Renaissance Fair for Beginners: A Survival Guide
Welcome to the world of knights and castles, minstrels and magicians, turkey legs and corsets! This be a place where imagination is free to take flight, magic may exist once again, and you can forget reality for a few precious hours. There is a little something for everyone: jousting , comedy, lost art demonstrations, romance, song, drink, and of course all the barbaric feasting you can lay your hands on!
But beware noble adventurer; If ye do not watch thy wallet, you may find yourself holding a shovel outside the stables just to pay off your bar tab! You're in luck, though; ol' Pirate Dan has been to many a renaissance fair, and I can tell you all the secrets to having a blast at the renaissance fair without spending your last farthing!
Saving the Ducats
Okay, so there's a lot to see and do at the fair. There are shows, tournaments, games, shops, taverns; you name it! These places have everything but the bordello... as far as I can tell. However like most attraction parks money spends quickly here, so here's a few things to do to lessen the financial burden a bit:
- That's no car; That's a base camp!- Most fairs will give you a wrist band, stamp, or ticket stub when you first enter. They will then allow you to leave the fair, go to your car, and return the same day. This provides you with an excellent opportunity to make your car a base camp and stock it with a few essentials so you don't have to spend so much.
- Hydration station- One of the things I highly recommend you stock the trunk of your car with is water. Fairs have a funny way of dehydrating you (I suspect because you spend most of the day on your feet and they tend to take place in summer), and you will soon discover that a bottle of water can cost you upwards of $3-$4. To avoid losing $15 just staying hydrated, I suggest you put the family cooler in the trunk and fill it with ice and water. A few drinks containing electrolytes would not hurt either after a long day in the sun! If you can, try to sneak a bottle or two of water in. This could be hard if all you've got on you is a t-shirt and jeans. A period-accurate bottle, leather wine skin (these can be found at most hunting goods stores), or even deep leather pouch can serve this purpose well. I've seen what dehydration can do if you're not careful. Trust me, it's not pretty!
- Keep an Eye on Your Stomach- The smartest way to begin the day at the fair is to go in with a comfortably full stomach. This helps prevent the impulsive "barbarian binge". Even once your breakfast has worn off and you start to get hungry, you still need to be careful. It is awfully tempting to spend a small fortune sampling every kind of food offered at the fair at once, but for the good of your finances I encourage you to pace yourself. The fried turkey legs are a renaissance faire tradition, but they are also a lot of work to eat and you'll find they do not keep you full long. I suggest you buy one to share between yourself and another, then purchase some sort of small meal for each of you from elsewhere. Still, the food there never seems to keep you full long, My wife and I usually eat a few items throughout our day and the fair, then go out for a nice big dinner afterward.
- No Need to Be Drunk- Yes, I know every skit by the performers involves at least four alcohol references. Yes, I know it's hot and a cold beer sounds good. But remember two things: 1- The faire is a festival with a lot of families. Nobody is going to appreciate you getting slobbering drunk. 2- By the time you've drank enough beer to feel anything, you've probably spent at lest $25. That's at least a case of beer outside the fair, my friend! So I don't care how much you love your beer or how many times the wenches encourage you to have another round (and buy them one too!). Have one or two beers if you must, then go back to water. I don't even encourage soft drinks. Hydration is key.
- The Entertainment is Free!- I have spent entire days at renaissance fairs without spending much more than admission and the price of lunch, because I was too busy enjoying the entertainers. Throughout the day at the fair, there is not one minute without a show of some kind going on. Whether you want to watch the joust (which is often spaced out throughout the day), the rapping German Brothers (Oh ja, I'm giving you ein shout- out, mine homeys!!!), the Washing Well Wenches, the fire eater trying to burn away his last taste bud, or the bagpipe band, there's something here for you to watch, and none of them cost a cent. Now indeed many of them do accept donations so they can keep performing or even sell DVDs/ CDs, but there's nothing required there. These performers tend to be incredibly talented, very unique, and extremely fun to hang out with in between shows. So if your money is tight, just relax and watch a few shows. You'll see some amazing things at no extra charge whatsoever!
To the Smithy: Gearing up for a Renfest Adventure
So, you think the fair is all just drinking beer, staring at cleavage, and munching on turkey legs, do ya?! I'M TALKING TO YOU, SQUIRE! Here are a few things you will find especially useful in your trek through this strange and eccentric place.
