Each summer for the past 20+ years, we have packed our car with pirates, peasants, gypsies, and elves and head north to Kenosha, Wisconsin, for the Bristol Renaissance Faire.
If you’re a purist (i.e. re-enactor, history professor, uptight prig), you may be agitated by the presence of elves, fairies, and even the occasional Star Trek Klingon. But if you’re more of a romantic and have a HUZZAH! in you just dying to be proclaimed, this will be the century for you.
We have yet to see every show and taste every morsel at the Faire…
…but we offer a few recommendations.
Yes, there will be some of the cheap and kitschy stuff, but many of the vendors are incredible artisans. So plan time–and extra money–to shop for unique items.
Some of my favorites for buying (or just dreaming about buying): Sky Chairs, Grichels leather works, Seekers and Settlers hiking sticks and brooms, Earthen Arts ocarinas, the sheepskin rug vendor, the garden sculpture artist, and Music of the Spheres windchimes.
The food is good, usually better than good. The best way to sample as much as possible within budget is to buy one serving of various food items and share with friends. Two or three of us can share a greasy turkey leg. And because it’s the Faire, you can wipe your hands on your peasant skirt.
Other favorites include: sauteed garlic mushrooms, fruit crepes, spiral cut deep-friend potatoes, fish and chips, candied nuts…all washed down with sarsaparilla (cheapest beverage) or (for the grownups) ale or honey mead.
The entertainment ranges from falconers to belly dancers. Your general admission covers all of the shows. Check ratings in the schedule available at the entrance to see what is appropriate for your family or your personal bawdiness level. A few shows we catch almost every year, but we also check the website before our visit to see what new performers are scheduled throughout the season.
1. Catch at least one joust. The joust to the death involves posturing knights, cheering crowds, and lots of spurting fake blood at the Joust to the Death at day’s end.
2. Dirk and Guido, the Swordsmen are skilled, tight-wearing, and self-proclaimed “bold and stupid” men–and the best show at the Faire.
3. The Mud Show—At least once in your life you should see grown men eat mud, and you should scream along with a mob, “Trojans, Trojans, we will never break, HUH!”
4. The Ded Bob Show entertains those of us who love skeleton puppets and humor that (we hope) is way over our kids’ heads. (WARNING: before you click the link above, realize that you will be called a goob without the correct password, which is “Hey, what?”)
5. Last year we had the pleasure of catching Circa Paleo. Here’s a video from another faire. Hoping to see them again in Bristol!
Not on your life…
We haven’t found much we don’t like, but here are a few things to avoid:
Cocktails are made from a mix and are not worth the money. You’ll encounter lots of good ole bawdy fun at the Faire, but the beef jerky guy’s crude jokes about eating his meat are way worse than the candied pecan seller asking if you want to try his nuts. The dungeon is gross and overpriced. Only enter if your kids beg you, but then you have to make them pay.
Dressing the part
I once sat next to a 400-pound Klingon that threatened to eat my little girl. The Faire attracts all types, but there are no rules about dressing up, per se. It’s about having fun. I do appreciate the people who wear time period garb as well as those who get a little more inventive with wings. But cargo shorts and Harley t-shirts are OK, too, just strap a yard of beer around your neck for a little decoration.
Here’s you chance to throw knives, learn some basic sword fighting skills, or test your strength. Kids Kingdom and man-powered rides provide lots of fun for little ones. And daring little ones.
Ways to save a few bucks
Places like Walgreens sell tickets at a discount. If you are also an anime nerd (us), you can pick up tickets for a measley $10 at the annual anime convention, ACEN.
Pack a cooler, especially with drinks (non-alcoholic), if you want to go back to your car and chow (don’t forget to get your hand stamped). But trying the food at the Faire is half the fun.
The cheapest drinks, which you will need on hot days, are fruit punch and sarsaparilla for around $1.
You don’t just visit the Faire, you become part of it…from the actors who interact with you on the village streets to the shows that humiliate you on stage in front of scores of fellow faire-goers…
…to the new friends you make…