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Fare Thee Well: The Timeless Endurance Of Renaissance Faires

Two attendees at the closing weekend of the Maryland Renaissance Festival, Oct. 2021.
Two attendees at the closing weekend of the Maryland Renaissance Festival, Oct. 2021.

The modern Renaissance Faire blossomed from a children’s arts education program in Agoura, California, in 1963.

Now, almost 60 years later, it’s a nationwide industry.

More than 200 festivals operate around the country — complete with jousters, performers, carnival games, vendors selling bespoke costume pieces, and various meats on a stick.

So why has the Renaissance Faire endured, nay, proliferated, all these years later?

From The L.A. Times’ obituary for co-founder Phyllis Patterson:

For millions of Americans who didn’t know their meads from their mandolins, the faire was the next big thing. Rock luminaries such as Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Jim Morrison sported “psychedelic fop” fashions. Button-down types like newsman Tom Brokaw headed for the faire on spring Saturdays — “a weekend hippie,” he said in a 2008 interview, with “bell-bottom trousers and sandals.”

Faire-like events started popping up all over.

“If theme parks, with their pasteboard main streets, reek of a bland, safe, homogenized white bread America,” Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg wrote in 2007, “the Renaissance Faire is at the other end of the social spectrum, a whiff of the occult, a flash of danger, and a hint of the erotic. Here, they let you throw axes. Here are more beer and bosoms than you’ll find in all of Disney World.”

1A producer Kathryn Fink reports from the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Plus, we meet Kevin Patterson, son of founders Ron and Phyllis — and hear why white supremacist groups have co-opted medieval culture.


We asked you for your Ren Faire photos. And oh, you delivered.

Copyright 2021 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.

Kathryn Fink
Kathryn Fink is a producer with NPR's All Things Considered.