MCDADE — Every year, my friends and I spend more time than we’d like to admit at a Renaissance festival in McDade, 35 miles east of Austin. About a 90 minute drive, Sherwood Forest Faire’s smaller venue, set in the time of Robin Hood, offers a more affordable alternative to the other big Texas-sized festivals further away.

This year has been a little different since my girlfriend Navina Bhatkar, and one of my friends Evan Taylor had never ventured to Sherwood. So, naturally, I acted as a guide to the pair of first timers to ensure everyone had a good time.

Sherwood is set on a hill, and despite that trek becoming harder and harder to walk up and down each year, you can walk anywhere within a few minutes. Sure, traveling becomes more difficult when I insist on wearing leather armor all day while I walk a minimum of 10 miles, but my stubbornness just slows me down these days.

To begin our tour, food became top priority, so we headed to The Jerusalem Café, which offered up Greek options that both my companions seemed to favor. After that, we went to see a few shows.

The first, Sky Kings Birds of Prey, a bird show, shared informative, entertaining details about the birds as the falconer attempted to convince them to listen to his commands. Many of the birds are brilliant, so it’s no wonder they try to take advantage of their time on stage. But that often leads to laughs as many of their antics are as funny as they are impressive.

After a quick stop at the Puffin Tea Shop and Hookah Lounge for coffee, we causally strolled back to see the end of the joust, just in time to see one of the New Riders of the Golden Age knock his foe off his horse. After the dismount, a short choreographed battle ensued. Both knights, still in full armor, wielded a sword and a shield to end the contest.

I explained to Evan that a Jousting Tournament is held every year where riders from all over compete in a joust in full metal armor. And yes, the tourney can get extremely competitive. This year, the jousting tournament is set for April 11-12. I typically try to stay through Sunday so I see who wins.

After the joust, my girlfriend wandered into the Great Rondini’s show. One of my favorite shows of the faire, Rondini mixes disgruntled, passive-aggressive punchlines with some amazing escape artist’s tactics. The show ends with him in a strait jacket locked in chains and the means he uses to escape is quite extreme, especially for first-timers.

Then, we met up with some friends at the Three Stags Pub near the bottom of the hill and just chilled out for a while. As my friends, Brian Smith and George Garcia talked, they failed to notice a Viking warrior riding a raptor behind them, which I made sure to point out. You never really know what kind of characters you will see out there, so it’s good to keep an open mind about things. At one point, I witnessed a gnome talking to a medieval stormtrooper clad in iron armor.

Though we managed to stick together for a while, Evan, Navina and I wanted to check out this leather shop at the top of the hill. So, we set off on another adventure and within a few seconds, I knew my girlfriend had found her birthday present. Evan, too, had found something quickly. And me, I just tried not to look at too much stuff, because I had already bought a new cloak earlier, and I didn’t need to add anything more to my collection of gear. And sure, I saw about five to 20 things I wanted, but I managed to escape without too much temptation.

As night approached, we headed down towards the Seven Sisters Stone Circle where a drum circle had started to form. Some patrons had started to dance and collect by the fire. Temperatures began to drop and predictably, I made Navina borrow my cloak. The end of faire was approaching and overall it seemed like everyone had a good time. It’s a good sign when she asked me about

returning.

“For the joust tournament for sure,” I said. Because, to me, that’s one of the most exciting sporting events all year.

For more information about Sherwood Forest Faire or to buy tickets, go to www.sherwoodforestfaire.com,