The 31st Annual Tennessee Renaissance Festival opened May 7, and my family and I went for opening day.
First, I’d like to give a “shout-out” and gramercy to Regions Bank. After we parked and got out of the car, we headed for the main gate. We saw a table with a line of people leading to it, and thinking it was the bag check (no outside food or drink, no firearms, no swords or knives unless peace-bonded), we got in line. It wasn’t the bag check. It was Regions Bank, and for Family and Community Appreciation Weekend, they were paying people’s admission … if you went to that table first instead of the ticket booth. They even gave me an artificial rose for an early Mother’s Day present. Since tickets are $22 for adults and my kids are too old to pay children’s prices, that was an $88 savings and very much appreciated. Thank you, Regions Bank! Gramercy.
We arrived early, looking forward to the opening ceremony. Alas, due to the crowd, we could not see the opening ceremony (which started a few minutes late). Due to the lack of microphones, we could only hear a few words. It had something to do with Mary, Queen of Scots plotting against her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.
Once through the gates, we greeted Paolo Garbanzo, world-famous juggler (and J is for Jester in my forthcoming book, R is for Renaissance Faire). We stopped at the festival’s official souvenir stand: keychains, magnets, postcards, t-shirts, canvas bags, stuffed animals, etc. My family and I volunteer for the Mid-South Renaissance Faire, so this trip was partly for fun, partly to upgrade our outfits for this summer’s MSRF, and partly to act as scouts, to see what TRF was doing well or poorly, so MSRF could learn from them.
We did some window shopping — there were roughly sixty merchants and artisans at Tennessee Renaissance Festival — before going to catch Paolo Garbanzo’s first juggling and fire-eating show. Then we wandered past more vendors before meeting up with Jenn Kahn and Patrick Huston. They looked fantastic in their garb; Jenn was the Faerie Queene at MSRF and Patrick was Captain of the Queen’s Guard. My daughter went into the maze with Jenn’s daughter (they were fairies together at last year’s RenFaire) and won a Mardi Gras-style necklace for finding the center of the maze. We wandered down by the falconry booth and past some games and clothiers. My husband and I had our pictures taken with a Harris hawk.
Here is my only major complaint about TRF. When I went to the privies by the jousting field, there were no portable sinks nor any hand sanitizer. None of the privies had portable sinks, although the other privies had hand sanitizer. Luckily, one of the nearby merchants was selling metal fountains (very pretty) and I was able to rinse off my hand in the running water of the fountains whilst pretending to admire them. Note to “Mad Queen Beth” and the other head honcho-ish people of MSRF: be sure the privies have handwashing access as well as sufficient toilet paper.
Since we hadn’t had to pay for admission, our shopping budget was increased. My husband bought a black and silver doublet at the clothier’s next to the falconry tent, and I seriously considered a pink tapestry bodice. (I purchased a white brocade skirt at MidSouthCon, and am looking to upgrade my garb building an outfit around it.)
Renaissance faires are noted for their delicious food, and TRF was no exception. For lunch the kids both had pizza, my husband had shepherd’s pie, and I had chicken and rice soup in a bread bowl. We let the kids have soda for lunch, although my husband and I had water, and we made sure the kids drank water throughout the day. Even with all the shade provided by the many trees at TRF, dehydration is a possible risk at any RenFaire. I was pleased TRF had recycling bins shaped like Coke bottles throughout the faire site, although not nearly as many recycling bins as there were trash cans. Recycling bins are something MSRF will want to look into, even if they’re not as fancy as giant Coke bottles.
There was too much to see and do at TRF to do everything, although we tried. We listened to Empty Hats, a Celtic folk band, and The Roses, a pair of lute-players. We listened to Rafferty the Piper. My daughter went to all three of Paolo Garbanzo’s shows, even though I suggested she try Tea with Lady Ettie or Buckle and Swash. There were rides and games: ring toss, the maze, Jacob’s ladder, mug slide, several medieval and Renaissance themed throwing games, human-powered rides like the Hurlinator and the Flying Carousel, and a free children’s arts and crafts area. We didn’t manage to do the free castle tour. (The festival site owner built his own castle, and he and his family live there.) There were comedians, magicians, play-actors, minstrels, jousting, falconry, knife-throwers, human chess … too much to see in one day. Maybe next year we’ll get the two-day passes and stay for the whole weekend.
I know we didn’t manage to see all the vendors. Henderson’s Hearth was listed in the program book, but I never found them, which is a shame as far as my kitchen is concerned (scone mix, jams, soup mix, etc.) but probably a good thing for my wallet. My husband talked me into buying a red brocade gown at White Pavilion. It’s a step up from wenchwear (wenchware?), but not up to court standards yet, but it looks great with my white brocade skirt. However, now I need to buy a new hat, as my muffin cap is too plain to wear with such a fine gown. Ye Old Wizards and Dragons had some gorgeous dragon figurines; my son bought a steampunk dragon from them. Many weapons dealers — my son was upset that he wasn’t old enough to buy a knife or a sword yet. Lots of jewelry dealers … gorgeous merchandise. Several tents of droolworthy artwork. Toys for the younger ones, clothiers, candlemakers (you could make your own or buy a ready-made candle), pottery, leatherwork, wooden utensils and artwork (my daughter got a magic wand), hammocks and hanging chairs, bath soaps and oils, incense, tea, ocarinas. My personal favorite was Pigasus Books; I may speak to him about R is for Renaissance Faire after I’ve got the galley proofs back from the printer.
We had a grand time, and although it was a long drive there and back, the trip was worth it. It’s been years since we went to Tennessee Renaissance Festival, but I hope to go again next year or the year after.