Monday, March 28, 2016

The Indiana Pirate Fest

This past Saturday, I attended a land-locked pirate festival in the tiny, tiny town of Mishawaka Indiana. The Indiana Pirate Festival is in its third year. It was my third different all-pirate venue, and comes highly recommended.

First things first – the bad. Mishawaka is not a big place, and its proximity to the much larger City of South Bend makes it hard to find. In addition, the state of Indiana does not have the best road signage in the world. Be prepared to keep a sharp eye out when driving here.

I managed to get lost, and arrived late. Information about the fest had not listed a street address, only that it was taking place at the “BK Club.” Coming into town, I was nervous about overlooking a well-known but poorly-labeled venue. My fears were entirely unfounded. The crew had thoughtfully placed a huge pirate ship in the parking lot, and surrounded it with pirates to greet new arrivals and direct us to unloading and parking areas.

Many willing hands helped me into the building, and I quickly set up my vending table and changed into my pirate costume. (After one terrible afternoon lost is southern Wisconsin, I’ll never drive in garb again.) The fest had thoughtfully provided a changing room.

The space was one large room, clean, very well lighted, pretty, and well-kept. A small stage -  as I was walking in the two men doing a fencing demonstration stopped after knocking something off the wall and informed the crowd “This is a VERY SMALL STAGE” – stood at one end of the space. Vendors took up much of the remaining area. The entrance was at the opposite end.

I immediately noticed that almost all the guests were wearing some effort at a pirate costume, and most of them were home-made, rather than something purchased over the internet. This gives a fest a real bonus. When the visitors get into the spirit and make an effort, everyone has a better time.

The two swordsmen – The Rogue Blades - managed to get through their act without killing each other or doing any more damage, and received a hearty round of applause. Rows of folding chairs provided seating for about 30 people. Most remained in place as the next act, Drunk and Sailor, began to sing sea shanties.

I chatted with the folks in the booth next to me. They were member of the Great Lakes Pirates, taking portraits and offering pirate maps to promote their online magazine. We chatted about pirates, and I also engaged passersby in an effort to sell my wares – Books 1-3 of The Pirate Empire, and my non-fiction book, Pirate of the Golden Age.

Almost at once, a gentleman bought one of each for his girlfriend, young woman in a pirate/renaissance costume. She wanted each book autographed, and it was fun to oblige. While I was doing that, another individual wanted to buy some of my table decorations. No way!

Other vendors included two weapons dealers, someone selling wooden swords and pistols for the small fry, a handmade soap dealer, a pirate-themed pachinko game, a corset-maker, fantasy themed knickknacks, a Tandy leather store, one jewelry maker, and a booth called Steampunk Sweethearts, selling old-time jewelry, beautiful old books, and other fine things.

All in all, a good mix of vendors. All the products seemed well-made and nicely displayed. Pirates were going crazy in the weapons dealers, (just like we always do) but there was plenty of non-pirate items for the general public.

People moved through at a regular pace, smiling, talking and seeming to enjoy themselves. I saw not only pirates, but a wide variety of fairy princess, and four dragons (one of whom, a very patient Akita dog, won Ooohs and Aaahs of approval from the guests.)

Haymarket Whiskey Bar, Louisville KY
Drunk and Sailor
 The place was almost over-popular, but though my booth kept me in one area, I believe that other activities were happening in the parking lot. Certainly plenty of folks were having their pictures taken by the pirate ship.

The next event on stage was a demonstration of black-powder guns, tough to do in a place where the weapons could not be fired, but it was exciting for me to see the genuine old guns, and unloaded muskets were passed around to the crowd.

My own act was up next. I presented “What’s in the Pirate’s Chest?” a look at some of the real items that a real pirate might have been carrying in 1715. My audience was small – I admit that what I was doing was less exciting than the singing, but the kids were attentive and afterwards several adults told me how much they had enjoyed it. I also sold more books.

A beautifully-dressed group promoted a local renaissance fest. The pirates raffled off many lovely items, and the crow looked happy all day. I took some time to speak to one of the organizers, who told me that the first event had taken place in early December, and that few folk had attended. They didn’t seem to be having that problem this time.

A group called Red Rum offered some beautiful ballads, and then the groups cycled through again. The site had a kitchen serving hot sandwiches, and a basement venue selling beer. Beer can be problematic at a pirate fest – in St Augustine, over 50 people had to be thrown out because of behavior unbecoming a pirate. Here, everyone was fine. As the day wore on, more voices were raised to sing along with the bands, but that was all.

I had a wonderful time, my books and my presentation were praised, and I sang until I was hoarse. A couple of pirates danced and Irish jig. The event ended at 6pm, though a pirate party was scheduled for later that night. I only wish I could have attended. But the long drive home was calling me. I offered a hearty good night to my new friends and drove off into the sunset.

I’ll be back next year. You should plan on it, too.

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