After Action Report: NorCal Pirate Festival

Mid-June has come and gone, and it was my great pleasure to attend the Northern California Pirate Festival in Vallejo. Having attended this festival each of its three years, I’d love to say that I’ve witnessed it grow into something fantastic, but in this rare case no growth was necessary – never have I seen an event so much hit the ground running as this. The 2009 season proved every bit as worthy an event as its two predecessors as the waterfront park was again converted into a full-on pirate festival for two days during Fathers’ Day weekend.

The first thing that stands out about NorCal is its curbside appeal. While this isn’t a feature many festivals boast, NorCal manages to set a new standard with two enormous ship’s masts that mark the festival entrance. Depending on when you arrive, there might even be a boisterous scalliwag yelling from the rigging. Upon entering the festival proper, the grounds are filled with what must be hundreds of piratey vendors – clothing, weapons, piratey arts and crafts as well as pirate-themed teas norcal09_2and T-shirts. Taking it all in required several passes, as did the food court, which always boasts a variety rarely seen. Maybe it’s a California thing, or maybe NorCal stands alone, but never before at a pirate festival have I seen artichoke hearts, duck and quail, or fried oysters (although the more usual turkey legs and chili dogs are of course available as well.)

Entertainment throughout the day consisted of music by The Pirates Charles )who I still maintain to be one of the best live pirate bands currently in the circuit), shanty legends Skip Henderson and the Starboard Watch, Queen Anne’s Revenge, Mr. Mac, The Roving Tars, and of course Bay Area natives The Seadogs. Non-musical acts included weapons demonstrations by The Brotherhood of Oceanic Mercenaries, and it was also a real treat to finally catch Captain Jack Spareribs’ show, which – get this – is actually really, really funny (Jack Sparrow lookalikes always make me uneasy – as do puppets.)

norcal09_3One of this festival’s other great (and fortunate) assets is the remarkable diversity of its attendees. Sure, there are the normal folk and pirate reenactors – but I’m talking about the vast number of people that find new and creative ways to merge the pirate genre with whatever strikes their fancy. This year alone I saw pirate punks, Pirate Elvis (the ONLY pirate king, imo), pirate zombies, pirate mermaids, pirate sailors, and even a gay pirate bunny. And yes, there were indeed airship pirates, which is rapidly becoming a gristle in my craw, so let me clarify for those of you that need it…

NOT pirates!!!
NOT pirates!!!

(begin soapbox)
At an event such as NorCal, Airship Pirates are fair game. But this does NOT mean all steampunk is piratey. Steampunk elephant hunters, bug exterminators, or undead railroad conductors have nothing to do with pirates – take that psuedo-victorian sci-fi lark elsewhere.
(end soapbox)

Oh, lest I forget, Saturday night included a new addition to the festival – an afterparty. Held at “The Cantina”, a local mexican restaurant, the first few hours featured music DJed by none other than myself, with The Pirates Charles taking the stage later on to close out the evening in a truly splendid fashion.

To me, the NorCal Pirate Festival remains one of the best in the business. Even the editor of No Quarter Given, Jamaica Rose, who’s likely been to more pirate festivals than anyone on the planet, once told me she places it handily in the top three (alongside Gasparilla and Pirates in Paradise.) Non-pirate types will likely get their fill in one day, but those of us a bit more hopelessly addicted to the subject can flesh out the weekend by getting some one-on-one chat time with such pirate luminaries as Skip Henderson, the reenactors of Tales of the Seven Seas, the crew of Pirates Magazine, pirate artist Richard Becker, and many other folks you’ve likely read about. It’s definitely worth the trek to attend, regardless of where you’re hailing from – just be sure to pack lots of sunscreen.

14 thoughts on “After Action Report: NorCal Pirate Festival

  1. Yaaaaar! Blast them for putting it on Father’s Day weekend! Wish I could have been there but in the end, we in the SFV finally got our own festival in 4th of July weekend so I won’t go insane just yet.

    Glad you had fun and glad you posted the pics of the NON PIRATES!

  2. I have to agree with Hawk…it really sucks this festival is held on Father’s Day weekend. If it were held the weekend after, that would be perfect.

  3. Norcal Is indeed the Best Pirate Festival on the west coast hands down.. We will be thar next year to entertain and be entertained. Good seeing ye thar Bilge! Jack Sparribs not only has a good act but he also had the most unique swag to bring home.

  4. THANK YOU for soapboxing. Did you see the Steampunk booth there? What the hell?!

    I just recently learned about Steampunk and find it fascinating as a genre and sub-culture, but I have to agree that as a faction it doesn’t belong with “pirates” at all.

    On a different note, I really enjoyed the NorCal Pirate Fest a LOT. (Did you happen to enjoy a shepard’s pie?? If not, you really missed out!) There were so many different people and ideas floating around. I really need to learn to mingle. haha.

  5. Aye to that oderlesseye hands down The Norcal Pirate Festival, one of the Best Pirate Festivals out in California
    and you’ll see this scallywags next year.

  6. Know what I want for father’s day next year. Tickets to California and a few bottles of rum!

  7. Aye! Glad ye enjoyed my show Bilge! And it was great to finally have time to speak with you in person. You have something great goin with this site.

    BTW, Father’s Day weekend is partly WHY all the locals come and it has such huge numbers. Its a grand way for fathers to spend time with their kids and there is something for all at the fest.

    See you all next year!

  8. This is my 3rd year at Northern California pirate Festival.
    every year it,s changes and is more colorful than the last year. The acts get better the vendors more friendly. So much to do that there not enough time for it all.
    But best thing it FREE parking and free admission.
    This year I even Had my dauther and grandsons there.
    what more can you ask for on Father Day : But to
    come in complete pirate Garb and hang out:
    Arrr I’am Hook Mate. Keep it coming : PS work on the shade
    and seating were getting bigger crowds.

  9. Keep it Free : That the best pirate Fest On west coast;
    Where father and Grandfather can have fun with their
    children. That what it,s all about.
    Were hooked. Great Idea for father Day: Don’t change.

  10. I think it’s a fun way to celebrate Fathers’ Day. My buddy came with his lovely family and had a great time. It’s such a fun festival, next year I’m going to that after party.

  11. We had an absolute blast. We were there both days from opening to closing. It was said that there were 18,000 people there on Saturday. Wenches and rhum make a pirate a happy man.

    It was great to meet you in person.

  12. Well, this is by far the best is the land. I have been to Gasparilla in Florida and Contraband Days in Louisiana and they are not near as cool or fun as Norcal. The crowds are great and it is a perfect family event. I have been to all three so far and plan on going forever.

  13. Yarrr. It twas a fyne time me and the lads had at the Pirate Fest. I being a father and all. We served Morgan’s Co. gunne no. 1 on Sunday. We hope ye all enjoyed the smoke and boom as much as ourselves. It is our 3rd one having missed the first on account of me not being able to trade watches wit none of my shipmates. The Royal Navy be praised, fur we be the best school for aspiring Pirates. Jack. Sailmaker, and gun crew larboard no. 1 searcher.

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