This last weekend was the perfect time to head out to Ye Olde Festival of the Renaissance held in the City of Kansas. Of course, the festival isn’t REALLY held in Kansas City. It is held in Bonner Springs, Kansas, also known as “the home of the last free exits on I-70 for the next million miles.” The temperature held steady at about 70 degrees and there was no rain in sight. In fact, there had been no rain for several days before the weekend which made the ubiquitous mud found in the village of Canterbury a bit of a mystery (but then again, there are Barbarians running about during the reign of Henry VIII, too. And fairies and steampunks and once I even saw an Emperial Stormtrooper…). The truth is, if you try to make sense of RenFest, you ruin it; so grab a turkey leg and chill out.
This particular festival is obviously doing something right because it has been going strong since 1977, and its longevity is evident in the high quality, permanent construction of the village setting. The single-day admission price at the gate is $20.95 (advance tickets are $17.95 if purchased at participating retailers. Many businesses also offer $3 off coupons for use at the gate. Whatever you do, DO NOT ORDER YOUR TICKETS ONLINE. There is a $2 surcharge, if memory serves, which practically nullifies your discount. Do yourself a favor and find yourself a Walgreens…it is almost guaranteed they have the tickets), which sounds a bit steep, but when one takes into consideration that all of the entertainment is free (and there is plenty of that), the per-hour price is only $2.67 if you were to stay from open to close. We’ve never actually done that, though, because there is so much to do we exhaust ourselves well before 6 pm.
Before I go any further, I must admit that the Highland Fling is my favorite theme weekend at ANY Renaissance Festival. It sets the bar almost impossibly high for the other weekends as far as I’m concerned. Why do I love the Highland Fling? One word: kilts (my favorite kilt-wearer is my own dear husband who looks positively resplendent in his great kilt, but I digress). Another reason? The Highland Games! While we only stuck around long enough to watch two of the events–the tossing of the sheaf (using a pitch fork, a burlap-wrapped bundle of straw–weighing 16-20 lbs for men and 12 lbs for women–is thrown over a bar. You get three attempts at each height, and at the end of each round, the bar is raised by a couple of feet) and the William Wallace Challenge (where, with arms either straight out or slightly elevated above shoulder level, one must hold a sword in each hand for as long as one can. Once the swords drop below shoulder level, the timer is stopped)–any amount of time spent at the Games is sure to entertain. One of the sure-to-please events is the Tossing of the Caber. Why? Because it’s always fun to watch people send a telephone pole sailing end-over-end through the air, that’s why. I guarantee that you will walk away from the Highland Games thinking to yourself, “I could totally do that. I wonder how hard it would be to make a sheaf….”
While the Highland Games are great fun indeed, those benches are a bit pitiless on the posterior after a while. A very close second on the fun front to watching the Games, for me at least, is visiting the vendors. While oftentimes I walk away from a shop having purchased nothing, the vendors still take time to talk to me about their products at great length. Why? Well, yes, I MIGHT buy something, but more than that, I think many of these artisans are truly passionate about their craft. Case in point: A Wench in the Gear shop owner and creative costumer C.C. Guice. She spoke with us for several minutes about her custom corsetry. She went so far as to show us the steel boning that she uses as compared to typical steel boning and explained in detail what makes her steel boning superior. She also explained how she drills through the boning in order to set the grommets so you never have to worry about losing a grommet from one of her corsets…which if you’ve ever owned a bodice or corset with grommets through fabric, you know this is a real fear. Every piece in A Wench in the Gear is a one-of-a-kind work of art patterned off an original design that cleverly combines a back brace structure in the back and a classic tudor corset in the front.
The only purchase we made this go around was a new shirt for my husband. I was thrilled to walk in to T’ger Toggs and find a beautiful buttery yellow leine (basically a tunic) that will go perfectly with M’ lord’s great kilt. It, of course, wasn’t called a leine…but that’s exactly what it is. This shop offers VERY reasonably priced items for virtually any size man. “The Yoke” shirt costs $38, and they have a pair of baggy peasant pants that will fit most waist sizes for only $28. (They also offered a fantastic tip for laundering the shirt: always hang to dry to lengthen the life of the garment.)
