What I do at Faire

posted Apr 6, 2015, 11:23 AM by Jeremy Fowler-Lindemulder   [ updated Apr 6, 2015, 11:53 AM ]

People sometimes ask "did you go to (fill in the blank) faire?" without realizing that I was working there. Albeit, I don't have the time to work many events, but only some people get that I have an act.

The logical direction of the conversation then progresses to "what do you do?" to which I tell them that I'm a broadside balladeer. "What is that?" is the usual reply.

So here is what I do... music. Specifically, I sing songs. During the renaissance, the easiest and quickest way to make a profit from a printing press was to print unbound pages. Today we might call them flyers or informational pamphlets. A printer would set up side by side pages like they would bind in a book, and print them on one side of a piece of paper. This is a broadside, a double-wide page.

example copy of a broadside ballad

Among the most popular of these were song lyric sheets. They sold for around a penny. Without recording devices, your tunes came from your own voice. And, if you did not know the melody, never fear, many of these broadside ballads started out with a note of what melody to use. Most of these melodies were widely known or even traditional melodies from aural/oral music traditions. If you were lucky, a balladeer might even sing part of it for you so that you could learn.

I'm the person that sells the song lyrics, using melodies familiar to the people.
Medieval Fair of Norman, Last Huzzah! (3/29/2015)

Most fairs have eight hour days, and during that time, I'm among the people playing sets at ground level about half of that time or more. Mostly, I get tips. I have some CDs for those who actually want a recording, and I sell chapbooks, or "cheap books" that would have been made by folding several broadside ballads together. Today, you might call them paperbacks.

Most full time faire acts are stage acts for the simple reason that they are a commodity. You get  x number of units of entertainment per day for y amount of money. Also, when people sit in an area at a crowded fair, they are not clogging the traffic flow elsewhere. I makes sense to book your biggest draws during the busiest times.

Yes, I occasionally perform on stage when a fair needs filler, but I prefer to work without a stage for a couple of reasons. First of all, if the people don't come to me, I take the music to them. Second, I get better tips when I put myself where the action is. And... mobility allows me to see the people and sights of the faire. I would much prefer to play in an open air food court where people are gong to be looking for a place to sit and eat than up on a stage in the corner of nowhere.

No one has thrown their food at me yet.