Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Anachronistic Costumed Nerds – RenFaire in the Time of Plague

 
A RenFair captured in a single photo

I majored in History and Secondary ed, with an English minor… and I carefully tuck all that away when I go to Renaissance fairs. It is a lot easier, that way, to just roll with the anachronisms and have fun. One of the regular acts that comes through Ohio, The KamiKaze FireFlies, sells t-shirts that say “Just a bunch of nerds, playing dress up in the woods,” and I cannot add to that. This fair (faire?), whose grounds are permanently set up just south of Wilmington, Ohio, is nominally supposed to be set in 1590-ish. So they have a Queen Bess and royal attendants, and of course (during a normal year at least, which this is not) they have jousts and sorta-period-correct games, but any actual adherence to historical accuracy is no more than lip-service and happy accident. In any other year this would have been a massive affair, with long lines just to get into the parking field, long lines of people donning and fixing costumes while queuing up to scan their tickets under the portcullis, long lines for food and drink, and dusty hot crowds cheering on the stage acts and jousts.

This year it was like a ghost town. Tickets were strictly limited and purchased in advance. Half the grounds were roped off and closed, and among what was open there were numerous vacant stalls under the mock towers. But it all felt like a family reunion anyway; I recognized nobody in particular but they were all familiar anyway. The festival had been canceled back at the beginning of August. Then abruptly, near the end of August, they quietly posted on Facebook and elsewhere a partial reversal: for three Saturdays only, on a presale basis, they would open. The tickets sold out in days and the owners added a fourth Saturday. That sold out in 48 hours. We were among the lucky ones, doubly so since the day we got fell the day after our release from our family’s month-long quarantine stemming my Daughter #2’s COVID infection. For us, it was a celebration.

A crowded market street in 2019
The same market street, 2020

Though the grounds are permanent, the fair itself only runs on weekends in September and October. Thousands of people show up having donned costumes ranging from barbarian-ish to Roman, Medieval, Restoration, Georgian, Victorian, Steam-punk, Dungeons and Dragons, Tolkien, Wiccan, or whatever they found in the closet (no joke: I saw a rather rotund guy on year in flip flops and a ratty bathrobe, with a cheap plastic “samurai” sword tucked in his belt – to be fair it was a very warm day, but I did not want to have that image burned into my retinas). It’s all cosplay, with all the good and bad you typically find with that. I saw more plague masks this year than last, for obvious reasons (and would have purchased one there too, but the good ones were expensive!), but they’re always about. Of course, masks of all sorts were abundant this year, and clever cosplayers found ways to obey the letter of the law while keeping within the spirit of the festival.

Someone has a case of staff-envy.
Can we talk later? I’ve got a village to plunder.

As for the vendors, they vary from skilled blacksmiths making and selling very real swords and armor, down to hawkers of cheap Chinese spring-steel wall hangers, both selling alongside people making clothing and accessories both for cosplay and everyday wear. Most often it is very well made too, with pride and flair, with only the occasional mass-import stuff (usually toys or overly garish garments). All of the craftspeople can make to order too (though when I asked one blacksmith about a true pattern-welded Norse sword, he made an accurate if anachronistic allusion to trading for a car – the real-deal is not cheap). Many of the craftspeople have web stores or sell at flea markets, but theirs is a business that mostly relies on the impulse, with folks caught up in the spirit of the costumery (I mean, in what other sort of frame would one feel inspired to purchase a chain-mail bra?).

A skilled glass worker

Food and alcohol are abundant, of course, and as marked up as you’d find at any bar, but be wary of the mead as it packs a wallop. The food, for obvious liability, licensing, and tax reasons is carefully controlled and not made by craftsmen. Beer and cider come from very modern cans, bottles, and kegs, though many folks bring their own pewter or horn or wooden flagons, lashed to their belts alongside pouches, knives, and pistols. For some reason, large turkey legs are a popular foodstuff (I think the massive bones make them a “barbarian” thing?), but so are various fried dough confections and anything else you’d find at a fair.

