As the renfaire season comes to a close, the Offbeat team takes listeners all the way to Revel Grove, or the Maryland Renaissance Festival. To understand why so many people have fallen in love with this weekend escape, we took to the town square to see for ourselves. Explore with us as we sample the cuisine, watch live performances, and chat with festival-goers from all over.
You can find us on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. A full transcript for this episode is below.
JULIA BISCHOFF: Once upon a time, in a land 40 minutes away from the UMD Campus, is The Maryland Renaissance Festival, where our adventure full of kings, queens, jesters and more unfolds. For listeners who have never been, a renaissance festival is where people dress up in historical outfits, eat different delicious dishes, and watch live performances.
Hello, and welcome to Offbeat by The Diamondback, a podcast for those who swing to their own rhythm. I am your host Julia Bischoff, and today we are exploring Maryland’s Renaissance Festival at Revel Grove.
JULIA BISCHOFF: As we walked through the front gates, we were instantly greeted by the wonderful sights and smells of the festival. Stilt-walking mimes lumbered past, outfits of festival-goers jingled as they walked by, and performers sang old-timey tunes. It was overwhelming to begin with and the grounds were expansive. In fact, it is one of the largest festivals of its kind in the country. I sat down with Jules Smith, the president and one of the owners of the festival, to get more background on it.
JULES SMITH: A typical weekend is around 34,000 would be average for the nine weekends of the year. The past four weekends we’re selling out every weekend. We start at lower numbers, around 11, 12,000 a day but now we’re much higher than that.
JULIA BISCHOFF: Jules told me he was originally involved in the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, but started up here in 1977 when a friend let them borrow some land in Columbia, Maryland. Originally they would take the festival down every winter, and reconstruct it every summer. Eventually they moved it to where the fair is now in Crownsville, which is much more permanent. But there’s something special about renfaires as opposed to other weekend events.
JULES SMITH: It’s like a street festival, a village festival, where people can walk around and enjoy and experience different from the other people at the event just based on what they select to do. So, it’s not like sitting in a theater or watching television or something where it’s being fed to you, but something you pick and choose. I think also we offer security because people come here and they can relax. There isn’t much to bother them. It wouldn’t be nice to have a beer as you’re walking down the mall in Washington and interact and enjoy things with other people rather than be concerned about what’s going to happen…And that’s kind of the atmosphere we have here where everyone is involved and we have fun and enjoyment of a show.
JULIA BISCHOFF: The serenity of being inside the fair, after getting over the initial overstimulation, definitely lived up to Jules’ and everyone else’s descriptions. Some people stayed in character the whole time, while others came as they were. We walked through taverns while orcs, elves, and men alike chatted over mead and beer. Tavern performers sang funny songs about old nursery rhymes. Lively vendors sold an assortment of items from magical to mundane. And festival-goers wore some of the most intricate and impressive costumes I have ever seen. It was a true community feeling, but let the festival-goers tell you themselves, starting with our lively long-time vendor Josh.
JOSHUA LAMONT: My name is Joshua Lamont. I am the owner of the Rock Shoppe and Sluice Mine.
JOSHUA LAMONT: Yeah, yeah I am trying to do the math in my head right now, but that’s hard. So 98 to 2002.
JULIA BISCHOFF: 24 years?
JOSHUA LAMONT: 24 years. Oh my god yeah, 24 years. Next year will be our 25th year!
JOSHUA LAMONT: And honestly, this was just a spot of trees, no one could build here cause we can’t cut down any trees, so it’s so hard to build a full structure. They gave us three weeks, and we built our first sluice in the middle of a hurricane in 1998 with tarps over our heads. It was really quite terrifying. But yeah that’s how we got here to Maryland Renaissance.
JOSHUA LAMONT: It’s weird, so I’ve done this my whole life, right? So you have what we call fair kids. Our parents, who have done this and we’ve grown up and inherited and kind of — The people for me are definitely the most fun. My staff, who I absolutely adore. This is Serena our newest hire.
SERENA: I am the best one here.
JOSHUA LAMONT: Whose sister is about to beat the living heck out of her.
SERENA: I am second best.
JOSHUA LAMONT: For those listening — good seeing you man — for those who can’t see, her sister has a murderous glare.
JOSHUA LAMONT: No, honestly, it’s just my family. It’s just like coming home. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of stress, but it’s good to be around the people you grew up with.
TYLER HEATHERSTON: Hi My name is Tyler. I’m from Delaware, well originally Pennsylvania, but I live in Delaware. Yeah it’s been a couple years, but I’ve been coming here about a decade ago and then a little bit of time and now I am back.
JULIA BISCHOFF: What inspired you to come back?
TYLER HEATHERSTON: Just want to have a good time, just want to see the fair again … shopping, looking at the stuff that’s all around. People watching.
Megan Barnes: What is the craziest thing you’ve seen today?
TYLER HEATHERSTON: Uh, a woman drumming on her own breasts in line for the food, that was a little nuts. I mean, I don’t think I’ve seen anything crazier than that previously.
