Dick Wixon (2019)
Condit Wixon (2019)
Bob Biefeld (2019)
Inspirations and Influences
Bob Bielefeld was one of the most influential musicians on the Renaissance Festival circuit. Hailing from Waukesha, Wisconsin, he started in the mid 1970s at the King Richard’s Faire (now Bristol) just north of Chicago. Through his participation in bands such as Sungarden, Cantiga, Celtic Stone, The New World Renaissance Band, the Burly Minstrels, the Gypsy Guerrilla Band, and so many others, he spread the joy of improvisational music in a way that proved that period music can still be fun and interesting.
You could say that he wrote the book on Renaissance Festival music, because, well, he did. Cantiga’s Renaissance Festival Favorites was published by Mel Bay, and is still available today. It has helped many young musicians and experienced performers get a grasp on the genre, and expand their repertoire. He was always ready and willing to teach a song, score something from a recording for a project, or just lend an encouraging ear to someone else’s project. His discography is far too extensive to list with any accuracy, as he is on recordings from so many bands and performers around the circuit.
He also led and inspired many jam sessions, both during festivals and after-hours. He played folk, jazz, rock, and whatever music he could get his fingers and voice to reproduce. He introduced many to the joys of odd tempos in music from Bulgaria and the Balkans. He even jammed with local birds, squirrels, and other animals, and drew inspiration from their songs.
Some of his inspirations were the Hoosier Hotshots, the Incredible String Band, the Marx Brothers, Steeleye Span, The Hot Club of Paris (Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli), Cole Porter, and the Beatles. It might be easier to list ones that did not inspire him, as he drew inspiration from everything that he heard around him.
He was preceded in death by several faithful dogs and a few musical starlings. He is survived by his wife, Leslie Tabor, his dog, Pepper, and countless band mates and jamming partners throughout the Renaissance Festival world.
The Sturdy Beggars (2019)
Creators of the Mud Show
Jimmy Carter was President, gas was 86¢ per gallon, and the Charleston was all the rage. Well, that was also the year my buddies and I, on the first day of school, created The Mud Show® spontaneously from a combination of dirt, water, and the crowd.
I am sure, since the Renaissance Pleasure Faire’s birth in 1963, California's youthful zest sent many a Rennie into the mud to entertain the masses when the weather and grounds gave way, and that is how it started. In all the years of doing this, I have yet to have discovered any mud act pre-dating the beginning of our earthy enterprise.
It was the year before I joined, back in the Spring of ’78, when Damian the Red-Eyed Bastard saw an audition notice for King Richard's Faire. He called upon his friends Spanky Nippletwist (nee Caesar) and Ikey Noakes, and it was agreed that the three would audition for summer jobs as entertainers at the faire.
Their audition consisted of comedy bits, guitar playing, monkey-rolling, and other cheerful and reckless physical antics. Entertainment Director John Mills was delighted with the audition but had no idea what to do with them, so the trio suggested that they play the role of beggars and stroll about the grounds making mirth (and money) at will.
It was Caesar who suggested the name “The Sturdy Beggars" (the able-bodied unemployed) for the group after an English edict in 1572. (An Act for the Punishment of Vagabonds,)
There was no show in the mud that first year in ’78. It was the summer of 1979 when Damian took his summering elsewhere that Redbeard, and myself, Billy Billy vonBIlly (nee Will’m the Poorer) also became part of The Sturdy Beggars. Since we had been given no instruction, guidance, or advice on how to conduct ourselves as faire street performers, Redbeard and I were eager and ignorant as to how we should spend our day entertaining the masses. Ikey, the leader of our leaderless band, exclaimed, “It is simple, we are beggars, we beg.” He assured us, that all we had to do was just go out and play with everyone, which we did with manic glee. My indecisiveness, oh what kind of beggar to be, led me to be a mute beggar, with Harpo Marx as my guiding spirit.
Late in the afternoon on the first day, Ikey and I were hanging out just inside the front gate. What caught my attention was how patrons entering the faire would automatically stop at the banks of a puddle formed by the previous evening's rain to peruse their program and make that everso strategic, "right or left" decision. (I have learned since, that most folks go right) Since I was playing a mute I thought that a mud puddle could be worth a thousand words. We would watch as our prey would stop and busy themselves in their program at the edge of the puddle. With a running start, I would slide up to their legs and grab hold, making my proposition known through expression and gesture. Ikey would hang cooly in the background throwing out color commentary on my form as an explanation to the patron.
After a fine 15 minute romp of executing and repeating, this one feller, who was intently watching my routine, deliberately walked and stood at "the spot" of contact. He stared me down. Being slightly distressed as to lose the element of surprise with my slide and grab, I fatalistically resolved to meet his challenge. I ran, slid, and grabbed as the feller held out a dollar and specified "ya gotta stick your face in it.” My face had yet to touch the wet loam, it wasn’t that I was trying to keep my nose clean, I just hadn’t thought to get my face dirty.
In less than a second, my face was in, and the dollar was ours. Things escalated rapidly into what I can now only recall in a fuzzy frenzied memory montage. Verbose and rascally crafters who had been amused by these antics for the last quarter of an hour aided Ikey with shilling our premiere "muddertainment" into a shape that began to resemble a crowd-stopping and crowd-pleasing pageant. The revelry came to an organic climax when one patron offered 5 dollars to eat mud. Now back then, at this age in my life, I haughty recognized very few boundaries. Our troupe lived to create "the moment" wherever, however, and with whomever, it could be accomplished with not much regard of the consequences. Therefore, I popped the mud in my mouth without ever registering that a decision had been made.