- Good shoes- The renaissance fair is no place for sandals or high-heeled shoes, my friends. These places are seldom paved, the paths usually consisting of a mixture of mud, mulch, and rock. This means of course a giant mud hole on rainy days, and a dusty, rocky mess on others. Nobody at the faire cares what sort of toenail polish you use. If you are new to the fair, I recommend wearing either walking/hiking boots or a good pair of walking shoes. If you wish to make the faire a regular thing and perhaps even begin assembling a kit (ensemble of period-accurate clothing), then I cannot encourage you enough to invest in a good pair of leather renaissance boots. Every fair has a boot maker with a variety of boots to choose from. These people are experts with leather, making boots and period shoes in the old style with all the dedication and love of a great artist. A good pair of boots from one of these shops will last you a good 5-10 years with a little care and moderate usage.
- Cash/ Card- Bring both! Nowadays, most of the stationary vendors at the faire gladly accept the major credit cards. However, you will find that a few absolutely require cash. For example, the lads and lasses walking around with baskets of flowers tend to only take cash. You don't want that pretty girl to be disappointed when you can't buy her a flower due to lack of cash, do you? Trust me, you want to play it safe. ;)
- One Who Leads Needs a Hat Indeed- You will notice as you travel around the faire that few of the crew walk about with their heads uncovered. This is because for centuries a hat was a standard part of the everyday dress, and walking about with your skullcap exposed was often seen as indecent. You will also notice that there is a huge selection of all the most interesting, unique hats for sale. This is another investment for a kit that requires careful thought, and will pay off in spades down the road. Whether it's leather or felt or silk with giant plumes, a hat is a must for the serious faire goer.
- Mug/ Stein- Another thing you will notice all the regulars carrying about is their own drinking vessels. Some are pewter (like mine!), others are wood or leather or ceramic. While you could certainly accept your drink from the beer stand in a paper Pepsi cup, I think you'll find it just tastes better out of a fine drinking vessel. A lot of the beer stands will even offer a beautiful handcrafted drinking mug with the faire's logo (a fine collectible if you travel to different faires!). I highly recommend investing in one of these.
Yes, even in the world of fantasy and whimsy there are rules governing what you should and should not do. Some are spelled out plainly, while others are a little more unspoken. Let me lay a few down for you before you go:
- Peace and Love, Man!- A lot of renaissance fairs will allow you to wear sword and firearm replicas, possibly the only time you will ever find yourself legally free to do so. That being said, most fairs also want these kept "peace tied" which means that you must use some form of rope, string, or cord to secure them in their holsters/ sheaths so they cannot be drawn.
- Careful With the Kids!- Fairs are extremely family friendly. There are shows just for kids, shops with medieval toys, and even some truly wonderful playgrounds at the renaissance fair. Nevertheless, make sure to keep a very close eye on your children. Fairs tend to get crowded, very crowded, and there are plenty of things that aren't so kid- friendly. The sword merchant and glass blower, for example! I once remember seeing a sign at a fair which read, "Unattended Children Will Be Sold As Slaves". So take warning and keep a hold of the little yoinker!
- Audience Interaction- As most of the performers will tell you, most of the shows at the renaissance fair involve audience participation. If you are picked to take part in something, just be cool and have a good time! Sometimes they ask people to do silly things, but I assure you it's all in good fun. Just a hint though; I notice the performers tend to heckle people more when they are obviously new to the fair. So yeah; if you don't want a wench climbing you like a jungle gym, the Aeropostale shirt might not be the best idea.
- Be Open-Minded- Repeat with me now, "BE OPEN-MINDED!" This is very important at the fair. As two of my favorite performers Izzy and Pearl the Washing Well Wenches once said, "If everybody's doing it, nobody will look foolish!" If you are new to the fair, please keep this is mind. We live in a cynical world. We all know this; you, me, the knights on horseback, the wench with her boobs up to her chin, the village idiot with his pet rubber rats. But as soon as we put on the outfits and cross that gate into the fair, we leave all that behind. Therefore I implore you, if you think a girl looks silly in her dress, keep it to yourself. If you're offended that a man wears tights and a codpiece and he doesn't look like David Bowie, get over it. The fair is sacred ground, a place where eccentric people can get together and have fun. The world can have its cynicism; respect the fair and what it stands for.
With all this in mind, you should be all set for your first visit to the renaissance fair! I have yet to see anyone attend a fair and not enjoy themselves at least a little. Just relax, take your time and see the sights. Who knows; you could like it so much you end up going every year as well!