Every autumn since I was about twelve, I've visited the Maryland Renaissance Faire. I try to make it every year. I see my favorite shows, visit my favorite vendors, and head home.
Not this time. This year, I took my roommate who, through some misalignment of planets, had never been to a renfaire. I assumed that I would walk through my usual routine, only with more narration. However, as we paid and stepped through the gate to the usual faux-English-accented "Allo milady and milord!" he caught me off guard.
"Where should we start?" I asked, mostly rhetorically, eyes glinting in the general direction of my usual first stop, the mask makers. (I won't say which one because I don't want to bias you. Each mask maker at faire is amazing at something: One does flawless greenmen and leaves, another does wonderful characters and deities, and the third does gorgeous butterflies). I was so focused on hopping into my usual series of stops that I almost didn't hear his reply.
"Why not start here? I want to see everything."
I stopped. He was dead serious. He was already perusing commemorative mugs at the first store. I started to go a little pale. "Everything?"
He continued, "How else can you show me everything that's here? Besides, if we go section by section, it shouldn't take too long."
After the second hour, I started drafting apologies to everyone I've ever shown around the faire. Because, although fun, the most memorable thing shouldn't be the food on a stick.
|There is even steak on a stake. (via Brent Newhall)|
Here's my usual whirlwind newb tour:
- Here are masks. Ogle.
- Obtain food on a stick. Talk about all the foods served on sticks.
- Boots. Ogle.
- Watch Shakespeare's Scum.
- Swords. Ogle.
- Watch Hack & Slash (who aren't there this year, but we've marked their upcoming show on the calendar).
- Kilts. Ogle.
- Obtain mead.
- Go home exhausted because most of our time at the faire was taken up by, "Damn it! It was RIGHT HERE! You'd think after fifteen [grumble]... let me see the damn map."
Hitting every shop at a leisurely, sane pace took us about seven hours, with stops for two shows and food. I learned that I know next to nothing about faire.
For one thing, there's far more steampunk than I realized! I love me some steampunk. I was decked out in my top hat and goggles, but I didn't really expect to fit in. As I walked around, I had vendors singling me out in their crowded shops, going "Miss! I know what you're looking for!" as they walked me over to the special array of cog-covered wonders.
Jezzard Jewelry sells hairpins with bronze top hats, and steampunked flash drives, gears, and goggles. The staff at Tall Toad recognized my top hat and were happy to see that it had found a loving home. And a third shop had everything from goggles to a steampunk corset (my Google-fu is failing to find the name, please leave a comment if you know it).
But the most striking example is Iron Antler Forge. I had passed them by every year because, from the outside, it looks like they sell intimidating, heavy iron flower sconces. Inside? It's all dragons, clockworks, and steampunk. They have photos from their recently "excavated" wonders on their Facebook page. They have a ray gun. It's pretty amazing.
Steampunk aside, you should go because this year is the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Maryland Renaissance Festival. To celebrate, they decided not to have themed weekends this year, allowing visitors could focus on the "overall festival." This choice baffled not only me, but also a few dozen Facebook commenters. Now that I've been, I understand their logic. Regardless of what week you're able to attend, you'll get a great baseline experience that isn't flooded with pirates or faux Scotsmen doing their best James Doohan impersonations. It's the perfect year for newcomers.
A reason to make it this weekend: Barleyjuice will be there. So even if you missed Mediaeval Baebes, there are still plenty of amazing performers to check out. I'm hoping to stop by for a second weekend, so keep an eye out for a short woman in a black top hat and a Superman t-shirt. Not the traditional garb, I know, but you get all types at faire. Even Waldo shows up occasionally.
Found him! (via my camera phone)