man Artur. He was clever with his puns and innuendos without going overboard. The actor behind the role, Michael is also a master of photobombing. Two years in a row, he’s managed to plant himself in the background of a shot. The results are hilarious. Good job, sir. Good job.
The Goddess and God of War engaged in the first battle as the public watched. The sister and brother combo of Naela and Darragh fought in a sandy pit. Naela put up a good fight but she eventually succumbed to the skill of Darragh. For the record, she wanted me to include that he was a giant dork when I was writing out my review of BlackRock. I don’t need the wrath of a Goddess of War.
If you had a thirst for medieval combat, BlackRock offered numerous options to quench your thirst. The Knights of the Black Rose featured jousting and stage combat. One of my favorite skits involves a child and a cabbage. Just typing out that last sentence seems a little weird. A knight would charge down the lane with a sword in hand to chop a head of cabbage off of a post. A kid selected from the audience would wear a blind fold with the cabbage placed on their head. I’m sure they were nervous as the knight charged at them. Hearing hooves running your way while blindfolded can be quite unnerving. Obviously, the sword doesn’t even come close to the kid but it is a funny prank to see. Her Majesty’s Royal Guard provided full armor combat mixed with comedy. Swords, maces, cudgels and shields were the weapons of choice. The hot weather mixed with heavy armor while fighting must be exhausting after a while. I admire the commitment and dedication of this crew. All in all, I would recommend checking out both groups while visiting this festival.
The extremely talented Bell, Book and Canto debuted their new Nerd show, (Nerd Show Dos.O). Songs from Fallout, the Lord of the Rings cartoon, Kingdom Hearts (Sanctuary) and Black Butler (Lacrimosa) were included in their setlist. Their cover of Team Four Star’s Super Saiyan was great. They nailed the opening “Prayer” from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It gave me goosebumps. Months ago, when I casually made the suggestion for that song, I didn’t think they were going to actually create their rendition of it nor did I expect them to give me a shout out during the Nerd show. These gifted ladies are awesome and I would highly recommend any of their shows. Make it a point to see them.
Seasoned veteran performer, of the Michigan Renaissance community, Ric Roc was back to delight the crowd with juggling, buffoonery and fire breathing. He attempted to give CPR to a rubber chicken, which would squeak with each chest compression. Unfortunately, the chicken didn’t make it despite the valiant efforts. Make it a point to check out the family fun from this expert of the arts of silliness.
I encountered two new acts (at least for me) at BlackRock. Friar Finnegan would sing for the crowd with two separate acts. His kid friendly show was funny but his adult show is where the gloves came off. I can’t repeat any of the things he said but I would recommend checking out his show. The Crossroads Mystic mixed feats of danger with comedy. His show started with a display of impressive fire breathing. For the World’s Most Dangerous Card Trick, an audience member selected a card from a deck. The card was placed back into the deck after being shuffled. Then, the deck was a small animal trap. While wearing a metal blindfold, that looked like Bret Hart’s shades, he managed to pull out the correct card without losing a hand. For the finale, he escaped from a chained straight jacket. We also conducted a fun interview as well. I hope the Friar and the Mystic return for 2017.
The ever popular Jail returned for this year. For a small sum, you could send a friend to jail. That individual would be placed in the jail for public mockery. The Walk of Shame on the way to judgement would follow, as the jailers yelled out “Walk of Shame” numerous times for anyone within hearing distance. Afterwards, guilty was the eventual verdict doled out to anyone before the judge. The punishment of the Itsy Bitsy Spider or the Happy Unicorn Dance awaited many. If you paid a little extra, the guilty would be placed in the stocks and soaked with water. Trust me, these are hilarious to witness unless you are one of the guilty. I should know since I was deemed guilty last year. Unbeknownst to me, my “wonderful” girlfriend plotted and paid for my jailing. From time to time, I wake up screaming in a drenched bed because of that fateful day and the torture I endured. I can never utter the Itsy Bitsy Spider ever again without balling into a fetal position and shivering with fear. She will rue the day that she plotted for my downfall and subsequent public mockery. One day, payback will be sweet. I rarely forgive and I never forget. Moral of the story: Send your loved one to the Jail, if you get the chance. It will be a good story to tell down the road.