After all that shopping, it was time to decide what to eat. You are spoiled for choice here. There is practically almost any kind of food you can think of tucked away SOMEWHERE. I had managed to avoid temptations through most of the day up to this point because early on I had decided that my very life depended upon devouring a freshly baked cinnamon roll. I washed it down with a cold cup of cider, which, as a side note, the bees and I both found heavenly. When lunchtime finally rolled around, we looked around at the food vendors’ offerings. Turkey leg? Nah…I can never do a turkey leg any real justice (I don’t like eating meat off bones and all of the tendons in the drumstick kind of turn my stomach. Ok, so I’m weird).
Just as we were getting ready to toss a coin and just join a queue to select something vaguely fastfoody we saw an oasis emerge from the mists…oh, alright, we turned a corner and saw the sign for the White Stag Inn, okay? The White Stag was a new addition in 2014, and by Jove what a brilliant idea it was. Dining areas around the festival grounds are few and far between. May the gods be with you if you hope to find an actual table. This leaves you awkwardly juggling your fish & chips while trying not to trip over dogs and toddlers. Enter the White Stag. This is a RESTAURANT. They seat you at a table and take your order. While you eat you are entertained by a different musical act every half hour. The ambiance is very pub-like. It is dimly lit, but casual and fun.
For $10 you have a choice of about five different meal options, all served with either water or soda. For an additional fee, you can have wine, beer, or Woodchuck Hard Cider, too. I chose the Guinness Beef Stew which was DELICIOUS! The chunks of beef were big and tender and the veggies were all cooked just to the point of being done but not mush. Of course the highlight of the meal was the fact that the stew was served in a bread bowl. My name is Goody Bronwen and I am a Carbaholic. There, I said it. Anyway. Well worth the money. M’ lord had the “Cuban Crusader” sandwich which was also pretty tasty. The verdict: my vote will definitely be to eat at the White Stag Inn next year. Why? The food was really good and–call me lazy–I like to sit down while I eat.
The final thing that I wanted to mention about the weekend was the entertainment. We went to see the Maguire Brothers sing some Irish ballads, and we really enjoyed the show. My favorite song in the set was an arrangement of a Gillian Welch song called “Caleb Meyer.” I had never heard this song before, but I really liked their performance. In fact, I YouTubed the original, and I have to say I actually liked the Maguire Brothers’ rendition of the tune better than Welch’s. It’s amazing how well a song set in rural Appalachia that depicts the attempted rape of a woman by a drunken neighbor (who she ultimately kills with the broken neck of his own whiskey bottle) translates to Irish harmonies and arrangement. It probably helps that Gillian Welch is a well-known Bluegrass artist, and if Bluegrass wasn’t directly influenced by the music brought by immigrants from Ireland and Scotland, I’ll give you a dollar (and when I say I will give you a dollar, what I mean is that I will never actually give you a dollar. Ever. Seriously. Don’t even ask.).
If you’re looking for something fun to do, get a group of friends together and head for Canterbury. You don’t have to attend in costume, but I will say that for me it amps up the fun factor. Twice this weekend I was asked if I was a participant (meaning you are a part of the actual troupe of costumed players), which I found kind of cool. I should really start lying and say “yes” because I think you get a discount on things. Also, it pays to get there early because while the crowds are smaller, you stand a better chance of getting to rub elbows with the King and Queen on their rounds. This year the King and Queen came over to us and asked M’ lord if he would be participating in the Highland Games. For some unidentifiable reason this thrilled me beyond measure (if you have identified the reason for my elation as being that I am obviously a loser, please keep it to yourself). I’m convinced the attention we received was due to our costumes. Interesting side note: M’ lord was the ONLY gentleman I saw wearing the great kilt this year. Interesting considering the modern kilt WASN’T AROUND during the Tudor period. Oh well. Neither were Barbarians, but we’ve already covered that ground.
If you’ve never been to a Renaissance Festival before, this is a great one to cut your teeth on. Of course, it will also probably spoil you because it’s definitely the biggest in the area. They are open every weekend from September 5 until October 18, and each weekend has a different theme and different activities. You’ve still got time to make it out this season if you haven’t already been. Give it a try and I almost bet you’ll be back next year. For more information, visit Kansas City Renaissance Festival