The first time I laid eyes on Captain Brett he was stretched out on a wooden throne overseeing his crew’s nightly game of “naked” Jenga.
Describing a night at the Texas Renaissance Festival patron’s camp is really just describing people: Patrons drinking. Patrons doing a chaotic drumcircle around a not-quite-bonfire. Patrons roaming the campground like decapitated chickens stuffed with 9-volt suppositories.
Captain Brett and his crew, the Call of Booty, were surrounded by arguably the largest swath of patrons. Their Plunderdome venue is a popular spot not only because of the dare-filled nude Jenga game but also the inevitable after-party.
This particular anecdote was more than a year ago and honestly I can’t recall who was in the middle of pulling a block out or what particular dare they drew. Recording in the Plunderdome is strictly prohibited during Jenga. But inevitably someone yanked a block that said one thing: Cannonball.
A net above Captain’s head went slack. A black basketball launched forth. It struck the Jenga tower, which promptly fell to pieces. Yells and cheers shot out of the mob of patrons. The loser stripped down completely before rebuilding the tower. Captain applauded their efforts.
He later told me the idea was to have women compete in order to end up pulling the Jenga block that said “flash the Captain” but in the interests of fairness, males were required to do the same.
Despite the festivities and insane reputation, Captain and his crew run the Plunderdome with a serious mind toward security. They don’t allow anyone’s reputation to come into harm, hence no recording of any kind. They have carpenters and electricians and a whole host of other skilled craft workers who ensure the Plunderdome and all equipment is up to code.
“We’re all artists,” Captain told me. “It’s a crew of geniuses. We know how to do our shit.”
Captain noted he’s just the head of the crew, adding the rest make up the backbone of the operation. The Quartermaster Stephen Verrett. The first, second and third mates. The various members keeping an eye on everything.
It’s earned them the respect of festival security and local police, who consider the Plunderdome to essentially be a day-care in Patron’s camp.
“We keep all their prisoners in one place,” Captain said.
Despite that, CoB aren’t your nannies and Captain Brett isn’t Mrs. Doubtfire. They don’t take the term “pirate” lightly.
CoB aren’t the post-modern file-sharing type, or the version that coasts up and down Somalia’s waters waiting for Tom Hanks. They’re the drinking, partying variety.
Earlier this year I was able to follow along with Captain and several CoB crew during their romp through Galveston during Mardi Gras. They went from bar to bar, usually getting stopped every three feet to pose for photos.
In 2017 CoB were at the Middlelands, an EDM festival that used the TRF fairgrounds in the off-season. Case in point, they get around. You can find CoB at charity events. You can find them at parties. Their swag, a Jolly Roger based on Calico Jack’s colors, is everywhere.
My most recent run-in with Captain and CoB was AT the TRF’s pirate adventure weekend. I wandered into the patron’s camp and found Captain once again at his throne. It had been upgraded with several ornaments over the year, complete with an old landline phone perched on a desk to his side. There was no phone line.
“It’s for booty calls,” Captain said, lifting the phone off its hook.
Later we found ourselves in his cabin hidden well behind the fence separating the Plunderdome from the crew-only section of CoB’s area. We talked about the 16-year stretch CoB had enjoyed. We talked about the recent changes to the festival. We discussed riding boats in Houston.
When not running CoB, Captain steers and repairs boats along Houston’s bayous. A job he got thanks to community service.
“We’re out there picking up trash and all of a sudden the boat broke down,” Captain said. “We were stranded, waiting for about two hours. I wanted to look at it (the engine). They said ‘No, you can’t do that.’ I said let me look at it. They said no. I said, just let me look at the mother-fucking engine.”
Captain said he popped the chassis open, fixed the engine and drove it back to the city’s dock.
“Next day another boat broke down. Went out and fixed that boat,” Captain said. “Then I built up the hydraulics on their tractor. All this other shit. After about two weeks they asked if I wanted a job. So now I drive a boat past downtown every damn day.”
We also brought up some of the other pirate groups present that weekend, such as the Drunken Monkey Privateers. Another vein at patron’s camp, the Isle of Tortuga, had started five years ago give or take. Aside from hosting live music (Blaggards for example), they had themselves a sponsorship from Captain Morgan’s Rum.
“I went to high school with all those people over there,” Captain said. “It’s the funniest thing. When I was in high school right, the most unlikely to succeed? That was me. Now I have this empire.”
The various groups are in somewhat in a competition with each other. Not for any particular prize, but to see who can have a better time.
“They tell me ‘Goddamn Brett you’ve really succeeded in doing what you’re doing,’” Captain said. “Fuck yeah I have.”
He offered good luck to the other groups in patron’s camp who were interested in surpassing what CoB was pulling off.
A man and woman entered the cabin while we spoke. The man had about 70 lbs of feathers in his tri-crown hat.
“I love these people,” Captain said. “They knew me before Call of Booty was even thought of.”
“We remember when you were just a barnacle,” the man said.
They began reminiscing about when Captain would drag around a wooden board on a rope. If someone asked what he was doing, he’d answer in stone-cold seriousness: Walking the plank.
“And walking the plank turned into all this,” Captain said.
In another moment, Captain was needed back at the Plunderdome. Jenga had ended. A DJ set up shop. Patron’s jumped about in various states of undress. The ears of an inflatable Pikachu costume were visible.
“There was only fun when it was just the plank,” Captain said before disappearing into the crowd outside his cabin. “Now there’s work.”