BlackRock offered different options for food throughout the day. Renaissance Faire staples such as turkey legs and bread bowls awaited the hungry patrons. While both are tasty, I would recommend two additions for your appetite. The Italian Ice is a delicious thirst quencher and a lifesaver rolled into one. On hot days, it will keep you cool and hydrated at the same time. You can’t go wrong with that. On the edible front, the traditional Welsh cookies are a favorite staple of mine when I visit BlackRock. For five bucks, you can buy a dozen of these delicious treats from The Red Dragon. Numerous are the flavors of these dollar coin sized mini pancakes. I would recommend the orange cranberry and the black currant varieties. They are quite filling and I look forward to them each year.
The memories of Sami Bannister lived on at BlackRock. I met the young lady last year. The Olde World Village made Sami the honorary Princess of BlackRock. The cast of BlackRock collected money to donate towards covering her medical costs. After meeting and taking pictures of the family, I followed the progress of Sami’s fight with cancer throughout the year. Sadly, the young lady passed away during the 2016 season before BlackRock started. I briefly attended the tail end of the reception to offer my condolences. The cast of BlackRock were there in full costumes to sing her off. Back to present time, the young lady was not forgotten by the village. Her owl symbol was present on many pendants worn by the cast. The cast raised more money to donate to the Bannister family. It was quite touching and speaks volumes of the people behind this festival. Team Tiny Dancer forever.
Since the Norseman took a liking to me, my girlfriend and I were invited to the after hours Viking dinner with the Bannisters, the rest of the performers and cast of BlackRock. As I mentioned earlier in this article, I don’t expect to be invited to these special events but I am extremely grateful for the invitations. The food was literally cooking all day using traditional viking methods of spit fire. The flavorful meal of soup, bread and fruit were served in wooden bowls with wooden utensils included. Friar Finnegan performed “Valkyrie Calling” which was a rendition of Tom Petty’s “Free Falling”. A huge thanks goes out to Amanda, Andrew, Cali, Finn, Seth, Jamie and rest of the Viking crew.
Depending on where you are stationed, the sunlight is not your friend when conducting an interview on camera outdoors. I was interviewing Brami, the Norsemen of Michigan Living History Society, and the sun blotted out our faces. I had to scrap the whole interview after watching it at home. I had to reshoot an interview with him in October at GVSU. It will debut later in 2017.
Level Up Time
I started watermarking my photos and interviews with my logo. The logo looks a lot cooler than the simple copyright with a URL for my site. Plus, it is more difficult to crop out my logo compared to the old url. It can be done but the photo will look weird. My logo makes it easier for folks to recognize the photos taken by your truly.
Motor City Steam Con
My review of the Motor City Steam Con can be found here. I want to return to this convention to experience the whole event from start to finish. This con earns a mention for the cool looking press pass granted to me. Kudos to them for taking the time to type my name in with the same font style as the badge. A lot of conventions leave a blank space to fill in your name. The effort was appreciated.
This event marked the first time I’ve met someone who knew only about my website and not my Facebook page. Usually, it is the other way around. I’m constantly trying to spread the word about the actual site. As I mentioned in a previous year in review, a lot of people tend to know only about the page even though I link back to my site constantly on the page. This awesome lady told me that she knew about my site after I introduced myself. It made me rather happy to know that the word is getting out there little by little. Oddly enough, she asked if I had a Facebook page. Thank you, Delany, for making my day.
Michigan Renaissance Festival
The largest Renaissance Festival in all of Michigan in both size and attendance. Besides, BlackRock Medieval Fest, this was the only other event that I visited twice on separate occasions. Experiencing the festival for a weekend last year blew my mind because of its sheer size and all the acts/activities to encounter. A return visit was on my itinerary for this year.
Right off the bat, I was granted an audience with Queen Elizabeth for an interview. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little nervous and star struck when I met Queen Elizabeth because of how convincing the actress was. At first, I couldn’t even make eye contact due to the suspension of my disbelief. I stumbled in the beginning of the interview but I eventually found my stride. Being a consummate professional, she never broke character. Nor, would I expect her to. We talked at length about her “dear cousin”, the Lady Caroline. This was a neat way to learn more about the actress behind Queen Elizabeth. I felt a little bad for her because of how hot the extravagant dress was. Her entourage was impressive because the Queen rolled deep. Her attendants were on hand to offer refreshments immediately. Should you encounter the queen, please take the time to talk to her.
