If you’ve never been to a Renaissance Festival — that’s right, other states besides Maryland have them — you should go, at least once. I went twice, which may have been a mistake, but we all know people who go every year. Heck, some of us know people who go every weekend of every festival.
These people are the reason other people go to the fest — to gawk at them. Sure, we enjoy mead and turkey legs and watching grown men ride at each other on horses at top speed wielding sharp objects, but that’s not why we go. We go to gape at people who own more than one Renaissance costume to wear to the festival. We go to see boobs thrust up to a height seen nowhere else in public, to see men in kilts and all genders adorned in outfits that allow fleshy nuggets that rarely see the light of day to pooch out of unexpected openings.
And they haven’t even started drinking yet.
Fully clothed, I started with a Fi-Fi, which was a combination of mead, cider and raspberry wine. As I watched the wench empty bottle after bottle into my big plastic cup, I was taken back to the iconic Steinbeck novel, Cannery Row, in which the bartender empties all the drinks patrons don’t finish into a bottle he saves for a group of winos he feels empathy for.
It was tasty!
I was lucky to get the drink so quickly and easily, as this day, full of bright sunshine and blue skies and an uncommonly comfortable 58 degrees, brought huge crowds. People packed the dusty streets, waiting their turn to ride the elephant (wait, I thought we freed the elephants!), throw a hatchet or climb a rock wall, which I don’t think is something they did during the Renaissance, but whatever.
With a plethora of carnival games such as drench-a-wench and darts, for a minute, you wonder if you’ve wandered into the county fair by accident. But then you see a guy dressed from head to toe in armor and a plague mask, and you remember where you are.
By the way, if a corset, bustier or chastity belt is not part of your regular wardrobe (and make no mistake, it is for a lot of these Renn enthusiasts), the fair will rent you a costume for the day.
Dozens of shops sell all types of crafts and clothing, so if you love souvenirs you have come to the right place. Expect lots of leather and metalwork, garlands, ribbons, dragons and fairies.
A big draw at the Renn Fest is the shows, specifically the jousting tournaments. The arena also is home to archery and raptor demonstrations. Other stages throughout the fairgrounds showcase actors, comics, magicians, musicians and more. Performers stroll throughout the fairgrounds juggling, performing hoop tricks and otherwise entertaining fairgoers.
While the fest is famous for the turkey legs, soup in a bread bowl, mugs of mead and steak on a stake, take heart if you’re fussy: They also have chicken nuggets and fries (the condiment bottle is labeled “ye olde ketchup”).
A few tips if you’ve never been:
- It’s dusty. Your shoes and clothes will get dirty.
- There’s a lot of walking and the ground is uneven and hilly in many places.
- The toilets are port-a-potties.
- It kinda sucks in the rain, but it’s crowded when the weather is nice. Early in the season can be excruciatingly hot.
- If you bring your kids and let them play games and buy them souvenirs and food, the day is probably going to run you about $200.
- Parking is in an open field. There are no markers. When you go back to your car, it will be one of thousands surrounded by identical trees. Make use of your panic button.
Maryland Renaissance Festival, 1821 Crownsville Road, Annapolis, MD; open weekends only through Oct. 20, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; adult tickets $27, special prices for seniors, children, groups and multi-day passes.