Fortunately, I have never had a let-down Pennsic! Certainly, some Wars are better than others (and usually that is dependent on the weather that year), but they are all fabulous on some level.
I think the one constant though, is that all of my Wars are actually quite different. In talking with those who have had "bad Wars", I find that they had often had expectations on how the event would play out for them and instead of adapting to any changes (and there are always a few) they grieved the loss of the experience they thought they should have had.
It is important to remember that Pennsic is like a living organism, it changes each year, it grows, it is subject to the environment and the whims of the people that attend the event. I think the expectation that Pennsic will be amazing is not a bad thing, but to expect it to be a certain type of amazing should be reconsidered. I also think that few people have later Pennsics that live up to the wonder of their earliest years, but it doesn't mean that the event still can't be memorable or even wonderful! (In fact, this year there will be many hefty changes, and they are already causing a stir for some folks. Fortunately, I view most of them as very positive and look forward to things like improved water quality and a better fresh food market and the new Great Hall.)
Newcomers might notice there are definitely trends at war (look at the class lists to see what is currently "in"... a few years back the schedule was dominated by Middle Eastern classes and the last few years had an influx of Viking arts). It shifts a bit from year to year but its clear that some things are more popular than others at certain times. For those who have seen many Wars, remember that just because the thing that most interests you does not have multiple classes or events each day, does not mean that it has become irrelevant. Do you want to see more haflas at Pennsic? Host one! Do you want more live music? Learn an instrument! Do you wish there was more Tudor garb? Do your research, make it and then sign up to teach!
Below is a list of things that a newcomer can do to really get the full experience of Pennsic. It also happens to be a great list of things that an old timer can consider if they want to view the event from a fresh perspective:
- Take a copy of the map and walk the entire site. If you are new, you are likely going to want your camera! If the walk is too long, do the upper portion of Pennsic one day, and the Bog/Swamp another. Even better, grab a Pennsic veteran and take them with you. They can fill you in on the history of different areas or what some of the camps are. If you are that veteran, offer to escort a newbie around. You will have a great time just experiencing the "Pennsic Firsts" through a newcomer's eyes.
- Take a class. In my early years I took several classes a day, then later I started teaching classes, then for a couple years I rarely attended classes or taught at all. This past year I took a class (or more than one) nearly every day. Pennsic University is a great resource given that there is usually over 1000 classes offered for free! It is the perfect time to learn a new art or a bit of interesting history. If you have a skill you are proficient at and want to share it take the time to teach a class!
- Watch a battle. If you are new, definitely go watch the Field Battle. It is very worth seeing even if you have no interest in ever fighting yourself. Below is a video I took of one several years ago. Unfortunately, video cannot really capture the fact that you can feel the people charging across the field.
- If you have never tried archery or rapier in the SCA, but think it might appeal to you, check out the archery range or the rapier tourneys! There will be people there who are more than happy to give you the information you need to get started or to find activities like this in your area.
- As a newbie you should peek in on Court at least once during war. Even better though is to watch the schedule for the Opening Ceremonies and watch all of the groups process to the battlefield. It can be a spectacular display! (If you are not new, and are bored of court, take some time and write letters of recommendation for your friends. Having someone you know get an award is a great reason to go to Court again!)
- Volunteer. This is a great way to meet people! The Pennsic Staff is always looking for volunteers for Troll (where you check-in), the Arts & Sciences class area, security and any number of other things. For veterans who think that the event should be run differently/better/less bumpy, get involved and help facilitate those changes.
- For newbies the big parties at night usually have a lot of appeal, but don't forget to stop by smaller gatherings at open camps for an evening drink and a chance to meet new people.
- Pennsic is the best place ever for garb watching. You will see everything from first attempts to gloriously recreated historical garments. Most people love to talk about their garb and many also are honored to be photographed. Talk to them! Ask them what they are wearing and, if they are not in a hurry, they might even give you tips on buying or making something similar. If you are new to the SCA this is a great time to take pictures of things that appeal to you so that you can work on them at a later time. Not new? Well look around with a fresh eye and see if there is something new you might want to try.
- Midnight Madness! Yes, its hectic, and yes, the shops are crowded, but even if your shopping is done go and see the amazing garb and the street entertainment. It is on this night, when the lights are dim and everyone is in their finest attire, that I really feel transported to another time and place.
- Make sure you stop by the A&S Display: This usually happens on Monday of War Week (the second week of Pennsic) but this year it will be on Middle Sunday due to the fact that the site is closing a day early. This is a wonderful opportunity to see some of the finest arts the Known World has to offer.
- And don't forget Artisans Row: Another great opportunity to see the how-to of many SCA art forms. There will be a schedule posted beforehand of when/where activities will happen. If you would like to experience something new, this is another great chance to immerse yourself in the arts.
- Your Inner Vagabond was on this list but they will not be back this year. Instead, Kafe Merhaba will be hosting live entertainment and selling wonderful coffees. YIV, was one of my most loved places at war and I plan to stop by the new venue frequently to enjoy the atmosphere.
- Attend the European Dances or Balls. There are classes nearly every day at war and there are dances that fit everyone's skill level. Even if you do not opt to dance yourself, the Grand Ball is a lovely thing to stop in and see.
- And also, the thing newbies (and sometimes vets as well) often forget... don't rush! Savor the experience. Try as many new things as possible, but not so many that you find yourself frazzled or crushed for time. If you do not get to try it this year, remember that next year you will have another chance!