It was interesting to learn that the man behind Ded Bob was not a total smartass like Bob. Clark Orwick is a fiercely intelligent free thinker who is low key and laid back. I realize that Ded Bob is a character but I was not expecting the polar opposite when I met Clark. Conducting an in character interview would have been a disservice since the man behind the character was more interesting to me than a hilarious puppet. Our interview led to a significant rise in traffic on my site and youtube channel. I was not expecting the high number of shares on social media either. We share an interest for comedy, Bill Hicks and Gene Wilder. If you have the opportunity to see Ded Bob at a Ren Faire, check out the show.
The Washing Well Wenches was good clean fun with wet dirty women. Before the show, the two wenches would go on a beer run for the audience buying cider and Guinness. Depending on how close to the well you sat, a high chance of wet clothes were in store for you. Corky and Daphne took time from washing the royal laundry to grant this lowly serf an interview. I had a hard time maintaining a straight face during this interview. Well, straight-ish would be a more appropriate term since these two were hilarious. I tip my hat to the two actresses behind the characters because their improv game is high.
The hilarity from experiencing the Knotty Nauticals show (in 2015) warranted a return visit. The Bonnie Lass and the Pirate Shantyman entertained kids and children alike with fire breathing, tightrope walking and pirate jokes galore. While the family friendly show is nice, the bawdy show is where the fun begins. I would like to note that the bawdy show is rated ARRRRRR. We were able to knock an interview between performances. I learned about their origins, comedic influences, and what renaissance faires mean to them. Make it a point to visit this piratey show.
The Harmless Danger Juggling show featuring Harmless T. Jesterson was amazing. His whole act was setup to be an infomercial to support the Nutra Frog Kingdom . Of course, he started off with the basic tricks of juggling with three, four and five balls. Catching a block with two other blocks must be difficult. I was extremely impressed with his ability to juggle flaming axes while on top of a balancing board on top of a rolling cylinder while on table. His bad jokes were groan inducing and that was part of the charm. His charisma kept the crowd entertained. We managed to fit in a quick interview before his next performance. Harmless is a huge gamer. We share a kindred love for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night which is a top 5 game of all time for me. Please check his show out by all means when you visit the festival.
I do believe that I am the only person to interview an anime voice actress at a Ren Faire. EVER. Try finding proof of someone else doing it. I dare you. I was originally going to interview Tia Ballard (Fairy Tail) at another event but that event fell through. Since she was flown into Michigan, the promoter took her to the festival instead. We agreed to met for an interview since I secured one through the proper channels. I enjoyed the good rapport we established during this interview. Somehow, I managed to drop my notebook while she was talking. If you watch the video, you will see the expression of whoops on my face. Just when I thought I was in the clear, she totally busted me on camera. Fun, fun interview.
I had the immense pleasure of catching a set from Christophe the Insultor. For a price, he would brutally insult a person of your choice. The amount paid would determine the level of insult hurled towards the victim. $10 would net a decent insult. $300 would summon an insult from the depths of burning depravity rarely seen by mere mortals. You may think that there would be no way an audience would pay $300 to see a person insulted. Well, I am here to say that you are wrong. The audience collectively pooled their money together to watch a verbal execution. This show was not for the easily offended since he held nothing back. I don’t understand why anyone would complain about being offended after numerous warnings were stated prior to the show about what he would do. Christophe was quite impressive to create insults on the fly. Thankfully, I was not hated enough to become an unfortunate addition to the long list of people he has insulted over the years. I would recommend his show.
Speaking of insults, in a hidden area, one would have the opportunity to “Pester the Jester”. Two jesters would insult the crowd while patrons would hurl tomatoes at them for a fee. Their jibes didn’t reach the crushing levels that Christophe was known for, but they held their own in good fun. I couldn’t help but laugh as they asked a senior citizen if she’s ever been picked up in a bingo hall. You are certainly doing a good job if you inspire people to pay to hurl tomatoes at you.
