With a turnout of 62,000 people and 116 vendors at last year’s event, the Sarasota Medieval Fair organizers were under a lot of pressure not only to maintain the attendance for the 2014 festival, but to exceed it. The fair held its opening weekend on Nov. 8-9 and will continue every Saturday and Sunday until Nov. 23. This year’s theme is The Battle of Lechfeld, a paramount victory for King Otto I and his German army over the Hungarians in 955 C.E. This was the German’s first battle as a nation united against a foreign army.
Overcast skies threatened cold, damp weather for a majority of the afternoon, but luckily, rain did not start falling until an hour before the event closed for the day. Over 130 vendors hawked their wares while nearly 125 employees roamed the Ringling Forest in period garb.
“Each year, the money earned from the previous year goes into building and expanding areas that will benefit everyone from improving the grounds for future festivals and for generating jobs for a few months out of the year,” Marketing Coordinator for the Sarasota Medieval Fair Shannon Bowden said in an email. Bowden and the rest of the fair coordinators meet the night of the last day of the festival to discuss plans for the following year. They then begin planning the next fair in February.
The Sarasota Medieval Fair was created by Jeremy Croteau in 2005. He was inspired by the previous festival which was held at the Ringling Museum of Art that he attended as a child. Croteau created a team of people formerly involved with this festival and orchestrated the first event at the Sarasota Polo Club. Though it started out small, the fair gained popularity and moved to the grounds of Hunsader Farms until 2008, when it was relocated to its current site at the Sarasota Fair Grounds.
A whole slew of new, nationally acclaimed acts including the “Danger Comedy Juggling and Whip Show” and the “Renaissance Man” were featured. Returning favorites such as “The Human Combat Chess Match” and “Cast in Bronze” drew a large crowd opening day despite the rainy weather. Leather wears, weapons and jewelry were among the most popular craftwork available for purchase. Patrons could munch on staple fare such as cheese fries, “jester dogs,” chicken fingers and the ever esteemed turkey leg. A medieval fair could not be complete without craft and domestic beer tents – a step up from the watered down ale of the 16th century.
The first medieval fair was created in 1963 as an interactive learning activity for a school in Agoura, Ca. Now dubbed “The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire,” the event has been attended by over 5 million people internationally, averaging 20,000 people per weekend. As journalist Neil Steinberg once aptly described, Renaissance fairs are a “whiff of the occult, a flash of danger and a hint of the erotic,” in an article for the Chicago Sun-Times in 2007.
Student tickets are priced at $14.95 before tax and parking is free. The event runs from Nov. 15-16, 22-23, 10 a.m. through 6 p.m.
Information from this article www.sarasotamedievalfair.com