Knights and ladies escape to Revel Grove

August 27, 2007|By Rona Marech | Rona Marech,Sun reporter

Lutes tinkled, knights jousted, arrows flew and bodices strained. Comely wenches giggled and rogues sang bawdy songs. Leather mugs abounded, thees and thys flowed like mead, turkey legs came in kingly sizes, and if it could be served on a stick - whether cheesecake or steak - it was.

All those jesters, monks, princes, queens, soldiers, wobbly English accents and acres of heaving chests could mean only one thing. To the delight of enthusiasts who wait all year to shimmy into embroidered tunics and meet friends at the Boar's Head Tavern, the Maryland Renaissance Festival, now in its 31st year, opened over the weekend in Crownsville. Organizers say the festival, a (very) loose approximation of a Renaissance fair - or faire, according to zealots - awash with craftsmen, performers and food vendors, draws up to 25,000 visitors a day.

"It's nice to be able to escape from real life and come somewhere where everything is different and you don't have to worry about the perils of the modern world," said Tessa Newhouse, a 22-year- old customer service representative dressed for the day as a peasant. "It's like a different reality where they have good drinks."

Newhouse, who was drinking mead and raspberry wine out of a pewter mug, plans to attend every weekend through Oct. 21, when the festival closes.

Such devotion is common among "Rennies" or "playtrons," as the most serious Renaissance-obsessed merrymakers call themselves. Many have attended the festival for decades - sometimes traveling great distances to roam the 25-acre faux-Tudor village of Revel Grove.

Between watching jousting matches, cheering the sword swallower, buying goblets, shopping for shields, listening to wandering minstrels, trying on chain mail and eating pirates pie, they have made friends, met mates and even renewed vows at an annual love-in held in the chapel - or when the crowd is too big - on one of the festival's 12 stages.

Anne Long moved from Maryland to North Carolina five years ago but still manages to make it back to the festival for at least five weekends a year with her husband. Her grown children, whom she introduced to the kid-friendly festival when they were young, often come, too.

"When you're a little girl you like to dress up. Then when you're older, they say you can't, but here you can," said Long, 48. "Rude men who put on doublets become chivalrous, and ladies who put on gowns become princesses again."

Rich Wehner, 41, is in the building supply business, and his wife, Christy, 37, is vice president of a production company. But annually for about 25 years, they have put aside worldly concerns, donned velvet leggings, plumage and pantaloons, and willed themselves back to 16th-century Tudor England.

Not that the Joppa couple, who plan to attend the festival every weekend, are fixated on authenticity. Please, they say, just listen and look around. The band playing the Scottish classics can do a rousing version of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven." Some visitors - the so-called mundanes - don't dress up at all, and others mix and match, as much to get attention as to evoke the period.

"It's more like fantasy or escape. People can dress up however they want, and no one really questions you," said Christy Wehner, who was wearing what looked like a bustier bikini.

"The same thing attracts people here as what attracts people to Halloween," her husband said. "You get to be someone else for a couple hours a day, for a couple weekends a year."

His wife nodded and swigged some stout and hard cider out of a leather goblet her husband had made.

"You don't have to think about business or children. You just sit back and enjoy," she said.

"The only question," he said, "is what will I eat next, and where's the next pub?"

rona.marech@baltsun.com

The festival is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends and Labor Day through Oct. 21. For more information, go to www.rennfest.com.

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