Thousands Take Step Back In Time At Rennfest

August 31, 2009|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,

When Nick Roberts went to his first Maryland Renaissance Festival four years ago, and took up the mallet for the "feat of strength" known as Thor's Hammer, he could barely drive the metal disk halfway up the tower toward the bell.

Sunday, the Centreville, Va., native, who goes to the fair every year, heaved and grunted like a woodsman felling trees, ringing the bell eight times out of 10 as his fiancee, Tasha Harris, looked on.

"I've been working out a bit," said Roberts, sweating under the afternoon sun that shone on about 13,000 boot- and bodice-clad revelers on Day 2 of the annual fair, which opened Saturday in Crownsville and runs every weekend through Oct. 25. "It helps you raise your game."

It's the 25th year for the fair at the site on Crownsville Road, and if attendance is your measure, the event, too, has been growing.

Over the past seven years, the Maryland Renaissance Fesitval has been the best-attended of more than 30 comparable events across the country four times. When the weather's good, it draws more than 300,000 fans of the 1500s indulging their love of wenches, merry men and meat on a stick.

Jules Smith, the general manager, said that even though he and his management team - which includes his brothers Marc, Justin and Adam Smith - have sunk deep roots in Anne Arundel County, they're still open to a move to a site that might better accommodate the fair, which has been testing the limits of the current site like a serving wench straining her bodice.

"It probably wouldn't be for a few years," says Smith, who started the Maryland Renaissance Festival in Columbia 31 years ago and moved it to Crownsville in 1985. "It takes a while to move a Renaissance village. But yes, we'd be open to a move somewhere, if and when the time is right."

A new site, he said, would have to be at least 150 acres (the current one contains 130), have plenty of trees with plenty of space around it to keep the modern world at bay, and access roads. He has seen candidates in every county in Maryland.

Sunday's sunshine drew a colorful crowd, many of the guests in period costume.

Madrigal singers trilled, sword swallowers gulped steel, lords and ladies cavorted and paying guests from Maryland, Virginia and points beyond bought period clothes, tried ax-throwing competitions, swilled mead from leather goblets and looked on as armor-clad jousters had at it.

In the "storyline" carried out by this year's actors, King Henry VIII (played as usual by Fred Nelson of Glen Burnie) is seeking a new wife in 1543 after the failure of his most recent marriage, a dynamic that is played out in performances twice daily.

The paying peasantry, too, indulged in romance. Roberts' friend, Adam Shampaine of Annapolis - attending with his fiancee, Courtney Blair - couldn't let Roberts best him in front of his own fair maid, so he, too, rang the bell at Thor's Hammer eight times.

Were the damsels impressed? Not like they might've been in 1543. "They do this every year," Blair said. "Neither of them can stand to lose."

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