What can you do in America?

It’s just over a month away! Departure time. I will then be on the road for 8 months, travelling the highways (and mostly biways) of the US of A.

Now, I’ve been to a great many places in this country and can easily amuse myself. However, I’ve also found that the locals always know the coolest places and things to do. So, what I’m asking for is the coolest things to do in your neck of the woods. Doesn’t matter what type of activity it is–what do you like to do?

Tourist traps can be fine, but not exactly what I’m looking for. Restaurants, parks, beaches, cool buildings, museums, swimming holes, live music dive bars, 102 year old residents with cool stories, the largest Amish furniture manufacturer the world, a local kazoo musician’s club…what ya got?

I’ll think about some sort of prize to bestow for the neatest activity I actually do while on tour.

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11 Comments

Filed under Art, Culture, Entertainment, Travel

11 responses to “What can you do in America?

  1. There’s not a lot to do here in Jacksonville, NC, blipey. It’s a Marine Corps town. Lots of churches, low end restaurants, car dealerships, and strip clubs. ‘sbout it.

    However, there is one place that I know of that you really must go if you’re ever even remotely close. The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.

    It’s right up your alley. I’m an addict, and I still make the trip every year. It’s huge and well done. It’s like a 40 acre interactive Shakespeare stage. Hundreds of actors, mini shows of all kinds, street performers, jousting tournaments, the works. Many of the visitors show up in costume and participate in their own way.

    If you ever get a chance to go, spend at LEAST a whole day there. Two shows you MUST NOT MISS – The Rakish Rogues, and the Sultry Sirens of Sin.

    Kisses,
    Kate

  2. guthrie

    HHmm, that renfaire looks interesting. Sounds huge, and fun as well.

  3. It is one I’ve never attended. I’ve performed at several around the country, but not Pennsylvania.

    Thanks for the specific show recommendations. I’ve heard of the Sultry Sirens, but not the Rogues–never performed with either. Always like seeing new shows and meeting new performers.

    Guthrie, what do you think of Renaissance Festivals in general? I’ve always thought it strange that we in America go to such great lengths to re-enact British Isles history that never had anything to do with us. What do Brits think of that? And, tangentially, do you go around re-enacting Viking festivals?

  4. Renaissance Fairs are quite silly in my opinion. But to each his own, eh?

    Could you publish a list of where you will be going?

    In Cincinnati there is a sign museum. I haven’t been there but I’ve been thinking about goin there.

    I can also recommend walking across the Roebling suspension bridge.

    The Taft Museum is also a must stop for art lovers.

  5. guthrie

    Well, to be brutally honest, we laugh a bit. Its somewhat complex. We all know about the stereotypes about renfaires- everyone is a wench or a lord, the clothing is all wrong, people speak a bastardised and fake version of english, and so on. The reality, as can be seen in the photos of that renfaire that Kate linked to, is somewhat more complex. I saw some reasonable costumes, and some dodgy ones.

    To me, what matters is how you are presenting yourself. If you are standing there wearing single leg hose, thigh length leather boots, breastplate and back and a flat topped great helm, whilst carrying a hanger, yet telling the public that you are a genuine medieval knight, I shall personally follow you around laughing all day, and then whup your ass with whatever medieval weapon comes to hand.

    On the other hand, if your just dressing up to have some fun, I dont mind that your costume is rubbish. Even better, if your costume is good and your still dressing up to have fun, I shall applaud your efforts and have a good natter about history with you.

    Its misrepresentation that I don’t like.

    I guess that most of us arent too much bothered about you all doing our history- its when it (sweeping generalisation ahoy) gets taken over in the american fashion of enthusiasm and making things fit how you want them to, that it causes friction.

    And we dont re-enact viking festivals that much, just a few here and there. There are 2 or 3 large organisations that do Viking, and there are many more people who do medieval. Some do Normans, some do 1300, some do 1460, and so on.

    I think it must be quite hard being American and trying to get the hang of UK and European history. Its all about places you have never been, influences that you have not been exposed to at all. But my American history is fairly poor as well, so who am I to talk?

