TR Robertson …. The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire, the world’s oldest, is in full swing for its 55th anniversary season at the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Irwindale, California. Opening in early April, the Faire will run on weekends until May 21st offering guests and participants a chance to step back in time to a period of knights, guilds, members of the royal court, mystical beings and peasants galore. The time period is the reign of Elizabeth I, late 1500’s, although many of the visitors to the Faire use this as a chance to break-out costumes from many different time periods, real and imaginary. On any given weekend you will see fairies, knights, pirates, Klingons and Star Trek officers, “men of the cloth”, Roman soldiers, Gypsies and anything or one your imagination can dream up. It is a chance to allow yourself to become lost in this imaginary world for a few hours as you take in the various vendors selling a variety of goods, performances that will bring a smile to your face, various booths of competitions and a lesson in the history of a time period long gone.
There are 16 stages on the 23 acre lakeside site featuring more than 40 performances by groups of magicians, dancers, jousters, musicians, storytellers, jugglers and improve groups. As you walk through the main entrance, designed as a sailing ship from the 1500’s, you enter a cleverly designed layout that twists and winds along wide walkways. The first pathway is known as Pottery and Glass and Guest Artist Row. Here you can begin to see the variety of crafts available for purchase and take in various demonstrations, such as the glass blowing stage. Information on the Guilds of this time period is available. The Guilds of the Renaissance Faire represent the different aspects of Elizabethan life and involve some of the 1,500 actors that take part in the Faire. Artisans are divided into 18 groups, such as Metal Coin & Pewter, Musical Instruments, Clothing and Costumes. Along with this guest artists perform on different weekends demonstrating their handiwork.
Photos by Carolyn Robertson
As we walked down the pathway we passed several costume rental shops where you could choose a costume to rent to depict whatever you might want to become from this time period. Cost ranged from $30 to $60 depending on the costume and the implements. Many Faire attendees were stopping in to pick out a costume for the day. Close to the entrance guests could also sign-up for a Pub Crawl which would take you to the six pubs at the Fairground to sample the brew provided. One popular stop was selling drinking horns in various sizes you could have filled with beer or cider. I also saw wooden and pewter drinking goblets and mugs many were using.
Rounding the first turn, we entered Clothiers Way and Leather Lane. As the name implies, lots of shirts, dresses, blouses, vests, sandals and anything your heart desired, mostly with an Elizabethan style. As you walked through the Faire, actor’s beacon you to take part in their activities, all with witty sayings from long ago. Queens College came into view, a place where guests could sign-up for a variety of classes offered during the Faire. These classes ranged from Venetian Mask Making to Paper making to Flower fairy making, to Candle dipping and many more.
Not far from here we began to smell the Food Court, a crowded area with numerous food vendors offering food items resembling food that might have been offered during that time period, plus a variety of other foods. The food items were a little pricy, but sharing dishes is a way to stretch your budget. Turkey legs were a popular item to try. Lots of choices had long lines clamoring for what was being sold and served. You could have brats and bangers, Toad-in-a-Hole, Monkey Tails (a chocolate dipped banana), Sin on a Stick (chocolate dipped frozen cheesecake), Greek food, English Scotch eggs, artichokes fixed a variety of ways, lots of different meat sandwiches, a variety of meat pies, a food truck serving Italian dishes, fish & chips, oysters and chips, and the list goes on and on. The dessert items were also plentiful with lots of berry dishes, ice cream, fruit ice and more. You get the idea, you will not go hungry at the Ren Faire.
Past the food court the path led to more artisans selling their wares. My wife bought some decorative elf ear rings and next to this vendor visitors could purchase elf plastic ears. One street led to Gamers Row featuring booth after booth of games of skill participants could try, for a price. Games such as ax throwing, archery, spear throwing, ringing the bell with a sledge hammer, knife throwing, darts and more. There were also 4 person swings, a zip line for young people, face painting, mazes, petting zoos, a dragon swing, fencing schools, in other words lots for the family to choose from. Around this path more vendors, this time primarily focusing on jewelry. There was also a small row of fortune tellers and card readers for those that wanted to see what the future held for them.
Our primary quest as we walked was to arrive at Champions Green and the Joust Arena. Daily, several jousting events are held, this time we wanted to see the Queen’s Joust. Promptly at 2pm a procession entered the arena, trumpets sounded and Queen Elizabeth arrived. A number of young people were involved today representing new recruits for the Queen’s army. Everyone looked as though they were having a great time pretending to display their skills with spears and fake rifles. The reason the stands were filled though was to see the Jousters. These 4 highly trained horsemen are also skilled in riding at full speed, in full armor, with lances raised to try and spear a small shield attached to the shoulder of each knight. They are competing each time for The Golden Chain of Port Deptford (mythical village of the Ren Faire). The joust lasts for about 45 minutes and is a good time for all as those watching cheer on their favorite knight.
As we wandered back toward the entrance we stopped by and watched a portion of several of the shows that go on many times a day. Shows like MooNiE the Magnif’Cent, Merlin’s Comedy Magic Show, Sky Kings Falconry, the Washing Well Wenches and others kept the crowd laughing and amazed. Along with this a variety of performers sang, played instruments, and danced to the delight of audiences. Expect the weather to be a little warm, so dress appropriately. This is a great way to enjoy a step back in time, eat some food you normally don’t get to experience and to see some performances you will only find at The Ren Faire.
The Faire will continue until May 21 and will end with the annual Closing Day Parade. Tickets are $29.95 for adults and $15 for children with discounts available for seniors, military and AAA members. Tickets can be purchased at the box office daily of online at www.renfair.com. The Faire opens every Saturday and Sunday at 10 am. There is a $10 vehicle entry fee to park in the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area.