The first full weekend of February, 2009 saw me attending my first ever Reenactorfest in Wheeling, IL. I’d heard of Reenactorfest before, but didn’t feel an initial drive to attend – primarily because my own interest is entirely pirate-focused and I figured my time was best spent at pirate events rather than those that also catered to WWII, ancient Rome, Napoleonic, and so on. But this year I decided to give it a go, partly because it was relatively close to home, and mostly because they invited me to host Bilgemunky’s Pirate Lounge (!!) throughout much of the event.
I arrived Friday afternoon and quickly set about preparing the lounge – I didn’t get to see much of the event or the attendees at this time, although The Crewe of the Archangel – the event’s largest contingent of pirates – was exceedingly helpful in getting me situated. By evening things had settled down enough for me to garb up and attend Reenactorfest Jeopardy as hosted by Pete Straw, an old mate of mine from the Port Washington Pirate Festival and the Oshkosh Pirate Exhibit. The competition was surprisingly fierce, especially considering the insane difficulty of many of the questions from throughout history. But Pete managed to keep things rolling, and fun was indeed had by all – even those of us who only knew the answers to one out of every 50 questions. The evening was concluded with a viewing of a couple of parody WWII VD training films in which various cautionary tales were conveyed with black-and-white still shots of action figures, mostly from the 80′s. Any effort to describe these would surely fall flat – suffice to say they were tasteless comedy at its very finest.
Saturday was the primary day for Bilgemunky’s Pirate Lounge – my own piece of piratey paradise, or as near as I could make in a hotel ballroom with a couple of beat up persian rugs and a few electric candles. Throughout the day I played a mix of pirate and pirate-core music to reenactors from all time periods as they came to unwind, steal a little rum, or simply to ask, “so what the heck is pirate music?” It was a fun, laid back way to spend a day – Pirates in Paradise it was not, but probably as close as you could comfortably do in Illinois in February.
I did have some time to sneak into the vendor room, and while it was fascinating to look through all the non-pirate period stuff, it was of course the pirate and colonial items that commanded my attention the most. There were some fantastic items available – clothing, hats, and this one pistol that I’m increasingly kicking myself for not purchasing the moment I saw it (and sadly, I didn’t even think to grab a card from the vendor), but being reenactor focused the bulk of the items for sale were incomplete necessaries – fabric, buckles, buttons, etc. And if you didn’t know where to start, Reconstructing History had a fantastic layout of their many patterns. I’ve worked with Reconstructing History from afar for some time now, both as one of my advertisers and as the creators of my short jacket, so it was a real treat to finally meet them face to face.
Saturday evening I was invited to join the Archangel in the hotel sushi bar for a birthday party for their Captain Sterling. The restaurant staff were remarkably tolerant of having a band of pirates invade, and though the service was incredibly slow, the food was fantastic (although I still ponder how I managed to order a steak that came with absolutely zero sides. No salad, no potatoes – just steak.) Cheeky Actress led the evening in reading aloud letters of birthday wishes from friends and crewmen that couldn’t attend, which were followed by toasts and well-wishes from those present. Mr. Bottles in particular gave a memorable speech in his thick french accent, thanking the good Captain for cutting his whippings short after his capture, and instead allowing him to become the ship’s cook.
Later that night was the Reenactorfest Ball. To picture it, imagine a collection of people from throughout history, giving them lots to drink, and then putting them in the middle of a typical wedding reception party – complete with a top 40′s DJ that’s not afraid to play such atrocities as “Chicken Dance.” Odd doesn’t begin to describe it, although – with the notable exception of some very stern looking Victorians- I think it safe to say that everyone enjoyed themselves immensely.
Sunday, as is so often the case, was a wind-down day – a chance to recover from the night before, say goodbyes to friends, attend a few last seminars and hit the vending room for a final purchase or two (sadly, my beloved pistol was no longer to be found.)
Despite the fact that it wasn’t a pirate-centric event, I have to say I had a great time at Reenactorfest. True, I didn’t attend a single seminar – partly because they didn’t really pertain to my specific interest, and partly because I was generally busy with the Pirate Lounge, but for me events like this are about the people. Archangel certainly did their part to create a safe-haven for pirates, making not only me feel welcome, but also any other “crewless” pirates. And even interacting with reenactors from other time periods proved an interesting experience – if for no other reason, to remind me of how good we pirates have it – In a word, comfort. In another word, fun. Basically, pirate clothes are light, they breathe, and while other time periods are marching in formation, we’re drinking rum. It rocks.
I look forward to attending Reenactorfest next year. The management has already inquired about hosting Bilgemunky’s Pirate Lounge – or some evolution thereof – in 2010. I’ll definitely keep you all posted, and hope to see you there!