It all began on a Friday night when our new friend, Mary Lee, took us to The Arizona Opry, which is located east of Mesa near the community of Apache Junction. We were ushered into a large hall lined with rows of long tables, clothed and set for the chicken dinner that was to come. On stage was a huge array of musical instruments, including strings, brass and percussions, which would be played for our entertainment when dinner was over.
At precisely 6:30 pm trays of filled dinner plates began to appear, and within thirty-five minutes all 508 guests were served a sumptuous meal of roasted chicken breast, baked potatoes, vegetables and rolls. The “Opry chocolate cake” that was already on the tables when we arrived completed (or started) the repast. Coffee and lemonade were constantly available from the moment we sat down. By 7:30 the tables were cleared, chairs were turned toward the stage, and the music got our feet tapping. The Barleen Family and Guests perform and choreograph fourteen different shows throughout the year. This night was a Variety Show displaying a multitude of talent and unbelievable energy. When the “Arizona Champion Guitar Picker” was introduced as the evening’s guest performer, he seemed familiar. Sure enough, it was Ryan Martin whom we’d first heard picking and strumming back in 2010 in Cody, Wyoming. What a pleasant surprise.
If you ever find yourself in this area of Arizona, be sure to pay a visit to Barleens Arizona Opry Dinner Theatre. You won’t be disappointed.
On Saturday we rode the bike to the North West side of Phoenix to check another item off our Bucket List – a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). Little did we know that one day would never be enough time! It happened that that particular weekend was a special one at MIM, with a Carnival Theme. That meant the price of admission included not only the chance to tour the gallery and listen to samples of many types of music and instruments in the process, but we could choose to experience the spirit of Caribbean cultures by attending workshops, listening to live music in the courtyard, watching dancing and observing the colourful costumes. We could have had our pictures taken wearing some of these costumes, but we ran out of time! There was so much going on that we had time to tour only two rooms of the gallery, between taking in a steel pan making workshop given by master steel drum maker, Ancliff “Ansel” Joseph, and eating lunch while enjoying the courtyard entertainment.
We were given headsets for the self-guided gallery tour. Once we clipped them onto our pockets, we didn’t need to touch them again. Sensors placed at the front of each display connected with the headsets as we approached, providing us with the music and dialogue for each station, in whatever order we chose to travel. We oohed over the beautiful guitars and music boxes, and found it difficult not to dance along with the music.
We left at closing time, with a second-day pass in our pockets. We would return on Thursday to finish our tour, because on Sunday we wanted to experience the annual Renaissance Festival and Artisan Marketplace.
Sunday morning was a little overcast and therefore cooler, but by the time we’d reached the gates of the Renaissance Festival the clouds had moved off and we had to shed the extra layers of clothing we’d donned for the bike ride there. After maneuvering through the long but quickly moving ticket line, we were greeted at the gates by wenches, peasants, monks and lords. Inside we were invited to sit with the “Queen” and her court.
Besides all of the employed character actors in costumes, we were surprised to see so many visitors who melted into the theme with their own costumes. In fact there was a costume rental facility at the gate, and inside there was a store where beautiful costumes costing hundreds of dollars could be purchased for every member of the family. We strolled through the park, listening to buskers performing on renaissance era instruments, watched a stilt walker wander through the crowd with ease, and a vendor selling baked pretzels from a wooden rack.
We shared a huge turkey leg for lunch, watched a glass blower, and chuckled at the results of hypnotic suggestion at a Hypnotist’s Show.
We were amused by the variations on modern day carnival games – axe throw, star throw. We visited the vendors of jewelry, leather, feather and metal crafts. The pretty princess head dresses and skirts, hair braiding and pirate paraphernalia made us think of how much our grandchildren would enjoy this fair.
Then there was the King’s Jousting Tournament! We found ourselves joining hundreds of people in bleachers overlooking the ring. There were to be three competing knights and the crowd was divided into three cheering sections. Our knight was Sir Maximilian. He won many of the challenges, but was defeated in the end.
A personal challenge was issued for a fight later in the day. We didn’t return to find out the results. By 5:00 we were hot and tired and ready to ride home. It had been another amazing weekend.
Thursday we finished our tour of MIM, when we saw some very interesting instruments. I was especially amused by these bagpipes!