Monday, September 2, 2013

Day 113 - Attending a Renaissance Fair

I have never been to a Renaissance fair. While this wasn’t something that has ever been on the top of my “to-do” list, the time and effort people put into escaping to a time long since past has always been something that intrigued me. As a result, I thought attending a Renaissance fair during my “I have never...” year would be a good use of my time. I figured at minimum I would gain a unique experience from an uncommon event, and at most I might even gain some perspective as to why people put such effort into participating in what boils down to an adult version of playing dress up and pretend. With knowledge such events usually only take place in the summer this far north, I knew my opportunity to experience a Renaissance festival this year was fading fast. In turn, I made plans to attend the state’s largest Renaissance fair today, which happened to be the last day of the fair’s season.

The entrance
Although I thought it would be difficult to recruit people to tag along for the nearly two hour trip to the Renaissance fair, I was happy to find Rachael and our friend Allison were more than happy to tag along. After making the trip to the Bristol Renaissance Fair grounds, we worked our way inside and started plotting our course for the day’s events. Upon entering the grounds I immediately took stock of our surroundings. Around us large groups of people shuffled down gravel walkways between rows of small connected buildings with facades intended to make them appear as older European structures. Before us a bearded, disheveled man stood on a barrel wearing a large canvas sack with the words “Mud Show” written on the front. As I looked closer at the crowd around us I saw a mixture of people in plain, modern clothes and people in Renaissance era costume gear ranging from mildly authentic to purely fictional gear a la Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons. Although the whole scene was a bit gaudy, it maintained a certain charm. Additionally, it was clear the people around us were having a good time experiencing the fair and wandering the grounds, which made it difficult scoff at those that were fully engaged in the event.

The crowd

After a brief pause to gather our bearings, Allison, Rachael, and I walked down the Mud Show, which was moments away from starting. Over the next 30 minutes we watched as a troop of three hilarious actors worked over the crowd and got unbelievably muddy for the sake of a few extra tips from the crowd. To my surprise, the show was much more vulgar and suggestive than I had expected. While none of the actors crossed into outright inappropriate behavior, their comments and actions were certainly enough to be defined as risqué, which made the show all the more humorous.

Ultimately, the show ended with a final display of muddy mayhem, which prompted the three of us to cross the fairgrounds in search of a beer and a forthcoming falconry show. After successful obtaining the former, we proceeding to the jousting grounds where a man and a woman were already in the middle of giving the falconry demonstration. We watched on as the duo performed a series of actions using trained hawks, training decoys, and bits of meat to show the capabilities of the birds. Once that demonstration was complete, the man proceeded to unveil a falcon, which proceeded to dazzle the crowd with its speed and precision in the air. The entire performance was remarkable and highly entertaining, which made me glad we found time to fit it in.

The falcon strike

With the falconry demonstration complete, we took back to the Renaissance fair grounds to wander a bit more. As we walked we encountered small booths and open shops selling everything from costumer gear to jewelry and home goods. The only consistent theme from one store to the next was a focus on the Renaissance and the mystic, which appeared in the designs on goods of all sorts. After grabbing another drink we made our way back to the jousting grounds to catch the Queen’s Joust, which was a predetermined jousting match between four competitors. Once again, the actors on the field did their best to encourage crowd participation as they battled for victory in a series of dexterity and combat challenges. Although it was entertaining, the weak blows and feigned falls left something to be desired. Of course, I realized the act was directed toward a younger crowd, but a little more authenticity couldn’t have hurt the performance. Ultimately, the jousting tournament ended with a predictable winner (the good guy), which led to a challenge from the remaining competitors for another joust “to the death” later that day.

Minstrel music...

...and Renaissance garb

The joust!

After deciding our first jousting experience was enough for the day, we worked our way back to the center of the fairgrounds to catch a little music before making a final stop at the fire whip show. Stated plainly, this was an awesome way to wrap up the day. The show was comprised of one man and a series of whips that he used to demonstrate various techniques. The man’s speed, skill, and accuracy with each whip he brandished were simply incredible. Over a period of roughly 30 minutes, the man used a variety of leather and chain whips to created patterns in the air, sweep supports out from under objects without disturbing the objects resting upon them, destroy full cans of soda, and, finally, perform a demonstration with a flaming whip. The reaction of the flame to the whip’s movement at or above the speed of sound was unbelievable. Seriously, watching this guy was an amazing experience that I wish we have been able to see more than once.

At the end of the fire whip performance Allison, Rachael, and I made one final trip through an unexplored part of the fairgrounds before calling it a day and starting the trip home. Although I didn’t know what to expect going into my first experience at a Renaissance fair, the event was definitely worth the trip. The day flew by as we wandered the fairgrounds and experienced the variety of unique and entertaining shows put on by the Renaissance fair crew. After today’s experience, I can honestly say I would go to a Renaissance fair again, which is a surprising conclusion to draw considering my initial assumptions about the event. It was a good time with a group of people that was out to make the best of the final days of summer, and that’s something I can get behind. 

Oh, and I ate a massive turkey leg.

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