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Going Back To Go Forward: A Return to the Renaissance Fair

On a sunny October Sunday in the middle of Pennsylvania, a strange woman just hit on me and is flicking her tongue on my left earlobe. Her cohort later hops up on me with her legs wrapped around my torso, as I carry her around.
Meanwhile, my wife is watching all of this and laughing her head off.
I endure all of these women’s lusty overperformance – in reaction to which I have chosen boastful improv comedy rather than prudish revulsion – in order to win my wife a rose. Wouldn’t you?
That was when I felt like Keanu Reeves in those omnipresent promos for the movie John Wick: “People keep asking me if I’m back. Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.”
So I was back, back at a place where I thought I’d likely never return. The Renaissance Fair!
After at least 15 years of not attending one, I went to two separate fairs in consecutive weeks. First the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, and then the Connecticut counterpart.
If you’re gonna go back, go all the way, right?
So much is different about going to the renfair at age 17 versus age 34, and attending in 1997 versus the Ren Fair in 2014.
For one, as an adult, I can drink, drink and drink.

I remembered only non-alcoholic beer being served in ’97 or ’99. That’s probably because no one I went with was drinking. Fair enough.

However, I didn’t drive when attending the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire in 2014 with my wife, brother-in-law and his girlfriend. So I walked in with the goal of drinking my face off. That didn’t happen, but I kept my keepsake beer glass full of ale for most of the day.
The Pennsylvania fair sits on the grounds of an estate and winery, so why not get drunk? From 1999 to 2014, we’ve also gone from microbrews to craft beers, and this renfair was no different. They slung the hometown beer from Swashbuckler Brewing Co. with a pirate-themed gastropub on the premises.
Yep, craft beers and a gastropub right there in Pennsyltucky, as they call the country in my home state that exists between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Eagles football team had the week off, and the Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t playing until Sunday night, so the crowd might have been bigger than usual. My wife and I were wearing Phillies and Olympics hoodies, respectively, and we saw a lot of Eagles green and Steelers black-and-yellow.
In other words, I saw a lot of normals.
Sure, there were a fairly large number of folks in their period garb as ladies, lords, wenches, kings, queens, knights, wizards and pirateers. (Doctor Who cosplayers also appeared to be omnipresent.) But I saw even more backwards baseball caps and mom-jeans in the crowd.
I’m definitely not used to this! I always think of the renfair as the great playground of deepest geekery. The role-play gamers, the early music scholars, the LARPers and goths. People who wear crushed velvet and circular sunglasses unironically, and padawan braids proudly.
They’re all at the two fairs I attend; they are its core audience still. Yet the crowd is much more diverse now.
I guess after more than a decade of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, it’s tough to say that the Ren Fair’s big-time fantasy turf belongs only to geeks any more. I remember sitting in the crowd for The Return of the King with construction workers sitting next to me.
I’m all for this diversity. When I still see efforts of gate-keeping on the daily in geek communities, from convention harassment to the digital lynching that is GamerGate – gate-keeping that typically is predicated on societal privilege that, yep, places straight white men at the top – it’s a reminder of just how far we have to go.
In a more inclusive, diverse geek world – and real world, too – my column would be radically different.
And as the world gets more geeky, the geeks can get more worldly. I could see how the Ren Fair changed with the times after 15 years between visits.
Princesses were always big, but in the age of the Disney princess industrial complex, it’s gigantic and unstoppable now. At the Connecticut fair, they had a princess tea time, and Mary Tudor – still young and pre-Queen of Scots – led the little girls in a singalong to Frozen songs.

Never mind all the steampunks gatecrashing 16th-century England. Goggles and top hats shared equal space with fairy wings and cloaks at many a vendor’s tent.

Pirates totally have taken over. Not a huge surprise in a world of four Pirates of the Caribbean movies with a fifth on the way. At the Pennsylvania fair, the pirate ship is a top attraction, with a Tortuga-like bar setup around it. In Connecticut, we saw a ton of pirates and privateers.
Oh, and we were among them. My wife bought some clothes at the Pennsylvania fair that made for an awesome pirate outfit for Halloween. I got a decent store costume later, and off we went to Connecticut’s fair with weapons and flags ready.
At the Connecticut fair, I ended up buying a riding coat and some stripey, billowy pants. I’m looking for stuff that works great at costume fairs while also fitting well enough with civilian clothes. I just know the riding coat will look awesome at a formal or fancy dress affair. And the pants can hang out at a costume event, or I’ll lounge in them around the house. It’s all good.
For now, I can wear these awesome Ren Fair clothes over the cheap Halloween costume to punch it up a ton. Over time, I’ll keep adding pieces on, and then buy a variety of items for multiple looks. Because it looks like I’ll be hitting the Ren Fairs a lot more in the future.
After the family fun in Pennsylvania, the wife looked up the fair in our state of residence, Connecticut, and beckoned to go. Her brother’s girlfriend – a hardcore renfair enthusiast – is picking up another chemise for her from PA. She’s talking about what items she’d collect next. And now she wants to visit the New York and New Jersey fairs next year.
I’m happy to oblige, and to dress up. I do, after all, look seriously fly in just about anything, so go ahead and find me some armor or an Assassin’s Creed-style getup. I’ll slay them again.
It’s easy to do this because it makes my wife happy in a welcoming nerd environment. She enjoys the wider embrace of full-figured bodies commonly found at renfairs and feels more comfortable there in creating her own look with her own body than attempting to cast herself in a superhero’s super-fit, spandex-encased body.
So we’re gonna have fun slaying dragons and jousting and sailing on pirate ships together.
Isn’t it nice when two nerds in love can still find new things to do together after more than a decade?
I haven’t bought a kilt yet, even though I have looked at them and have received more than enough endorsement from the wife and a few others.
Partly, I’m no Celt, as far as I know; my knowledge is minimal regarding the white side of the family tree. Wearing a family tartan feels just wrong to me because it’s not my family to claim. Also, even a smart-looking Utilikilt in black may be a tipping point in geekery that ends in me becoming Wendell from Key & Peele.
Or not. It may be a risk I have to take. Just like the risk that comes when, as Matthew McConaughey says, sometimes you have to go forward to go back.
In 2014, I went back to 1996, ’97 and ’99 and enjoyed what I found there as well as whom. I met up with a woman I used to do theater with back in the high school days and met her fiance and son, who’s  gonna apply to my old high school.
And the woman I carried around like a toddler? Another old high school theater buddy.
She made me take the rose by the stem with my teeth, except she kept biting the stem off with the flower until she had only the flower left and stuffed it in her mouth.
Her cohort then gave me a fresh rose after all that.
Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.

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