Sherwood Forest Faire (see previous post) is in the middle of its second season, and I've been back five of the eight days they've been open so far. (They are open weekends through April 03, plus Friday, March 18.) While not without blemish, my experience has been a whole lot of fun, and in many ways an improvement over their great inaugural season. Read on for specifics:
Listening to music is probably the number one reason I go to fair. While the music lineup at Sherwood is largely the same as last season, this is no bad thing. Personal favorites The Bard O'Neill, Circa Paleo, Wino Vino, Abby Green, The Rambling Sailors and The Darbuki Kings are still there. The schedule is such that it's more a problem of making hard choices between several good things than it is of passing time until the next interesting show begins.
Speaking of the schedule, there's quite a lot of variability to it -- you'll need to check the SWFF website a few days before you go and print out the latest and greatest. (Kudos to the organizers for providing the schedule as a downloadable PDF formatted for printing.)
Food and Drink
The Solare at Como's Ristorante Italiano now has full table service with proper tableware, and an excellent menu (PDF). While a bit more expensive that the usual fair food, it compares very favorably -- in terms of both cuisine and value -- with fine-dining restaurants in the mundane world. They've got a comfortable vibe, quick and friendly service, and the food I've tried has all been tasty.
Reservations accepted and suggested. Try to get one of the window tables, and ask about the daily specials. The tira misu is outstanding.
Another good option is the steak on a stick from Dragon's Kitchen (booth #212). I've eaten many steaks on many sticks in my day, and this is among the biggest and by far the tastiest and most tender.
Most of the small pubs (but oddly, not the Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem) are now serving the Long Hammer IPA (BA) , which is my make-do option for beer. (Not a great IPA, but more pleasing to my palette than the other options on offer.) The Bootlegger brown ale (BA) from Austin-local Independence Brewing is another good option. (It's actually a much better beer, albeit not in a style I favor.)
Cider fanciers might appreciate the availability of Crispin Browns Lane (in cans). I'm no great cider drinker, but I thought it was a bit of all right. SWMBO found it a little dry (but that was rectified with the addition of a drop of grenadine, at the suggestion of the barmaid).
My chief complaint from last season had to do with privies. They were too few in number, and most of them were the porta-can variety, which tend to be pretty dire. The Sherwood folks have definitively fixed the problem, adding two new privy-houses with proper modern-day plumbing, running water and sufficient capacity that I never had to wait in line. (Disclaimer: I am told that those in possession of two X chromosomes may experience a brief wait in the more crowded of the two sites at certain times of day.)
Sufficient supplies were present and cleanliness was quite adequate during all my visits. They'd also added (to both gents' and ladies' sides) some changing tables for infants. Very thoughtful, and spares non-parents such as yours truly the spectacle of people changing babies in the middle of the lane (or worse, on the tables at the pub).
All things considered, I think those in charge of the site are doing a great job. Things are clean and safe and, for the most part, work. (If they could do something about all the fine, silty dust on the paths, that'd be a blessing...) My complements especially to the "trash lepers" keeping things picked up -- you're doing a good job and being extremely funny while doing it.
Season passes are another nice addition this year. With the exception of some minor confusion on opening day, this saves money and hassle.
I did hear a couple of recurring gripes from friends among the merchant class. First, that after a successful first season, Sherwood seemingly backed off on advertising. While I haven't seen ad budget or attendance numbers, my subjective impression is that I've seen fewer ads and that the crowds are comparable to late-season last year (but no bigger).
The other gripe had to do with the jousting tournament on April 09. This is after the close of the season, and according to the official Sherwood website, is not a fair day. The problem comes in that merchants are under pressure to have their shops open on that day. That's viewed as a nuisance because of the expectation of flat sales. It's viewed as a major nuisance because that day also happens to be the opening day of Scarborough Renaissance Festival, an event to which many of the same merchants have already committed prior to finding out about the "extra" day.
All my days at Sherwood thus far have been outstanding fun, and I'm looking forward to going back for more, for many seasons to come. Even now that the honeymoon is over, so to speak, I'd still pick Sherwood over either TRF or Scarby, if I could pick only one.
If you haven't been to a renaissance fair, a day trip to Sherwood is a great way to get started. If you're a regular patron but haven't been to this fair yet: you need to give this one a try.