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Yo, ho, ho: Festival brings the pirate life to Fresno
My knowledge of pirates is thus: One-Eyed Willie, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers logo (before they changed it) and the song “Pirates Life” by the Vandals. Also: A few off-colored jokes. “Arg. It’s driving me nuts.”
So, to find out about the 8th Annual Fresno Pirate Festival — May 19, 20 at Roeding Park — we went to the source, Captain Kate Hawkins, a keeper of pirate lore and law.
Let’s start with some background on the festival.
It started pretty much like everything else, with an idea to have some fun and help out a charity. The organizers just needed to find the right place and name to bring pirates to the Central Valley. It started in Bakersfield, moved to Fresno in several different locations and finally found the perfect port at Roeding Park. In the past, the fair was set in the Renaissance because Queen Elizabeth was known as the Pirate Queen. Elizabeth granted letters of “marque” to Sir John Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake and others to raid the Spaniards. A letter of marque was the equivalent of a “get out of jail” card, as long as the Crown received her cut of the booty, of course. Last year, the era was the early 1700s and the name changed to Fresno Pirate Festival. This year we are celebrating the 8th Annual Fresno Pirate Festival.
OK. Now, what exactly is a pirate festival. What can people expect? Activities, costumes, a boat?
Starting Thursday [May 18], actors from all over the state will be building New Providence, a thriving pirate community. In 1718 the real New Providence was a haven for pirates to fence their cargo, find crews, pick up supplies and refit their ships. We will be recreating town folk, pirate crews, and reenacting a bit of history all in the swashbuckling style. The residents of New Providence have wares for sale, ship’s cannon demonstrations, a pirate ship for the kids to board, fine food, a battle between the crews, a cannon competition, a pirate skool for little pirate wanna-bes and other activities for the entire family. Costumes are always welcome, and if they need parts to dress piratical there will be vendors who have what they need. On Saturday there will be a hostage auction to raise money for Livestrong.org.
Pirates seems to be in vogue these days. What is the fascination?
Pirates are big money right now. There are movies, books, websites, festivals, video games and other media that portray pirates as swashbuckling heroes. Pirates were nothing more than thieves and murders with boats. But, they were free. They made the choices of where to go, when to land, how to act. But these choices came with a price. Most pirates died on the gallows, in battleor by drinking themselves to death. Very few pirates made it to old age, which would have been in their 40s.
Pirates always seemed like bad guys to me, but (much like vampires/mobsters/ninja) seem to be getting the anti-hero treatment. Are there such things as good guy pirates?
Robert Lewis Stevenson, J.M. Barrie, Rafael Sabatini all portrayed pirates as heroes when in fact the opposite is true. Blackbeard shot one of his crew to keep the others in line. The skull and crossbones was a scare tactic, if you didn’t surrender there would be “no quarter given” which meant everyone on the ship would be killed. The buccaneers, which came from the term boucan, would literally roast their captives over a fire. Rape, pillage, burn, kidnap, murder was the way of life for pirates. There were pirates who gave up “the sweet trade” and became legitimate businessmen, but that would make them “bad pirates” to other pirates. Henry Morgan became governor of Jamaica, Woodes Rogers became governor of New Providence, Captains Jennings and Hornigold became pirate hunters. They did not win pirate popularity contests.
Renaissance festivals have always been around and popular, but it seems that events like this (and things like zombie/Star Wars pub crawls) are becoming more popular. Why do you think these type of events are so popular?
These events give people a chance to not be themselves. When we step on a renaissance faire site or pirate site or even the Death Star we cease to exist as our normal selves. There are doctors, lawyers, police, EMTs, secretaries, computer programmers, government workers, school custodians, people from all walks of life coming together to portray pirates, queens, Jedi, bad guys, monsters, you name it. And, it’s fun to play dress up. Wearing a Jedi robe to work is probably a bad thing.
Now for some fun. Is it worse to walk the plant or get keelhauled?
Walking the plank is fictional, along with parrots, the pirate code and the word ARRRRRR. Pure Hollywood. Keelhauling is real. Your hands and feet would be tied to ropes, you would be thrown over the bow of the ship and dragged under toward the stern (the back of the ship). Your skin would be scraped and slashed by the barnacles on the hull and you’d be lucky not to drown.
Better pirate: Captain Sparrow or Captain Morgan?
Captain Jack Sparrow is “without doubt, the worst pirate I’ve ever seen.” He would have been put ashore after his first day. However, Henry Morgan plundered Panama, Cuba, Maracaibo, destroyed the fort at San Lorenzo, retired, was appointed Governor of Jamaica, died at age 53 of either tuberculosis or liver failure. And, they named a rum after him.