It took some work to convince my friend Mark to go to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival with me last year. His sole experience with renaissance festivals was limited to his teenage summer job at one in Florida, at which he grilled giant turkey legs. I finally assured him that our trip together wouldn’t expose him to temperatures hot enough to smelt iron ore, and so we were off.
I could never have anticipated just how gigantic the thing is, and that it achieves such expanse without being a permanent installation is incredible. As soon as we entered we were treated to a show of acrobatics, people doing things on tightropes that I couldn’t on flat ground without first being bitten by some radioactive invertebrate. We immediately discovered the nicest thing about the place — that you can freely mill around it with a cup of beer in your hand — which we did throughout the rest of our adventure.
The renaissance festival is a shopper’s paradise. Hundreds of artisans from throughout the country attend, and if you’re not judicious with your funds you can easily come out of the thing dressed like you belong on a mission to chuck enchanted jewelry into the fires of Mount Doom. I contemplated taking home a broadsword, but I knew that if I did my broad’s words would cut me deeper than any weapon ever could. It is unfair — when she wants to spend money on frivolities like dresses or groceries the move is unquestionable, but our budget for medieval weaponry is nil.
We decided to go to the Mermaid Garden, not appreciating that grown men aren’t considered the prime audience for mermaids. I’m glad we sat through the line nonetheless — such beaming smiles from little girls who’d finally found a real live mermaid could have lit Hades. We got to see a unicorn, which we could tell was incontrovertibly genuine owing to the horn on her pate. There was even a free-roaming churl whose sole job was to jape at guests like a modern day Diogenes would. He brought the unconventionality of my sneakers into question (they are very good sneakers), and I loved him for it.
We headed over to see Puke & Snot, the funniest eggs ever. They are an act like the Marx Brothers would have been during their vaudeville days, hurling machine gun volleys of insults at one another. Imagine if Buddy Hackett and Henny Youngman really got into it, and you’ve essentially got Puke & Snot. From there we went to the Cock-A-Doodle Zoo, with kangaroos, porcupines, lemurs, and one very greedy llama. Finally the joust started, and while I didn’t expect the festival’s actors to actually try to impale one another on lances, their expert choreography really led me to think that they just might. Off the horses the men swung at each other with swords and giant hammers, missing, naturally, but this didn’t matter to the crowd. Within seconds we’d each identified our favorite combatants and cheered like the fate of the world depended on them.
The renaissance festival is too vast in scope to do in a single day, especially given all of its theme weekends. They have got Pet Fest on September 14th and 15th, which will entail corgi and weiner dog races (two breeds known for their graceful lopes), an ugliest dog competition, and a peanut butter licking contest. They have got Shamrocks & Shenanigans on September 21st and 22nd with Irish music and dancers, a kilt competition, and a mashed potato eating contest. They’ve even got Oktoberfest on the last weekend of September, with a beard competition and bier pong and a contest for the best traditional German dress.
Belly dancers, jugglers, firebreathers, axe throwing, live reptiles– the Minnesota Renaissance Festival encompasses everything that you could hope for. It was quite enough to reforge my friend’s impression of a renaissance faire from one of backbreaking labor into something wholly pleasant and fun. Whether you’ve little kids to impress or a clique defined by any sort of shared interest, you’re bound to love it. The Minnesota Renaissance Festival is currently ongoing all weekends through September 29th, plus September 27th. Visit renaissancefest.com to see everything there is to about the celebration!
By David Scheller