I've been to three different RenFairs before. The first and best by far was King Richard's Fair,* held every summer on the Illinois/Wisconsin border, which I've been to two or maybe three times. I remember once Janice and I went with fellow Burrahobbit Pat Bowne, and I was able to prove to them both that I really do know how to shoot a bow and arrow (having earned the Archery Merit Badge back in my scouting days). I also made one quick visit there alone, dashing in to buy a massive set of wind chimes we'd seen there on our previous visit which I then surprised Janice with, much to her dismay.** The second was Camlann, up at Carnation, a year or two after we moved out here; it was enjoyable but clearly in decline. And the third was the Kent Canterbury Days right here in downtown Kent, wh. served as the local street festival until it was abolished a few years ago and replaced by the much less interesting 'Kent Cornucopia Days'.
As with most good RenFairs, there was a lot to see and do. Most of the shops had RenFair gear, which we took a pass on, but some of the little tent-booths had interesting wares -- some pottery dice (got a pair of d10s, a d8, and a d4), passed on a nice little pottery bowl with a Minoan octopus design we'd seen in the Ashmolean last year). A stand called Brunetta Blacksmithing had a small bronze dragon I would dearly love to have picked up, but they were asking five hundred dollars for it, which just wasn't happening. And it was a one-of-a-kind piece, too, so no prospect of at some point managing to get a limited-edition duplicate. Alas. If I'd taken a picture of it I'd post it here, but I didn't. Again, alas. Here's a link to their website, but nothing there gives a hint of how charismatic and appealing that little bronze dragon was:
While at the Fair, in addition to wandering around, we stopped by to listen to some madrigal singing. They were good, but too many songs about drinking, and too much mugging by the lead, for my tastes. Also, if I'm going to hear that kind of music I consider it a missed opportunity if they don't do PDQ Bach's My Bonnie Lass She Smelleth, which they didn't
They were followed by a fencing group from north Seattle. I thought it was about a dozen guys; Janice thinks fewer (say eight to ten). In any case, they demonstrated the reasons the longsword gave way to the rapier and then demonstrated the evolution of the Italian, spanish, German, and French styles. Nicely done.
Next up we went over to the tourney grounds, where we'd missed the musketry and halbards display (Goode's Company of Pike and Shotte) but were in good time to see gypsy horsemanship ("Ma'Ceo Gypsy Horse Extravaganza, presented by Cavallo Equestian Arts"), which was worth coming to the fair in and of itself. As impressive as the performers were (and they were very impressive), I was even more impressed by the horses, who were equal partners in the act: they clearly knew exactly where to be at exactly the right time and what to expect from their human partners. Very nice.
After that, a pause for lunch (Janice had quail; I, more mundane, had barbarqued pork), then on to a stand-up comic named Broon, who was phenominal: smart and fast and funny, with jokes that led into other jokes and far-ranging cultural references. I'm not much for stand-up comedy, really, but this guy was good; I'd gladly sit through his show again.
Finally, we stopped by a Punch and Judy show, already in progress. I'd been curious to see if they were still as ruthless and bloodthirsty as the traditional shows I'd read about from the 18th and 19th centuries (cf. the M. R. James story "The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance")*** Also, I'd heard Mr. Punch traditionally has a v. strange voice (or so Neil Gaiman wd have us believe), and I wanted to find out what it sounded like (rather Donald Duckish, it turns out). The answer is, not quite as grim as the original but still surprising what they included in entertainment for kids (e.g., Punch accidently dropping his baby son in the meat-grinder, and then beating his wife to death when she finds out). Bowdlerization hasn't done its work here.
The only other thing I'd comment on is that it was a large crowd of people, well-behaved, enjoying themselves. Lots were in costume -- it looked like a serious proportion of the crowd were wearing their inner pixie on the outside. And, if like the Grinch's heart, their inner pixie was a few sizes too small, no harm done: the sort of outfits that show up at MythCons and GenCons and look somewhat out of place, but fit in perfectly here.
So, I'd definitely go back again, preferably with a group.
Here's a link to the fair's website, in case anyone's thinking of going next year.
P.S.: THE WIFE SAYS: "dismay" is putting it mildly.
*(which may have already changed its name to the much less interesting 'Bristol Renaissance Fair' by the time I first went there).
**my surprise gifts to Janice have about a 50/50 great success/total failure ratio. The bronze of Mayland Long, the 'Tea with a Black Dragon' dragon was one of the former. The wind chimes were v. much of the latter, which is why they're now in my room, not the living or dining room.
((Of course, by 'wind chime' in this case I mean a set of six tubular bells, each about two inches wide and ranging from three feet to well over four feet long. I want to say they weigh about eighty pounds, but I might be misremembering and they may be only about sixty pounds. In any case, heavy, and loud, and beautifully musical: like have a set of church bells in your study.))
***though I'm still left in puzzlement about what a 'toby dog' is and how it figures in. My guess (and it's only a guess) based on the James story is that it's a real dog that sits in front and is trained to howl at appropriate times.