After years of hearing about it, I finally went to the Maryland Renaissance Festival, the annual autumn celebration outside of Annapolis. We went on a whim: I saw an ad, hailing entry price discounts until mid-September ($19 for adults, instead of the usual $24), and it sounded like a good idea to experience the venue before it became overly crowded. What fun! The setting–25 acres of a secluded hilly forest, surrounded by serene fields–was picturesque and fit harmoniously around stone and wooden structures housing performance stages, taverns, and artisan shops, a.k.a., the 16-century village of Revel Grove.
Every year, Revel Grove comes alive with celebrations to honor a royal visit by Henry VIII and his court. Each year, the festival focuses on a particular episode of the mercurial king’s reign. As you enjoy your day at the Festival, this story line plays out dramatically and seamlessly in the background. The royal procession and its members meander through the village in a mixture of scripted acts and clever improvisations (the actors stay in character throughout; I LOVED taking directions from Mary Boleyn, who talked about her father, the diplomat to France, and a younger sister, not yet part of the royal court).
With 11 stages, numerous street acts, and a wide variety of artisanal stalls and taverns, it is easy to find something to do at any given moment. The map, which you can get at the entrance, includes the schedule and listings of everything the grounds offer (including the royal agenda). The costumed staff are very helpful in recommending performances to suit your taste. My favorites were the swords-swallowing acts by Johnny Fox at the verdant Royal Stage, hilarious retelling of Shakespeare’s plays by Shakespeare’s Skum in the Globe Theatre, and, not to be missed, the archery demonstration and joust at the Jousting Arena. Many of the musical acts–I especially enjoyed the violin tunes by the Pyrates Royale, fiery dances by Wine and Alchemy, and wistful Gaelic songs by Abby Green–are repeated at various taverns and lanes after taking stage. It is impossible to “see everything” in one day, so we settled on a happy medium of planning some and improvising the rest, letting our senses lead us. At the end of the day, I was happy with this combination.
And, if all else fails, you can always just people watch: friars, grand Renaissance ladies, fairies, magicians, warriors–all of them joyful at the opportunity to be there, see each other and be seen.
Artisan beer ($5), mead ($5), and water ($2) were easy to find, and food options were numerous enough to delight a most discerning carnivore. This vegetarian enjoyed a falafel wrap from a stall on Kenwood Lane, fresh, filling, and inexpensive ($5), while a carnivore in the group loved the steak on a stake.
- Street Color: The Washington DC Turkish Festival – a colorful street festival in late September
- George Washington’s Mount Vernon – wine festival and sunset tours each October
- Old Town Alexandria: Walking the “Old & Historic District” – walking tours and candle-lit celebrations all fall and winter