While everyone in Austin is busy talking about Fun Fun Fun Fest, there is another festival going on in Texas. Sandwiched in the northwestern outskirts of Houston, the Texas Renaissance Festival is full of deliciously greasy food, all the beer money can buy and thousands of costumed patrons, from children to adults. Ren Fest may lack the big, fancy stages and thrashing metal bands of FFF Fest, but the musical acts are a particularly big draw for a lot of attendees. These are the best musical acts I saw in my weekend at the Texas Renaissance Festival.
The best act in the whole festival is without a doubt Circa Paleo. This troupe of musicians is very talented and extremely precise with their live shows. They play a mix of traditional gypsy music and ancient folk melodies, while also throwing in a few tunes that are recognizable to modern ears, like Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and the Game of Thrones theme song. I saw them twice throughout the day, and their sets were pretty varied. At one point during the band’s second performance, all of the band members grabbed a percussive instrument and had a tribal drum breakdown. The group plays music that is great to listen to, and it's performed in a method that is at times more akin to rock musicians than forest-wandering bards.
Tartanic was a bigger crowd-drawer than Circa Paleo, most likely due to the fact that they are kilt-bearing men playing bagpipes. They always put on an entertaining show, mostly because of the Ty Pennington-meets-Ryan Seacrest leading man of the group. But the band is reluctant to vary their set much. It’s been very similar the past few years at the festival. Newcomers will be entranced by the group’s eccentricities, but yearly festivalgoers can only hope for a little change next time.
The trio Saxon Moon had their debut at the festival this year, and for being around acts that have been regulars for nearly a decade, they did a great job. Comprised of two men with stringed instruments and one eye-patched drummer, they play an array of Scandinavian and Mediterranean folk tunes. The group seemed a bit daunted by the expansiveness of the Texas Renaissance Festival — it’s the biggest of its kind in the country — but they kept up well and fit right into the atmosphere.