Last Saturday, I got to participate in the SCA in a way that I had never done before: running a full-day event. As Concordia’s Baronial Bard, I had the privilege of serving as event steward (or, as some say, “autocrat”) for the Winter Nights competition. The event, which had been a Concordian event for several years, recently changed to a three-year rotation between East Kingdom’s Northern, Southern, and Central regions. This is the first time it has come back to Concordia, and so it was a stroke of luck that it happened during my term as champion. While for many people, running an event is a key part of growing and evolving in the SCA, I have never yearned to have that responsibility. Given my ADHD (and my ego’s exhibitionist streak), the thought has been one I have long shied away from.
With one important exception. I have always dreamed of running Winter Nights.
This all-day bardic competition was my introduction to the bardic community five years ago. Winning it two years back was one of the most delightful surprises I’ve had as a bard. This event taught me about camaraderie, about improvisation, about the breadth of talent and skills and generosity that this kingdom’s bards (and not just this kingdom’s) have to offer. In many ways, it is as much home to me as Pennsic is. (Not for nothing did I slip a name-check into my East Kingdom anthem.)
It wasn’t clear to me when their Excellencies Lylie and JP chose me to be their champion whether I would have the opportunity or not. Last year was the Southern Region’s turn to host the event, and Bhakail had not worked out a date or a site as of last November. It seemed likely that we were going to let the event go for a year, and let Bhakail pick it up the following fall. But in December, I learned at the Feast of St. Nicholas that a site and a date had been picked for February, which meant that by this fall, Concordia would indeed get it back. (Yes, I know, the event’s called “Winter Nights”, but it’s almost always held in the fall. It’s a Concordia thing originally, because the idea was that winter comes early in the mountains or something along those lines.) So, I was going to get my wish…
And I realized I should be careful what I wished for. In addition to the other difficulties I mentioned, running an event in Albany would be a real challenge for an out-of-town bard in New Jersey. Happily, I learned how readily Scadians would step up when asked to help make an event happen, and I have the following people to thank for making my work lighter than I could have hoped:
- Deputy: Rhys Aiden Bifjord, a Concordian who runs and helps out with many events and an old friend of my wife’s. Rhys, I’m relieved to say, ended up handling pretty much all of the heavy lifting (literally and figuratively) around the site and the event logistics.
- Kitchen: Judith le Alefondere stepped up to run the kitchen. She and her staff, Maria von Ossenheim, Alke von Ossenheim, and Zach, provided us with a delicious, authentic, and most impressive dayboard–the way Concordia knows how to do it.
- Gate: Ruth Baraskaya reached out and offered to run gate. Several bards also offered to help out, but thanks to Elena de los Libros and a few others who kept her company during the day, the performers were all able to stay at the competition once it began. (Props though to Bird the Bard who did serve the first shift.)
- Scorekeeper: Marjorie Parmentar agreed to organize the rounds and tabulate scores throughout the competition, and given the intricate nature of the challenging and judging, this role was essential to making the day run smoothly. I can’t thank her enough for her preparation and command of the job.
- Runners: Ingrid Ringler took over the key job of running score cards between Marjorie and the rotating panel of judges, when I learned that she wasn’t planning to compete for the day. This freed up Siona Dunleavy, who was prepared to perform but started off the day as a runner for the first pairing, to be a full competitor without conflicting responsibilities.
The truth is that, as often happens at SCA events, practically everyone helped make things happen to some degree. The competitors, as is tradition, swapped in and out as judges (though as the host, I did not, so that I could keep an eye on the overall flow). Many hands made light the work of cleanup at the end of the day. My friend Lilie Dubh, who has never missed a Winter Nights to my knowledge since she began attending, was at the ready with help and support, and while she wasn’t able to make it, Finnguala ingen Néill meic Chuircc provided invaluable advice throughout the planning. (Please feel free to reach out to me if you note anyone I overlooked here, and thanks again to Maria von Ossenheim for helping me collect the names over those who helped out.)
The event itself? It was all I could have hoped for. It is possible that we might have had a bigger turnout had I gone with the October weekend that was available rather than the September one (I know, I know, we called it “Winter Nights” and we held it during the last days of summer…). But the proliferation of events is just a thing that is happening in the SCA these days and that is out of my control. We had a respectable turnout, and 11 bards competing.
And what a competition! Watching bards size each other up to deliver friendly but devilish challenges is always a delight of this thing. But just as delightful was the opportunity to see newer bards step into the fray and claim this community for themselves, as I remember doing years ago. Seeing the likes of Bird the Bard, who had been to Winter Nights South in February, come up from Princeton, and Sólveig Bjarnardóttir, who has been a bard for a few years but had never been to a Winter Nights, come down from Maine, warmed my heart. Seeing Douglas Doan, who I first heard perform at Roses in May, come with prepared and researched Japanese stories just for this event, knocked my socks off. (The dude can kill with a story, and knows how to play out a good running gag all day. I felt honor bound to pass on to him my first challenge from Magnus Hvalmagi years ago.) Robert of Anglespur, my competitor from last year, was back, and in fantastic form as he has clearly embraced more deeply his love of barding. The next generation of East Kingdom bards showed up for this competition, and showed us all that the future of our bardic community is bright indeed.
As it played out, the face-off that will probably be talked about longest was the last pairing of the day, between my good friends Cedar the Barefoot and Peregrine the Illuminator, who showed us just what a knuckleball challenge looked like. Peregrine challenged Cedar to share a piece about shoes, something they famously never wear. Cedar, beaming, returned with a challenge that the prim, proper, and upright Peregrine, give us something bawdy, dirty, and sexy. The two of them managed to not only return their serves, but gloried in the creative opportunities the challenges afforded them. I will not spoil the pieces by trying to recount them here, but I will tell you this:
Peregrine, to everyone’s delight, retold a story he had just composed for the previous round, with a very, ah, different emphasis. We were choking with laughter. And when Marjorie announced that Peregrine had won the Winter Nights championship armband, the room exploded with approval. It was well and truly earned.
My responsibilities throughout the day never dimmed the glow of satisfaction I felt to be at this place, among these, my people. Triply my tribe, as Scadians, as Easterners, and as bards. To have played a key role in creating this moment for another year for my people to meet, connect, and feel the joy of our art together, is a satisfaction that will carry me for a long time.
The next day Kylo Reilly, a youth I had met at the event, posted in the Facebook bardic group:
Yesterday I went to my very first event. Lady Siona Dunleavy and Cedar-San Barefoot have been close friends of mine for a while now so I figured I would give it a try. I loved every second that I was at Winter Nights with all my heart.
So I was laying in bed this morning thinking of everything that happened yesterday. I flipped through my current filks (I was filking before I even knew what it was) and was thinking up possible designs for my token. That’s when it hit me…in these exact words…
“OH NO! I’M A BARD!”
You all gave me the best welcome I could have hoped for.
And that was the best praise for this event I could hope for. Thank you all, everyone who came and took part in this, one of my favorite moments in the SCA.