The acts and shows are the sorts of folks you can still find in what circuses are still running – they’re comics and musicians, stunt performers, and daredevils. You usually don’t have to pay to watch their shows, but the performers live on the tips and any merchandise they sell. They all have backstories too. For some, this is a weekend gig while they have “real” jobs, for others this is the job. The Fireflies are a husband and wife act, and they always work in at the beginning that she graduated Summa Cum Laude in English before taking up the vagabond life. This year has been a near run thing for them all. Youtube and Patreon subscriptions helped plug some of the leaks, but for the full-timers this year has nearly done them in. Some have tried what is basically public busking, doing pop-up shows in parks or on street corners, but others have gear and props that just don’t move well. The stunt acts were the hardest hit for that very reason, while those, like the shimmying belly dancers and improve-comic pirate, have had a little more leeway since they have “real” jobs during the week (make no mistake thinking that the stunt folks are somehow not holding “real” jobs – this is their “real” job, and we tip well). There were no jousts this year, sadly. The lists were empty, and the knights were tilting elsewhere.

A double unhorsing, 2019
Empty lists this year

I don’t cosplay (unless “ordinary 21st-century middle-aged guy with camera” is a costume), but my kids do a bit. One of my sisters used to cosplay as well, but a lot of people don’t. This year, over half did, I think because it was their one opportunity as new lockdowns threaten. I don’t really buy any stuff there either for myself (the wife and kids are another matter – #3 came home with throwing knives), mainly because I have enough clutter, but also because I got my swords years ago in other venues, and what I really need is a good scabbard. And I put away the history degree unless I’ve had too much mead.

Death is bargain shopping.

Published in Entertainment
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  1. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Gandalf….?

    • #1
    • October 21, 2020, at 8:14 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  2. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    • #2
    • October 21, 2020, at 8:17 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  3. Arahant Member

    Interesting. Haven’t been out in years to ours. I should go back sometime.

    • #3
    • October 21, 2020, at 8:57 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I love the Texas Renaissance Festival, though I miss it most years. Sadly, a fire destroyed some booths recently. They are requiring masks, so the festival doesn’t interest me so much this year. 

    • #4
    • October 21, 2020, at 9:01 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  5. kedavis Member

    • #5
    • October 21, 2020, at 9:10 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVeyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    My kids have gone in recent years. I think it was the late Eighties since I’ve gone. I always liked the buxom barmaid who’d cry out, “Paella, M’lord?” with gold coins stuck to her bosom. 

    • #6
    • October 21, 2020, at 9:42 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor

    • #7
    • October 21, 2020, at 11:00 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. The Reticulator Member

    Okay, okay. About 3/4 of the way through I was finally motivated enough to look up the definition of cosplay. Sheesh. I had thought maybe it had something to do with cis-gendered and such words. 

    • #8
    • October 22, 2020, at 8:48 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Okay, okay. About 3/4 of the way through I was finally motivated enough to look up the definition of cosplay. Sheesh. I had thought maybe it had something to do with cis-gendered and such words.

    Back when D&D was truly a nerd enterprise (TSR) for nerds, cosplayers were referred to as “the folks who stopped rolling dice.”

    • #9
    • October 22, 2020, at 9:21 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  10. Full Size Tabby Member

    SkipSul: I majored in History and Secondary ed, with an English minor… and I carefully tuck all that away when I go to Renaissance fairs. It is a lot easier, that way, to just roll with the anachronisms and have fun. One of the regular acts that comes through Ohio, The KamiKaze FireFlies, sells t-shirts that say “Just a bunch of nerds, playing dress up in the woods,” and I cannot add to that. This fair (faire?), whose grounds are permanently set up just south of Wilmington, Ohio, is nominally supposed to be set in 1590-ish. So they have a Queen Bess and royal attendants, and of course (during a normal year at least, which this is not) they have jousts and sorta-period-correct games, but any actual adherence to historical accuracy is no more than lip-service and happy accident.

    I have only attended a couple of these faires (Sterling, NY). Historical accuracy did not seem to be a high priority for very many – especially some of the costumes on the young women (leather vest or bikini top over sheer pantaloons or lightweight cotton skirt?). But then most of history, if accurately portrayed, would be so disgusting in our 21st century eyes that we would stay far, far away.