    Then theres the SCA. It never took off over here, because we had re-enacting groups at the same time, and the SCA is a peculiarly USA set up. Whats so interesting is that it is a set up, that as far as I can see from time spent online, has a made up and artifical structure that includes bastardisation of much of our history and yet within it there are many people who have done useful research and really know what they are talking about. Yet besides that you have “shires” and people calling each other “milord” all the time. I met an american at Tewkesbury this year who enjoyed UK stuff much more because it was more down to earth. When he was in the USA, at one of these events, he was fed up with people saying, “Whats your name”
    “its bob” (Not the real one, but I cannot remember what his real name was)
    “Ahhh, sir bob”
    “No, just bob”
    “Surely you have a title?”
    “No, I’m just a common or garden craftsman, now go away and leave me alone.”

    Not to mention that we can have 2,000 person battles with blunt steel weapons.

    I really dont know what it is like being USA’ian. I know that before us Europeans got there, there was history of various kinds. But it seems as if your history is only about 300 years old. Yet, despite all the changes, through all the vicissitudes, you could put me on top of a variety of hills around the UK and I could point out 3,000 years of history in the surrounding area, all the things that have been done by humans, or how things changed around the people who lived there over time.

    Not that everyone has time to look and learn, i wish more people did. Getting this across to the public when I do re-enacting is something I am working on.

  6. Wow. Great post, guthrie. Can’t say I disagree even a little with any of it. Believe me, those of us who perform at the faires have definite categories we put both performers and faires in.

    Those categories have many tiny nuances, but basically boil down to: professional entertainment and hideous community theatre knock-off.

    Unfortunately, the sheer size of the festivals makes the hiring of disastrous actors and the use of mega-stupid themes kind of the norm. Now, if we as a people had really learned (or were even familiar with) the history we re-enact, much of this problem would go away. But, the uneducated and historically ignorant are hired to perpetuate the money-making process. But, my biggest pet-peeve about these things is the inability to hire professional cast members all the way down the ranks.

    This is why we get things like these:

    1. I performed at a faire (to remain un-named) purportedly set in Canterbury in 1566–the theme for the festival? You guessed it: The 3 Muskateers!

    2. I performed at a festival that was seriously considering making the theme for the following year: The Little Mermaid!

    3. Every faire I’ve ever done (with settings ranging from 1470-1590) has had a Shakespearean Parody Show. (I’ve even done one–*hangs head in shame*)

    4. High School students who have trouble talking to each other without getting embarrassed are tasked with be entertaining and original for 8 hours a day. This is “facilitated” by making them memorize 2 lines of patter which they repeat ad naseum, regardless of circumstance, input, or audience.

    All that being said, there are certainly performers around the country who are much better than others. There are also faires that are much better at authenticity than others.

    A couple of my favorites: Bristol Renaissance Faire (Wisconsin) and Texas Renaissance Festival (Houston).

  7. Could you publish a list of where you will be going?

    My itenerary is not 100% set, but here is a list of places I will definitely be. If I list just a geographical region it is becasue I will be in every little, po-dunk town in the area:

    Western Kansas / Colorado Border
    Idaho / Washington State border
    Portland, OR
    Sacremento, CA
    Los Angelos, CA
    Upper Michigan
    Central Nebraska
    Iowa City, IA
    Hannibal, MO
    Paducah, KY
    Southern Indiana
    Morgantown, WV
    Washington D.C. / Annapolis & surrounding area
    Wilmington, DE
    Upstate New York
    Columbus, OH
    All over both Carolinas
    Savannah, GA
    Western Texas
    Taos, NM

  8. guthrie

    You have my sympathy, I know how you feel.
    Try reading this:
    http://www.livinghistory.co.uk/forums/viewtopic.php?t=3971

    But dont do it when you feel depressed, read it when you feel like a laugh at people.

    The thing is, a theme of the little mermaid is fine if your just entertaining people. But if you are after historical accuracy, it isnt that hard to do. Theres all sorts of books out there now, and people with knowledge. But somehow people seem to twist things. Here, Larp is quite popular, and i understand it can be great fun. You have that in the USA as well. But almost no one in larp has any pretensions to historical accuracy.

