at the Texas Renaissance Festival,
(18 October 2003)
The sky was blue, the sun was warm and the stage was blindingly lit by too much natural sunlight. Empty benches sat waiting for an audience. The audience stood not far away, under spreading oaks, while a wonderful ruckus of bagpipes and drums called in ever more eager participants. Under the shade, in the dirt, Tartanic was on display.
Perhaps "display" is too formal a word. Half the reason they were in the dirt was to play with the audience. That's "with," not just "for." While Renaissance fair concerts are almost always participatory affairs, few groups take it to such extremes. Moving far from the "clap on cue" rules, members of the band hauled in parts of the audience to dance, chased each other around with sticks, flipped up their kilts and performed a few acrobatics that left the life of their instruments, if not themselves, in the hands of startled listeners.
Those of the audience not bold enough to join in the show were kept pinned by some of the best traditional Scottish music ever played by a bunch of Texans. Playing such classic tunes as "Scotland the Brave," "The Ladies' Hornpipe" and of course the ancient "Smoke on the Water," the four-player group proved it's not the size of the band, it's what you do with it. Two bagpipes and two drummers are more than enough to trump an orchestra for sheer richness of sound, if they have enough flair.
Tartanic has flair and to spare. The mingling of drums and bagpipes is perhaps the only music that could compete with TRF's finale fireworks show for sheer sensory exaltation. Heard at the end of the day, under the blazing rockets, Tartanic is the spotlight. But their daily performances are a more accessible treat, and will leave you with stories to tell your family on your return home.
Tartanic has a fine CD called, oddly enough, Tartanic, which you can easily pick up from their website. But a website won't give you the chance to watch drum juggling or see what they keep under their kilts. If you get a chance, go see them perform -- and if your pockets are deep enough, invite them to your yard. They're worth the cost.