At day’s end as we split our jangly days’ beggings, and realized that most of our meager earnings came from that one lone mud event. I, hopefully, mused to the group, "wouldn’t it be great if it rained every night so as to leave us some puddles to play in?” Then, one of the brighter members of our troupe suggested, “Why don't we just pour water on the ground right before we want to do whatever it was we had just done?” So for the rest of the run, we would spend the meat of the day playing the streets with our various and sundry loose scenarios consisting of “fighting money”, “fakespeare”, and the “dance of death” which would segue into the infamous amusement of “throw the coin into the hat on the dead beggar’s chest”, along with our standard leg grab/beg for a quarter.
During these exhibitions, we would say, "at the end of the day come to the front gate and behold the crowning jewel of our street shenanigans, The Mud Show.” Even though our budding show was not listed on any sign, or in the program, our advertising, along with word of mouth from front gate crafters, spawned an eager crowd, which after a few weeks was large enough to block the front gate and thus make the crowd grow even larger. Waiting for us, for up to a half-hour, standing shoulder to shoulder, the crowd would anxiously look in all directions to see if anyone was really going to show up for this unlisted rumored show. We soon learned that this nervousness would release excited applause when we finally appeared (sweet). We would enter the center of the crowd and unleash a one-shot, not to be ever repeated, guerrilla thespian attack, an attack whose structure could loosely be described as an odd combination of "You Asked For It" and an inverted "The Price Is Right", all built on the classic geek show base that has drawn rubberneckers for millennia. The one set-piece was our climax when Ikey Noakes asked the crowd, “what is even more disgusting than us eating mud?... (pondering silence)... the fact that you gave money to see it!” And right there, with that one line, with that simple ‘chicken or egg’ positing of who was baser, us or the crowd, Ikey gave our new show the means for the Mud Show to crystalize. Ikey Nokes was our troupe’s original patriarchal figure, he is the ‘Father of the Mud Show’.
The faire’s headliner at the time, Turk Pipkin, not only informed the other Renaissance Faires, but he also mentored us in performer etiquette. He gave us faire contacts, and in 1980 we hit the road. We were hired in Bay Area Renaissance Festival, the Maryland Renaissance Festival, the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, and the Texas Renaissance Festival. When faires overlapped we asked our buds, Pike Spuzmonger (aka Hack Ptui) with Half-Wit Henry to create a troupe, they called themselves “The Bedlum Beggars”. A name is given for those who lived in the local Bedlam, an institute for the mentally ill. There the tamer patients were given a patch designating they were from the bedlam and were allowed to beg for their food. (yeah, we know, they liked spelling ‘Bedlum’ wrong) For a few years, we both existed and created different types of shows, then in the mid-eighties, we united into the Sturdy Beggar design.
In 1980, we were told to dig our pit at King Richard’s Faire. This changed the dynamic of our show as the crowd knew for sure the time and place for our show to begin. The crowd no longer had that nervous excitement of ‘will they, or won’t they show up?’ Therefore we now had to craft ourselves into a real show. We would reenact “Wild Kingdom” episodes, tell stories, anything with some sort of conflict. We tried some mud wrestling and soon learned the mud made us mega-slow, and you could never get your footing, so whatever we did would look fake, even as we were spraining wrists and ankles, so after King Richard’s Faire in1980 we never mud wrestled again.
I carried on with the Sturdy Beggars, now consisting of myself along with Bert the Beloved, Grimey Fingers, and Figgy Pudding in Minnesota, and then at Texas Renaissance Faire, we were minus Figgy Pudding. (he lost his girlfriend, lost his car, you know that’s just way things are) It was here at TRF where instead our day consisting mostly of street work and two shows a day, tops, we were scheduled for 7 shows a day. Yikes. Plus, the hole in the ground stage we were give was just that, a hole in the ground with railroad ties thrown around it and no seating. It just so happens when you dig a hole in the ground at Texas Renaissance Faireyou do not get mud. At Texas Renaissance Faire if ya dig a hole in the ground and put water in it you would get a pool of silty water with a pea gravel bottom. So without any real mud to do our show in the mud in, Bert the Beloved began to craft the Mud Show® we have today. He took the focus off us and, he put the focus on the audience. We would pit one side of the crowd against the other, then we beggars would help solve their dilemma.
That is how it started. I doubt a show could start in this fashion in the Ren Faire Industry of today. That was a different time, there were still wisps of the ’60 in the air, and the Ren Faire was a different, wilder beast. We were fortunate that we started at faires who embraced the crazy. The promoters, Richard Shapiro at King Richard’s Faire, and George Coulam at Texas Renaissance Faire, a few times told us to “go ahead and turn it up a notch”. Oh, we crossed the line a few times back then, blacklisted from several faires, but that is how we learned.
The Mud Show® Embryo by Billy Billy vonBilly (nee Will’m the Poorer)
All the players to date (2020)
Ikey Noakes: Paul Barrosse
Damian the Red-Eyed Bastard: Jamie Barron
Caesar aka Spanky Nippletwist aka Rott Weiler aka Mr. Wiggles: Herb Metzler
Redbeard: Reid Branson
Will’m The Poorer aka Billy Billy vonBIlly: Rush Pearson
Bert the Beloved: Dan Deuel
Grimey Fingers: Al Leinonen
Figgy Pudding: Conrad Warren
Pike Spuzmonger aka Hack Ptui: John Goodrich
Half-Wit Henry: David Silberger
Doctor George Nicholas Joesalitas (2019)
Bald Mountain Moccasins (2019)
Gabriel Q (2019)