    The reason its a decent post is because these issue shave been floating around in my head for a year or two. I used to be good at intellectual sensible posts, but theres been too much happening this year, and i seem to have lost the knack, hence my fun with Dave scot hasnt been as clear cut as i would have liked.

    The texas faire- well, they didnt celebrate christmas with stars on trees in the 16th century. And their beefeaters have a bit of tartan over one shoulder, which is just silly. Yet there seems to have been a great deal of effort put into it all, with planned lessons for schoolchildren visitors, games and stalls and entertainment galore.

    I also do not understand this obsession with rennaissance stuff at all. Here it is in fact one of the less well represented periods in terms of shows and reneactments. A lot of people here do it firstly for the fighting, rather than for dressing up reasons. They it becoems important to wear the correct padding and protection, and yet if youa re in it for the fighting, why bother getting really fancy expensive kit, because it will get smelly and messed up.

    Also, in our case, our events do not generally involve largenumbers of people who have been thrown in teh deep ened. The events are staffed mostly by amateur volunteers, who enjoy having a bash, explaining history to people, dressing up in funny clothes etc etc. Professionals would make the market more expensive, since they woudl charge a fair bit. Many do, but the bulk of the workforce is amateur. This does mean that thingsa re often less spectacular than can be done, and on a smaller scale, but it does have some advantages.

    Last weekend I was at Berkeley castle. There are two battles a day, in the morning some enemies of the people who live at Berkeley castle take the castle (Ok, we do it out in the field below the castle, but anyway…) whilst the Lord is away. In the afternoon, he comes back and takes it off them. This is based on a historical event in the 15th century, I believe. So, for some reason, the organisers hired 2 actors to play the lead roles of Talbot and Berkeley, to make some kind of speach to the crowd and try and look good in armour and stuff.
    The problem with this was that the actors had no fighting experience, kind of necessary if you are going to lead your men into battle, and therefore were useless. They were actors, pure and simple. What we do requires both a bit of acting, (Much jambon et fromage) and the ability to shout and boss people about and loko good fighting. So needless to say the actors were tossed aside and other people pressganged into the roles so the battles could go ahead properly.

  9. guthrie

    Thats some itinerary. IN geographical terms, its a bit like me going round Poland, Uastria, Italy, Spain, France and Germany.
    I think.

  10. Yes. Yes. The faires here are staffed with many volunteers and “apprentice performers” for the very same economic reasons. However, our volunteers are trying to live someone else’s history so it doesn’t go quite as well as it could.

    Are you telling me that in all of Scotland they couldn’t find 2 actors with combat experience? If they need someone, I’d be more than happy to take the job…don’t exactly want to live in a drafty castle or anything, but something could be worked out. I’d need a little refresher work in armor, haven’t done much of that, but geez.

    I think ALL festivals here could use a little more costume detail, but the Texas show is a better show than many of the rest. There are few, if any, idiots spewing long lines of anachronisms all day. That’s what irritates me the most. Some things will always be sacrificed for presenting a show people will pay to see. It’s when most of everything is sacrificed that it gets on my nerves. As you said, if you’re just going to entertain to entertain,, drop the rest of Renaissance pretense. The ones that try to get 70-85% of it right are a whole lot more entertaining IMO than the ones that don’t give a damn.

  11. guthrie

    Oh no, this was in England, and there are some actors with combat experience, somewhere…
    But we’re talking actual blunt steel live fighting experience, with cannon going off in teh background, 20 blokes running at you with every intention of denting your armour, and so, for some reason, there arent any actual, proepr actors that I have heard of who are used to that. And if there were, they would charge a fair bit of money.

    Your right though, there are defiite sacrifices to make shows worth watching. On the combat side, if we were to act halfway realistically, the fights would either be very dull, or else over in 2 minutes. And to be honest, a fair bit of life back then, like now, was rather dull and boring. But we can try and present bits and pieces and awaken some interest in the people we are talking to.

    trying to be fair on the volunteers, from what you have said, its not even a matter of knowing other peoples history, its more that it seems that many of them are not personally very interested in a year round hobbyist way in the history in question. Sure, they will know many of the talking points and anachronisms, but they will not have the depth and experience that comes from having done this for several years, several times a year, and with the winter spent reading and talking to people about it all.

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