If you attend what Americans call a “Renaissance Festival,” you will see, gathered in one place, the diverse elements of American geekdom. These so-called faire are not so much concerned with the Renaissance as with fantasy in general. Typically, they have a given themed year, usually involving Henry VIII and one of his unfortunate brides. Nonetheless, every SCA freak within a 200 mile radius descends upon the festival to live out a day of fantasy among his own kind. Sincere—or stoned—neo-pagans, Latin traditionalists, English teachers with a fancy for Shakespeare and everything Elizabethan, hordes of fratboys with a fetish for pirates, D&D tramps, pale and emaciated WoW victims, Conan the Barbarian devotees who fancy dark age chic, folks with a taste for the Arthurian, and, naturally, Trekkies defy time-lines and sensibility as they don their gay apparel and revel in superb silliness.
Adam and I had a fine time at Warwick’s festival in England; the skillful jousting, the real castle, and the historic significance of the place made it a real contender for best time-travelling festival. However, the British lack the flexible jollity of American nerds, who have a certain monopoly on geek taste. Warwick was like Jamestown or Williamsburg with more attitude and flair. To see the real deal, you must have a fake castle.
My favorite American RenFest is definitely Maryland’s Renaissance Festival . . . it makes for a very fun day. There are stage performances and travelling entertainers all day, along with endless shops for armor, body piercings, or period costumes, dozens of ways to consume food without utensils, and some opportunities for learning history. The artisans are usually very informative, and they take a lot of pride in their work. After all, there are not many traditional bowyers around anymore; even eccentric exclusivity brings pride.
At Maryland’s festival, I highly recommend Johnny Fox, Hack and Slash, and The O’Danny Girls. Besides these shows, there are real elephants, dunk-a-wench games, castle wall climbing, cirque du soleil-type acts, dog shows, and perhaps the best people watching available outside of comic/sci-fi conventions. Really, it’s a freak magnet; I love it!
Supposedly, the biggest Renaissance festival is in Texas—obviously, right? Well, I would like to see how the Lone Star State presents the faire . . . maybe next year.