    The faires did provide for us lots of fun people watching. It was sometimes difficult to distinguish between the paid actors and the paying cosplaying attendees. 

    • #10
    • October 22, 2020, at 9:23 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. StephensJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Ours got cancelled this year. :( No new tail for my daughter. Sad.

     

    • #11
    • October 22, 2020, at 9:57 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Arahant Member

    Bryan G. Stephens, Trump Aveng… (View Comment):

    Ours got cancelled this year. :( No new tail for my daughter. Sad.

    Uh, this may need a little explanation.

    • #12
    • October 22, 2020, at 10:04 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  13. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    The faires did provide for us lots of fun people watching. It was sometimes difficult to distinguish between the paid actors and the paying cosplaying attendees. 

    Years ago, anyone who dressed the part could attend the Texas festival for free.

    Anyone not very familiar with cosplay should think of such gatherings like a bonus Halloween. It can be good clean family fun. But few people want to see Halloween characters walking down public streets on a daily basis. 

    Ren faires also provide a nice marketplace for browsing goods rarely seen otherwise, from whittled woodcarvings to a blacksmith’s collectibles. There are even occasionally practical items, like a Celtic quilt. 

    Festivals are also an opportunity for people who don’t live in pedestrian inner cities to enjoy street performers. One of my favorite things to do at the Texas Renaissance Festival is to sit on a log with a mead and turkey leg while listening to a pretty gal play fiddle.

    • #13
    • October 22, 2020, at 10:35 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  14. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Okay, okay. About 3/4 of the way through I was finally motivated enough to look up the definition of cosplay. Sheesh. I had thought maybe it had something to do with cis-gendered and such words.

    Back when D&D was truly a nerd enterprise (TSR) for nerds, cosplayers were referred to as “the folks who stopped rolling dice.”

    I nearly spat out my coffee just now.

    • #14
    • October 22, 2020, at 10:43 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens, Trump Aveng… (View Comment):

    Ours got cancelled this year. :( No new tail for my daughter. Sad.

    Uh, this may need a little explanation.

    Fox tails. There are often fur and pelt sellers, and fox tails are quite popular. You don’t see it in the photos I posted here, but the belly dancer had one pinned on the back of her skirt too.

    OTOH, when I went to one up in Michigan years ago with a longtime friend, he was shopping for a Skunk-skin cap. And yes, yes he did indeed find one.

    • #15
    • October 22, 2020, at 10:46 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bryan G. Stephens, Trump Aveng… (View Comment):

    Ours got cancelled this year. :( No new tail for my daughter. Sad.

     

    It’s really hit or miss whether they’ve been allowed, cancelled by fiat, or cancelled by their sponsors out of liability fears. There was one near Philly not long ago, but there’s just no predicting which ones will still go forward or not.

    • #16
    • October 22, 2020, at 10:49 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. Michael Brehm Coolidge

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Gandalf….?

    My buddies and I have a private game we play when we visit the Ren Faire: the first person to spot either “Discount Gandalf” or “BOGO Merlin” would win the coveted “No-Prize”!

    • #17
    • October 22, 2020, at 10:52 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  18. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. StephensJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens, Trump Aveng… (View Comment):

    Ours got cancelled this year. :( No new tail for my daughter. Sad.

    Uh, this may need a little explanation.

    Every year she gets a new tail. Three fox tails so far and one dragon. They clip on the belt. 

    She is 15. Have to get her two next year.

    • #18
    • October 22, 2020, at 11:00 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. StephensJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    The faires did provide for us lots of fun people watching. It was sometimes difficult to distinguish between the paid actors and the paying cosplaying attendees.

    Years ago, anyone who dressed the part could attend the Texas festival for free.

    Anyone not very familiar with cosplay should think of such gatherings like a bonus Halloween. It can be good clean family fun. But few people want to see Halloween characters walking down public streets on a daily basis.

    Ren faires also provide a nice marketplace for browsing goods rarely seen otherwise, from whittled woodcarvings to a blacksmith’s collectibles. There are even occasionally practical items, like a Celtic quilt.