BROOKE HITNER: Hi, I’m Brooke. I’m wearing an all black dress. It’s from Amazon, surprisingly high quality. Got a nice little belt and some skirt hikes so my legs can actually breathe, and then the fae ears with the clip-on earrings. And then I’ve got the makeup on. I am doing kind of a scar look. Faera from a Courts of Thorns and Roses. I was going for kind of her look, but I wanted to do something a little bit scarier because I am an FX makeup artist, so I love the spooky stuff.
BROOKE HITNER: I started coming last year. I just moved to Maryland from Hawaii and so I started coming last year, and just got hooked and absolutely love it.
JULIA BISCHOFF: So what keeps you coming?
BROOKE HITNER: Oh just the people. They’re so freakin’ sweet, even dress kinda spooky. Everybody just comes up and are like ‘I love your dress!’ and I’m like ‘Thank you, I love you!’ And you just make great friends because everybody is so frickin’ friendly.
BROOKE HITNER: I work from home most of the time when I am not doing FX makeup, I’m an operations manager for a couple different companies, so I don’t get that interaction unless I’m working as a makeup artist or here. So, that’s why I love.
CAPTAIN RANDY DEVILLE: This is Captain Randy DeVille
CAPTAIN HENRY DEVILLE: Captain Henry DeVille, thank you very much
JULIA BISCHOFF: Is it your first time coming here?
RANDY & HENRY: God, no.
JULIA BISCHOFF: How long have you been coming here?
RANDY & HENRY: 25 years.
JULIA BISCHOFF: 25 years! What keeps you coming back?
RANDY & HENRY: The lovely ladies and the cold drinks.
RANDY & HENRY: Get your tickets early next year because they’ve been sold out for several weeks.
JULIA BISCHOFF: After slinking through the taverns, watching comedic performances from silly jesters,
AMBI OF JESTERS: (singing) Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, but Jill forgot to take her pill and now they’ve got a daughter.
JULIA BISCHOFF: And eating the biggest turkey leg I’ve ever seen, it was time to end our day at Revel Grove. And like many other festival-goers, we decided to round things out by watching Maryland’s state sport, jousting. The match started with the jousters testing their skills by catching increasingly small hoops on their lances
JOUSTING MC: Before we begin this trial by combat, we must first test this field to ensure it is suitable for your seeds. Prince Miguel, you shall have the first pass.
JULIA BISCHOFF: People from all over the festival grounds gathered around the jousting arena. Each corner was given a jouster to route for, and our section cheered on the valiant Sir William.
JOUSTING MC: And Sir William! Lay on!
JULIA BISCHOFF: Sir William did, in fact, miss the small hoop, and our section was not happy.
JULIA BISCHOFF: The crowd quickly got over their annoyance with Sir William when it was time to give out favors before they began the main event.
JOUSTING MC: To bestow upon your knight, please come to the fence and do so now!
JULIA BISCHOFF: With favors handed out and the jousters, as well as the crowd, all warmed up, it was time to begin the dueling.
JOUSTING MC: Is sworn to vow. His heart knows only virtue. His sword defends the weak. His shield upholds the mighty. His words speak only truth. And his wrath undoes the wicked! Is Sir William at the ready? Is Prince Miguel at the ready? Is Sir Keagan at the ready? Is Prince Balthazar at the ready? Then let this joust begin!
JULIA BISCHOFF: Jousters leveled their lances at each other and ran.
JULIA BISCHOFF: Again.
JULIA BISCHOFF: And again.
JULIA BISCHOFF: And again!
JULIA BISCHOFF: And then things started to get crazy. After a couple rounds charging at each other with their lances on their horses, jousters ditched the saddles and resorted to full blown sword fighting.
JULIA BISCHOFF: Sir William was a quick loss. He lay still off to the side of the field as the other knights and princes dueled it out.
JULIA BISCHOFF: They recklessly slashed through each other until only Prince Balthazar was left standing. However, in a shocking turn of events, Sir William stumbled out of his early grave to claim victory.
JULIA BISCHOFF: He rose from his spot on the ground and stumbled towards his opponent. They jabbed at each other sluggishly, wounds from the long fight gnawing at their bones, and eventually Sir William gave the winning blow.
[JOUSTING ANNOUNCER]: Sir William DeBracey!
JOUSTING MC: My lords and my ladies! These brave performers and their steeds have risked life and limb to bring you this unique form of entertainment. Please put your hands together for Debracey Productions!
JULIA BISCHOFF: As the match came to an exciting close, the sun slid slowly behind the jousting arena, blending the sky into an array of orange and pink hues. It painted the perfect picture as we left in the wave of people exiting the fair. And after a long day of festivities, no matter how exhausting they were, I knew I would be back in August when the festival picks back up.
JULIA BISCHOFF: Thanks for listening to Offbeat, I’m your host Julia Bischoff. This episode is brought to you with the help of our assistant editor Grace Kpetemey, and our two reporters Megan Barnes and Fatima Yazdi. Our music this month is by the lovely Maryland Renaissance Festival Performers. Follow Offbeat on twitter @DBKOffbeat and follow The Diamondback on Twitter and Instagram @thedbk. You can find a transcript of this episode at dbknews.com. If you liked this episode, tell your friends and tune in next time!