Why don't the Bilge Pumps perform in Muskogee any more? Blog Home
Posted by Maroon the Shantyman
Feb. 04, 2008 04:13 PM  

Well, after getting peppered with questions at our weekend at Scarlet's Mid-Winter Renaissance Festival, I determined which blog subject I should post about next. Even after a year and a half away, the rumors refuse to cease as to why we're no longer performing at the Castle of Muskogee and the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival. Well, let me finally set the record straight, for those who are wondering, on the multitude of reasons.

First, the back history... the Bilge Pumps began performing at the ORF back in 2000 and some of us had been there even longer as members of the cast in 1997 and as members of the Scottish Caledonian Gamers for the next couple of years. The owner of the festival, Jeff, remembered me from the characters I played back then and told me when I pitched the idea of the Bilge Pumps to him in the winter of 2000 that my street performances back then were a big reason he wanted to hire us, sight-unseen.

We performed there for the first two years for little money and a handful of shows a day. To supplement what we did on stage, Jeff wanted us to do some street theater as well, which we did. Starting in about 2003, though, our popularity had gotten to the point where he wanted us to do more shows during the day, including the infamous "kids show" that took place just before the knighting ceremony. As we did more shows on stage, we did less street theater because we had to recover our energy between shows, get food, schlep our equipment to the next stage, etc. As this happened, Jeff became less and less enamored with us. You see, Jeff likes street theater and seems to be a firm believer that being interacted with in the lanes is about the only reason that people go to renaissance festivals at all. He once told one of the Bilge Pumps that he would prefer not to have stage acts at all. A slap in the face. That's kind of an indication of his attitude towards us. Contradictingly, he realized we were popular with the patrons and kept us around regardless. However, he continued all the while to wheedle at us, trying and make us perform for less money or do more shows for the same money. Another slap in the face.

'Course, that's not much different than a lot of festival owners do, so that's not why we're not back. One of the biggest reasons is this: As many of you Okies remember, we did the Dragon Attack Stunt Show in Muskogee in 2004. In preparation for that show, myself and my hard working stunt show crew, which included almost all of the Bilge Pumps, built the Castleton Harbor ship stage from the ground up in a span covering over 22 weekends of driving back and forth to Muskogee from Dallas/Ft. Worth. One day, at morning meeting during the run of the festival, Jeff congratulated his on-site builders for building that stage. Not one mention of the fact the Stunt Show crew did 95% of the work. None. Another slap in the face. To be fair, we didn't do everything, his crew did dig out the pit with a backhoe at the beginning of construction and then a little bit of painting at the end. Still, a slap in the face. We also had some water stunts we were planning on performing during the show and wanted to keep the water at the stage as clean as possible so we wouldn't be falling into slop all the time. Jeff, however decided it was cheaper to fill the pit with runoff water from the parking lot, including all the oil and filth. That's what we had to fall into each day. Another slap in the face.

Then, after we put on the show to huge crowds during the 2004 season, filling the seating area way beyond capacity and overflowing audiences into the street (much to the delight of the nearby vendors that were extremely happy to have such a large crowd draw in that section of the festival, Jeff insulted us by offering us a contract worth less than 1/2 or what we'd made before. Obviously, we turned his generous offer down. I was later told that it should have been obvious that we were getting as much as we did in 2004 to cover the stage construction (which in our eyes was a labor of love because we wanted to do the show right). Hell, if we were going to charge him for the labor of building that stage, he would still be paying. Now, before anyone thinks we were breaking the bank in 2004, the Stunt Show (with more than 20 members in its production) barely made more than the Bilge Pumps and pulled in as much audience as the joust during our afternoon shows. In fact, we were up there in Muskogee the following winter, knee deep in cold mud and rain while building the stage up for the 2005 show, when he brought us his insulting contract offer. Another slap in the face.

Because of this ugly situation, we kicked around the idea of the Bilge Pumps not even returning in 2005, but we did it anyway because we knew we have a lot of fans there and didn't want to disappoint them. Things kind of coasted in 2005, mainly because we rarely saw Jeff at all and worked through Karen, his second in command. However, after my wife and I suffered the tragedy of a miscarriage at the Castle the 3rd weekend in 2006, I decided I'd had enough of dealing with a place that was only serving to make me and mine miserable and told the guys I wouldn't be back... ever. They did a tremendous job of covering without me (for the first time, I might add) on the last weekend of the festival that year but they ultimately decided that it wasn't worth the headache of dealing with the politics of the festival to come back and perform, either. To add a nice, final slap in the face, Jeff tried to not pay us for the last weekend since I wasn't there and the entire band wasn't present. This, despite the fact that there were 4 or 5 Bilge Pumps on stage all all times. Come to think of it, that's more of a kick to the groin than a slap in the face.