    Festivals are also an opportunity for people who don’t live in pedestrian inner cities to enjoy street performers. One of my favorite things to do at the Texas Renaissance Festival is to sit on a log with a mead and turkey leg while listening to a pretty gal play fiddle.

    Wife got a nice emrald corset there.

    Son got a big pirate mug

    • #19
    • October 22, 2020, at 11:04 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  20. Arahant Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    OTOH, when I went to one up in Michigan years ago with a longtime friend, he was shopping for a Skunk-skin cap. And yes, yes he did indeed find one.

    Which one in Michigan and about what year?

    • #20
    • October 22, 2020, at 12:30 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bryan G. Stephens, Trump Aveng… (View Comment):

    Wife got a nice emrald corset there.

    Son got a big pirate mug

    My brother and I got some wooden scimitars when we were kids. Then as a teenager I bought a battle axe. 

    They used to sell sugar cane to nibble on. More recently, our festival sold fried gator on a stick.

    • #21
    • October 22, 2020, at 12:45 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  22. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    OTOH, when I went to one up in Michigan years ago with a longtime friend, he was shopping for a Skunk-skin cap. And yes, yes he did indeed find one.

    Which one in Michigan and about what year?

    I’m thinking it was one near Lansing, but it was way back in maybe 2003 or 2004? My friend lived in Flint at the time, and I remember driving a good hour or more from Flint to get wherever it was. It could have been in Grand Rapids instead.

    • #22
    • October 22, 2020, at 1:04 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. Arahant Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    I’m thinking it was one near Lansing, but it was way back in maybe 2003 or 2004? My friend lived in Flint at the time, and I remember driving a good hour or more from Flint to get wherever it was. It could have been in Grand Rapids instead.

    Not the one I played at then.

    • #23
    • October 22, 2020, at 1:20 PM PDT
    • Like
  24. The Reticulator Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    I’m thinking it was one near Lansing, but it was way back in maybe 2003 or 2004? My friend lived in Flint at the time, and I remember driving a good hour or more from Flint to get wherever it was. It could have been in Grand Rapids instead.

    Not the one I played at then.

    Isn’t there one in the Ann Arbor area? Maybe it was even held out our way (Battle Creek) for a while. The only reason I know about it is because of church friends who would set up or booth or stand each year. I forget just what it was that they were selling. It has been a couple of years since I last asked them about it – maybe longer. 

    • #24
    • October 22, 2020, at 1:25 PM PDT
    • Like
  25. Arahant Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Isn’t there one in the Ann Arbor area? Maybe it was even held out our way (Battle Creek) for a while. The only reason I know about it is because of church friends who would set up or booth or stand each year. I forget just what it was that they were selling. It has been a couple of years since I last asked them about it – maybe longer. 

    Don’t know about Ann Arbor. The big one in the Detroit area is in Holly. It is the Michigan Renaissance Festival. Depending on when one went, one might have encountered this guy:

    • #25
    • October 22, 2020, at 1:30 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. The Reticulator Member

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Don’t know about Ann Arbor. The big one in the Detroit area is in Holly. It is the Michigan Renaissance Festival.

    That’s probably it. That whole part of the state is “not us.” It’s all the same. :-)

    Depending on when one went, one might have encountered this guy:

    Nice voice. I see that he died young.

    Our friends and their extended family are all very talented, musically. Don’t know whether they ever took any of that to Renaissance fairs.

    • #26
    • October 22, 2020, at 1:50 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. Arahant Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I see that he died young.

    Yes, cancer.

    • #27
    • October 22, 2020, at 1:57 PM PDT
    • Like
  28. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    @franco is a musician at these festivals. I don’t know which ones.

    • #28
    • October 22, 2020, at 10:22 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  29. The Reticulator Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I see that he died young.

    Yes, cancer.

    Was he someone you got to know, personally? 

    • #29
    • October 22, 2020, at 10:32 PM PDT
    • Like
  30. Arahant Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I see that he died young.

    Yes, cancer.

    Was he someone you got to know, personally?

    Yes. He sang at my wedding.

    • #30
    • October 22, 2020, at 11:30 PM PDT
    • 3 likes