I recently went to a Renaissance Faire here in the Sacramento area. I’ve been to many Renaissance Faires before, so it wasn’t my first rodeo. Er…I mean…Faire. You get the idea. In fact my first Faire was when I was fifteen years old, so twenty-four years ago. Or far enough back when in time when Metallica still had long hair, Nirvana wasn’t considered retro, and The Humpty Hump was a thing. Seriously. If you’re in your early twenties, either ask your parents about The Humpty Hump or Google it.
Just look at the picture to the left. That is me and my friend Casey when we were both fifteen. We were about to experience our first Faire, the Northern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire and Tractor Pull (not really). I’m the one on the right dressed like an emo version of The Dread Pirate Roberts. The Faire we went to that day was considered one of the best, especially at that location. And it was. It sat nestled amidst the wooded glen of the Black Point forest, snaking its way deeper into the trees, a labyrinthine wonder of music, festivities, and merriment.
But nothing lasts forever. Just ask my fellow Firefly fans.
What? Too soon?
A few years after my first visit, the Northern California Faire had to move. The landowner sold the site to a developer to build a golf course, expensive condominiums, and whatever other facilities rich people need. Like a salon specifically for nose hair waxing. The Faire then moved to Vacaville after that for a couple years. It eventually settled in Casa De Fruita, which is a much further drive then we were all accustomed to. It was a sad day for all of Northern California geekdom. The Renaissaince Faire at the Black Point forest was a yearly staple in the 1990s. To put it in perspective, imagine if the famous Scarborough Faire in Texas was suddenly shut down. And moved. To San Angelo.
Where does this lead me into today? Folsom, CA has been hosting its own annual Faire for around twenty years now. It has never been as big, and it wasn’t meant to be. It was just one weekend fling. In fact, many smaller Faires had popped up all over, usually lasting only a weekend or two. There was the Fair Oaks Faire, Valhalla in Lake Tahoe, and the McClellan Air Force Base Job Faire. The Job Faire was where one could put all those hours spent learning to juggle, breathe fire, and knife throwing to practical use. You could totally prove to your naysayers (your parents) that being a professional court jester or “groom of the stool” was possible! Ha!
Note: Whatever you do, DO NOT Google “groom of the stool”.
I attended the Faire in Folsom this year for the first time since the late 90s. One of the things I noticed was that it seemed smaller. It was at the same site, but it appeared to have been rather reduced in scale. There weren’t as many guilds putting on their displays as before, and not even close to the number of musical acts. That’s one thing you can count on in a Renaissance Faire. Guilds and musical acts.
Guilds are a like a social club for the Renaissance Faires. They usually gather together like-minded people who wish to recreate a particular group or country from the period. For example there is always a Scottish Blackwatch Guild. Just note the picture of them marching with their halberds and pikes (long pokey things). There’s usually a group of royalty, a group of pirates or seafarers, steampunk time travelers, Trekkies, and the undead.
I’m not making this up. I’ve encountered Trekkies in full Star Trek uniforms and steampunks at the Northern California Faire. The Trekkies even stayed in character, acting perplexed as to our “strange clothing and mannerisms”. As for the undead, the Northern California Faire has a guild that we always just called, “The Dead”. They dressed in all black, faces covered, decorated with bones and skulls (and probably Spiderman Underoos underneath for all I know). They would parade around the Faire in a haphazard column, beating their drums, playing their flutes, and shaking their bones at people like Voodoo witch doctors.
The sight of The Dead at Faire would normally cause the Goths in attendance to jizz their pants. I believe that The Dead actually go by the name, The Danse Macabre.
There were other guilds that were not nearly as interesting as they thought they were. I say this because they usually had their areas roped off and guarded. These guilds tended have a large table set up, covered with fine dining ware, plates of fruits and smelly cheeses, and piled with hams, turkeys, and wines. The lot of them sat around the table stuffing their faces, ignoring us members of the unwashed masses. It was like they were saying, “You peasants may have the privilege of watching us eat, however, you will not cross that line!”
That line was the aforementioned rope; sometimes accompanied by watchtowers, guard dogs, and land mines.
But only some of the guilds were as pretentious as that. In my experience the various performing arts guilds were always friendly, laid back, and welcoming. Many years ago I once had a good, fun experience with a guild of musicians at the Fair Oaks Faire called The Travellers. They didn’t know me at all, but still invited me to join in the music and play with them. I won’t go into detail here, as my encounter with The Travellers is another story entirely.
At the Folsom Faire I recently attended, there weren’t any marching bands of undead or Trekkies. I don’t recall any guilds of friendly musicians. Even their “archery range” was lacking. I remember using real using real bows, or even Medieval-style bows while attending the Faires of Yore. The bows at the Folsom Faire this year were basically the children’s toy version you get at Wal-Mart. The arrows were missing nearly all their fletchings, save for a few that had a single plastic feather. I was surprised that the arrows didn’t have little suction cups on the ends instead of a sharp point.
The Folsom Faire this year did have some redeeming qualities. The local library was selling many of their old books. I can’t pass that up! I acquired a book of Irish songs and poems published in 1907, and an old copy of Don Quixote. The Folsom Faire had a demonstration of black powder weapons, which was nice. There was also some jousting.
Jousting? How is that a novelty at a Renaissance Faire? You’d think it was cliché at this point. I mean, jousting is so 1387…am I right? Well…no. Jousting at Faires had become a choreographed affair. Everything was scripted, and the sword fights fake. Basically the arena at a Renaissance Faire had become a cheaper version of the Medieval Times dinner show by Disneyland. The Folsom Faire hosted real jousting. You see, actual full-contact jousting is making a comeback in the world. It’s real, it’s dangerous, and people really do get blasted off their horse.
As you can see from the photo I snapped, those are people in full armor galloping at full speed toward each other, and jabbing a lance into their opponent. And one of those knights was a lady. You hear that, girls? There are lady knights! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be a knight. Right here is photographic proof of a badass woman, wearing full medieval battle armor, jamming a lance into someone’s face.
I also want to point out another thing about the jousting knights. The regalia that a horse wears is called barding. As you may note from this close up picture of one of the knights, the horse’s barding displays the knight’s symbol, which is usually a Coat-Of-Arms. Just look at this particular knight’s symbol. It may be a Coat-Of-Arms; I’m not sure. But to me…it looks like a giant pair of truck nuts.
I’d like to point out that a small Faire doesn’t mean it’s going to be lacking. The Fair Oaks Faire was small, and always fun. I went to the Santa Fe Renaissance Faire in New Mexico. It’s medium sized, and it was great. There are also many great Faires all over the country. I’ve been to the Georgia Renaissance Faire, and it has a frickin’ pirate ship! I’ve also heard that the Southern California Faire is excellent, and have heard the Maryland Faire is great. And then there’s the Scarborough Faire in Texas, which is well known. And someday I’ll get around to attending the Dickins Fair.
Renaissance Faires are always a fun pastime. From full contact jousting, to playing great music and live theatre, and a few undead steampunk Trekkies sprinkled on top. The Faire has it all. Just try to avoid shaking hands with a groom of the stool (I know you Googled that!)