So there ya go. Most of the rumors I've heard are not true. We left of our own accord. We weren't fired because we were too dirty, or too expensive, or no longer popular with the fans. It was a combination of many different factors leading to our decision, but we still believe it was the right one. We're sad that we're not going to be performing for many of our NE Oklahoma fans, but we're not sad that we don't have to deal with the constant disdain from the ownership. Now, with all these negatives being said, let me say that we really enjoyed working with the other performers and cast members of the festival. Not to mention Karen, the Manager there, who was really supportive and helpful during our time there. I guarantee you, she has the toughest job in the faire. And most of all, our fans in the area who kept us coming back year after year. We hope to see all of you at the OU Medieval Fair in Norman.

Because it's all for me blog. Me jolly jolly blog.

Hey Guys,

I understand fully why you won't ever be back. Even though it makes me sad because that means I only get to see my good friends once maybe twice a year. I am proud of you guys though for standing up to him, and I hope he eventually learns his lesson and starts treating the rest of the performers, street and stage alike, a lot better. Now all we need is for someone who really knows what there doing and the money to do it, to put on another festival up here, and pay you guys well enough to come play. Oh well, wishful thinking... Love you guys! Thank you for everything! (((HUGS)))

One of the many Pumpettes,
Posted by Rachel James on Feb. 05, 2008 04:53 PM

Ye've got more patience than I!

One day Jeff may actually get his head out of his arse and realize the profits he's lost, since money and greed is all he cares about. Then again, Jim Paradise at Colorado's Larkspur Faire doesn't seem to learn from threats of losing his faire, lawsuits, nor petitions from performers.

Ah well, at least Texas still has ye!
Posted by Messyn McCleavage on Feb. 05, 2008 10:47 PM

You guys will be missed at Muskogee, but I don't blame you one bit, I'm a bit pissed at the Muskogee Faire on your behalf now. We will get to see you at Norman, and our various ventures south of the border. For the fan out reading this that will be attending the ORF remember those wonderful little surveys they hand out as your exiting the faire. Let us remember our Pumps when we fill out the survey.
Posted by Dennis Latham on Feb. 06, 2008 08:25 AM

We went every weekend from 2001-2004 & it was apparent the fun was dwindling every year for you guys. The energy was still there, but what was expected & the constant nagging about "things being period" & King Jeff's attitude was taking it's toll. At least that's what I saw. I've spent a lot of money going to that faire and around Muskogee but I'll never take my family there again. When we were vendors we had constant run ins with His Majesty & I'll just say that ya'lls' tolerance to his arrogance was much higher than mine. It's a shame too because the performers are great & very friendly. Karen is very professional & was easy to work with. Too bad the Guillotine as gone out of style.
Posted by John Wilburn on Feb. 06, 2008 08:48 AM

Ah, Muskogee...the foul stench, the hotels with a dead hooker in every boxspring, and a general sense of depression that lets you know you have reached america's waste basket. Love the people though...maybe not one in particular...but most of them, and I plan on going back just to see the travesty they made of OUR stage. It's important to note a few thing Craig didn't mention:
1) Half way through construction he developed what can only be described as the plague...this is what happens when you are working in 40 degree weather for several days at a time and it won't stop precipitating. He was so sick he let ME get behind the wheel of his Durango so he could pass out in the back. This sickness stuck with him I remember correctly in one form or another through opening weekend.
2) He poured his own cash into some of our building materials that I don't think he got reimbursed for, although he now has a collection of power tools that would make Leatherface stand in awe.
3) Chris Bruce and another member of the cast risked their neck every time we did a limited fall in that water death trap because the owner shored the dirt walls up with rusted steel and logs...making even a short back fall a bit dicey. Not to mention cold during rehearsals.
4)I stood and listened to several conversations where Craig was specific in his requests to Jeff about what we needed to pull the whole thing off...and despite Jeff's Bush-like response to them all we still built the engineering marvel that still stands as a testament to Craig's dedication to entertaining our fans.

