There is very little “Renaissance” in a Renaissance Festival. I’ve been to several “Renn Fests” or “Renn Faires” in the New York and Washington, DC areas over the years and have yet to get even a hint of Da Vinci or Michelangelo.
A better description is Middle Ages meets Middle Earth with a lot more retail stores and a lot fewer boils and sores. That’s not to say I don’t love a good Renn Fest!
I’ve long ago forgiven the Renn Fest for the inaccuracy or rather the inadequacy of its name. What’s in a name anyway? Right? The famous Renaissance playwright, Shakespeare, said it best, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
And I wouldn’t even begin to know how to rename it? The Medieval Magic LARP Games Shows Food Fun Shakespeare Juggler Nerd Hammock Candle Festival? That might be a bit too long. It’s nearly impossible to describe the vast network of seemingly disperse people, events and materials that fall under the heading of Renn Fest. So, Renn Fest it is.
The name doesn’t really matter. Renn Fest is popular no matter what it’s called. And it is really popular. A sea of cars forced us to park over a half mile away from the Maryland Renaissance Festival entrance this past weekend. When got to the gate, Black Friday level crowds, along with a guy dressed as Merlin the magician, greeted us. We could barely move without running into a pirate or maiden in a flowing dress. And it was already week 3 of the festival.
There are many reasons people flock to Renn Fest. There’s a little something for almost everyone, dress-up, games, plays, people watching.
Here are the 10 reasons I love to go to Renn Fests.
1. My husband actually picks up a broom.
I shouldn’t joke. I have one of the good ones. My husband is an equal partner in our marriage. In fact, if it weren’t for him we’d subsist off cereal and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But, I can’t remember the last time he vacuumed the house. Perhaps he’d do it more if he had a magic vacuum.
2. The costumes put Halloween to shame.
Where else can a steampunk pirate who looks like she had lunch with the Mad Hatter converse with a shirtless Nordic god sporting a flowing cape and wooden sword? At Renn Fest, nothing and no one is too weird. No one is turned away or mocked. Strange is celebrated, imagination revered, weird embraced. Maybe we should be looking to Renn Fest to solve our social problems?
3. Puppets aren’t weird they’re fun (and come in dragon form!)
Always wanted a dragon of your own? Just jumping on the dragon bandwagon now that Daenerys Targaryen made it cool? Doesn’t matter. Renn Fest has dragon puppets that hook on your shoulder via fancy magnet technology and you can covertly manipulate a tiny wire to swivel their heads up, down, left, right and around without anyone realizing. People will think you’re the next mother of dragons (or father if you’re a guy). Seriously, it’s pretty cool.
4. Terrifyingly large food.
Whether it’s a giant turkey leg or a croissant sandwich the size of your head, you won’t go hungry at Renn Fest. Its culture-spanning cuisine includes standard fare, french fries, burgers, and more eclectic tastes like empanadas and falafel.
Oh and nearly anything you can imagine can be put on a stick for consumption – meat, apples, cheesecake. No matter what you choose, you’ll be sure to get it in a portion befitting someone the size of an ogre. Nothing less would do.
5. Silliness and whimsy.
Fairy wings. Nymph horns. Invisible cloaks. There is no shortage of clever and unusual fantasy adornments for rent or purchase. Want to be a fairy knight magician? You can gather everything you need for a costume at Renn Fest.
6. You can watch a Shakespeare play in 20 minutes.
Shakespeare buffs and even those who aren’t huge fans of the bard can appreciate the comical abbreviated versions of Shakespeare’s plays at Renn Fest. We saw Macbeth distilled down to only the essential toil and trouble plus some much-needed levity added in. Four actors with costume changes, a plastic baby and a few Game of Thrones references is enough to convert anyone to a Shakespeare fan.
7. Death defying feats
Shakespeare isn’t the only show at Renn Fest. You can watch a guy spin plates on the two horns of a Viking helmet while balancing on a tiny boat and juggling three axes. Or check out a man who runs along a giant hamster wheel that spins around in the air like one of those upside down gondola rides at an amusement park.
There’s also jousting and archery. Pay a small fee and you can even shoot a crossbow. Basically, if you want to see people risking potential death or dismemberment, this is the place for you.
Yes, Renn Fest has a bookstore, filled with candles, dragon statues and books on the occult, both fiction and non-fiction. (Insert collective groan from my family.)
They want to play with swords and I want to read books. I did manage to sneak away and enjoy the store for a few minutes.
9. Men wear tights.
Any place where I can go and it’s OK for men to wear tights is a place for me. I’m tired of up”tight” social restrictions pigeon holing people into these categories of what is feminine or manly. At Renn Fest tights are manly and women dress in armor. There are no restrictions. You can be yourself, ironically by wearing a costume. But sometimes costumes can be the best representations of who we are inside.
10. It’s totally acceptable to punish your kids by putting them in the stocks and calling them names.
Now, I don’t believe in corporal punishment. But it was pretty funny to have my daughter and her friend in the stocks and then choose funny names to hang on them. Only at Renn Fest!! Who out there knows what Lech and Sot mean? I bet someone does!