The Splattertime Mudshow mixed court procedural with comedy and a lot of mud. The brothers of Tuggy Von Smeckle and Lickity Splickity were stating their case of who would inherit the family fortune from their recently deceased father. Basically, each case would lead to one of them ending up in the mud pit. If you were seated in the front row, expect to be splattered with mud. It was going to happen whether you wanted it or not. My favorite bit included The Time of My Life from Dirty Dancing. This show lands a place on my list of recommendations for the Michigan Renaissance Festival.
The Knights of the Black Rose crossed my path again. They were the selected group for jousting and armored combat. The group expanded by a few members, including horses, from our previous encounter at BlackRock Medieval Fest. One of the new knights wore a scale mail eye patch over an eye. His skull shaped helmet included a patch over the eye. The actor behind the knight actually was missing an eye. It was cool to see a disability turned into an interesting visual characteristic for his character.
The maze I encountered from last year returned. However, the layout changed to confuse those who dared to enter. I knew well enough to stay away to keep my sanity intact. The Mermaid Cove was stationed next door to the maze. The opportunity to snap a photo with an aquatic maiden was available to anyone. Thankfully, the mermaids of MIRF were friendly instead of luring people to a watery grave as the old tales would have us believe. On a side note, I am impressed with the actresses’ ability to hold their breath for so long underwater while keeping their eyes open. I know I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Due to good timing and location, I was able to catch the massive parade. Merchants, entertainers and actors danced, twirled, juggled and waved to the public as the parade proceeded. The queen strolled through on carriage as the crowd watched on. Even the village idiot stumbled into the parade. It is highly recommended to make this parade a sight to see while at the festival.
Interesting food is abundant at MIRF. I experienced a Scotch egg for the first time. A Scotch egg was a hardboiled egg covered in breakfast sausage, which was breaded and deep fried. It was enjoyable but I can’t say it warranted the $4 price. Pie shakes came into my existence. Yes, you read that right. Ice cream shakes blended together with pie. It was interesting to say the least. I would recommend the kettle corn because it is delicious and awesome. Pickles were attractions due to a certain pickle salesman reigning in customers with ribald innuendo. My favorite phrase would be “My dill, your thrill”.
Leaving the festival is inevitable since everything must come to an end. This festival makes the occasion into a memorable event. The majority of the cast would sing goodbye and wave off the patrons as the festival was concluding for the day. I have not seen this anywhere else. Oddly enough, as if to lend a magical quality to the event, a rainbow was present in the sky as I was leaving the festival one evening. You can’t make these things up. I was not able to capture it on camera since it was packed away and I was driving. 2016 marked another fun year at the Michigan Renaissance Festival. I look forward to returning in 2017.
Level Up Time
The wonderful Macwagon came into my life. While conducting interviews at the MIRF, I found it hard to carry my tripod and video camera setup all over the huge terrain that is Hollygrove. Wood chips are not your friend when your camera case has tiny wheels. The wheels would only work for so long before the case was cutting a swath through the wood chips. You could tell where I had walked through because of the parted sea of wood chips. If it wasn’t for Hal of Mural Lab allowing me to store my stuff at his shop, my weekend would have sucked. On a side note, Hal is an extremely talented artist. Seriously folks, go check out his insane artwork right now. I’ll wait to you get back………………….. Now back to the story. My girlfriend suggested that I try out the Macwagon, that belonged to her dad, on my second trip. To say that the wagon was a beneficial improvement would be committing a serious disservice. Wood chips, grass, and gravel were no longer a problem. I no longer had a need to store my stuff since the cart was easy to pull around all weekend. I have since purchased my own and my experience at cons has improved when dealing with my video equipment. In doors, it can be a little difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. Other than that, I have no complaints about this foldable wagon.
I also learned how to apply a fading transition in my videos. During the Ded Bob interview, I cut out a part where I messed up and had to start over. Back in the day (more like earlier in 2016), I would cut to a Deleted Scene on screen. Sure, I could’ve done this but a fading transition looks better overall.
Only one more season left in this year in review series. In the next installment, we venture into fall. Fall marks the final rush of conventions and events before the holiday season kicks in and everything trickles away into hibernation. Learn about my experiences at MEGGAXP, the Monroe Comic Con, How-To Halloween and the Grand Valley Renaissance Faire.