Now I mention this to give you an idea of how much not just the group put in but Craig did himself. And as pissed as I was about what happened (and ask anyone who has ever heard me mention the stage and you'll Discover Nagasaki and Hiroshima pale in comparison to the rage that fills me when I just think about it.) I am more pissed, at what happened to him. After watching what Craig endured for just to put on a show he cared so much about. I know I sound like a kiss-ass, but you had to be there. So I ask anyone who goes to the faire, to stop and fill out a survey this year (I believe Jeff pleasures himself nightly while reading them). Spread the word, and tell everyone when you leave to put down the Bilge Pumps as your favorite act and somewhere on there write that the stage Craig Lutke built is your favorite part of the faire. It won't bring the pumps back to Muskogee...but it just might send a message to the owner about how badly he screwed up...and it would be a nice tribute.
Posted by Joshua Steinberg on Feb. 22, 2008 02:07 AM

Sorry you wont be back. We love you guys. Don't forget the fact that the captain of another pirate group that is now performing there was working behind your back with the leader of the castle to take your contracts. Just thought you would like to know.
You and your talent will be missed terribly.
Posted by Anon on Feb. 26, 2008 00:01 AM

I will probably never again go to the renaissance faire in Muskogee. I went to almost every show in '06 and a several of the shows in '05. You guys were literally the reason i went to the faire on those weekends, and last year when i found out you guys weren't there, I was disappointed to say the least. I applaud you for putting up with Jeff for long enough(lord knows I couldn't have) so i could see you guys preform(I had gone to the faire the first year it was open, and several times after that, but not regularly before my sister worked there in '05 and told me about you guys).
I am currently planning a trip to the Medieval Fair in Norman in April just so i can go to your show.
Posted by Joe Cannon on Feb. 27, 2008 01:32 AM

Some of your fans from eastern Oklahoma are following you... My family went to the Muskogee festival every year pretty much to see you guys and we ended up not going last year after I read that you wouldn't be back. I'm in Central Oklahoma now for college and found out that you'd be at the Mid-Winter festival so I drug my boyfriend. He loves you as much as me! We're going to the Norman festival in April, and my biggest reason is so I can get my Bilge Pump fix before summer.

If we go this year, I will definitely put that I love the pirate stage and the Bilge Pumps when we leave, and I can get my family to do so as well. Maybe I can find a way to incorporate a magnet into someone's costume... Too bad we don't have a suit of armor.

See you in Norman!
Posted by Anna Embrey on Feb. 27, 2008 09:29 PM

I fully agree with you, my friends....I was "volunteering" at the Castleton Harbour in 2007 as Captain Jack Sparrow...a favour for me friend Captain Bad Ivan, a.k.a., Chris Fort. After the first weekend I was there, I was approached by Jeff, his wife, and his son and his wife, and offered a "paying" position to continue my more than realistic performance which made it into the activities of the Castle, and the reviews more than 15 times in the first 3 weekends. Well, I've worked for Jeff during the 2000 Haunted Castle, and was paid absolutely NOTHING for my reconstructing the Jousting Arena and concession under the Jousting seats. I, my crewmates, and my "Captain" were all under contract with Jeff, and he refused to pay any of us so called "volunteers", though we were NOT by any means "volunteers"...we were the heart and soul of the Haunted Hayride that year, and helped to construct and re-construct many of the sets and props which are STILL in use today. So all-in-all, I agree with you...Jeff is nothing more than a money hungry swine with no consideration whatsoever for the time and effort that it takes to orchestrate various performances, and how time consuming the efforts are. I wouldn't work for the "Castle" of Muskogee if it were the ONLY Ren Faire in the state of Oklahoma again! Cheers to you all for all your past, present, and future efforts and performances to come!
Posted by Roger Powell on Apr. 28, 2008 03:38 AM

I was there and I thought the performance was AWESOME I love you guys keep it up! ;D~
Posted by Salt The Cook on May. 23, 2008 05:19 PM

I totally agree with your choice about Muskogee. I have work for Jeff once, and only once. His Illegal actions and greed just ruin any fun that performing can give. Now that I know you'll be performing at Norman, I think it's worth the gas to see you guys again. Good luck to you all, and to anyone else whom wishes to perform for Jeff, Check his signature on your contract, it may not be his.
Posted by Dilirium on Nov. 19, 2008 03:19 AM

I am REALLY sorry to read this, I was at that fair just this weekend and, let me tell you, I'm not the only one that is missing you guys. I'm going to talk to Tulsa County about maybe sponsory a piratefest in the Tulsa area say, in the fall or early spring (after all they do a medieval fair in September) and I'd sure as hell love to have youse guys perform there. I'll do my best.
Posted by Johnny Hicks on May. 28, 2011 07:05 PM

I understand your reasons for not wanting to play at the castle anymore, but going to Norman would be a challenge for my family and I. I wonder if there is another venue in Eastern Oklahoma that you would be able to play? We have all your CDs and DVD but that cannot match the energy and feel of your live shows. Anyway we would love to see y'all back this way if you ever have the chance.
Posted by Richard on Oct. 03, 2012 02:17 PM

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