This year’s Renaissance Fantasy Faire enjoyed huge crowds, buoyed by a growing population interested in all things Renaissance and the fact that the Washington Renaissance and Fantasy Faire is now a well-known venue far and wide. This year the attendance was estimated at more than 65,000, the highest ever.
People came to the Key Peninsula from all over to stroll through the rows upon rows of vendors to see what modern-day folks who yearn for the simpler times are making for sale, such as old-world beeswax hand-dipped candles. The candle maker had many great stories, including one about why folk used twisted four-wick candles when leaving an abode at night in the olden days: safety. Four wicks looked like four people in the dark, and you were less inclined to be robbed. Who would have thought of that in these days of electricity and battery-operated flashlights?
Some of the sights of the faire included the ever-popular “fairy” who gives everyone fairy dust, a horse-headed giant and a harlequin trying to sell the bridge he was sitting on. (“Bridge for sale!” was all he ever said.) A giant harlequin clown walked around waving at everyone, and delighted children.
The music was as wonderful as ever, and one only needed to stroll around, listen, and then follow the ear to whichever musical venue was preferred. Heather Alexander was a popular show as well as the Sherwood Renaissance Singers. There were crowds around every show, as they were all excellent to hear.
There were even more interactions for the kids, with the ever-popular sword fighting arena. All swords are made of PVC plastic pipe and wrapped in foam and duct tape to prevent injury, and it seems to be a favorite for boys — and girls. Many girls tried their hand at besting any boy or man they dared take on. The best part was watching the “stare down.” Intimidation before the strike, the best part of the duel. Ren Faire organizer Ron Cleveland was caught enjoying this part of the faire — he seemed to be enjoying dueling with knights and ladies.
Also available for the kids were fencing lessons, and an archery course for low-cost shooting ($10 for 20 arrows) at target bags. The archery course was created on a building that looked like an outpost for a castle that doubled as a place to buy wooden shields, swords, axes and the like.
More food and vendors were also present this year. Of course, everyone who goes to the faire strolls to the back of the grounds for a meeting with the queen and then heads up the hill past the well-dressed comely wenches selling pickles from their pickle wagon (excellent garlic dills) and find a spot in the shade for the jousting show.
This year, the jousting exhibit was put on by the American Jousting Alliance. This show is more accurate in what the knights did to practice for battle. Leaning over their sword side of the horse, they held out their heavy steel sword and tried to spear a ring hanging from two strings. A semi-circle course of three rings for the gentlemen — and lady, as the American Jousting Alliance has a woman in its troupe — to see who was the best. In the event of a tie, the rings were replaced with smaller rings, and they did it again. The crowd seemed to be of a modern mind, as they all chanted for the lady of the realm. (Dam-i-en! Dam-i-en!) She didn’t win, but everyone had fun and that’s what it’s all about.
By the end of the day, most of the faire-goers without kids were heading to the beer gardens for a Meade or two to wrap things up before returning to the castle. The ones with kids were looking for a snack on the way out, then past the vendors for perhaps one more treasure to take home to remember this fine day that naught may put a damper on.