Ohio Renaissance Festival is magical. Follow our quest find out why


In search of flower crowns and turkey legs, travel through time and create new memories

Few people know this, but I was knighted. Yeah, that’s a big deal. By whom, you ask me? Queen Elizabeth. The first. I remember that auspicious day very clearly: it was the fall of 1994 – or was it 1995? – and my mother had taken me and my brother to the Ohio Renaissance Festival. I was (probably) wearing a hot pink turtleneck and teal corduroy (the 90s, as you remember). The queen held out a long, thin sword as I knelt before her and she asked my name.

” Leila ? There’s a song written about you,’ she said when I told her my name, before slapping both my shoulders and declaring me Lady Leyla. I was on cloud nine all day because the queen knew my name and knew my name was a song (“Layla” from Derek and the Dominos).

Before working on this story, I hadn’t been to Ren Fest for at least 25 years. I have friends who are big fans of Ren Fest. They wear corsets and leather and panties and ribbons and march north to Harveysburg (think Waynesville) for a day filled with turkey legs and jousting and…what, really?

I wanted to experience the magic that this 33-year-old festival – set in 1572, at the height of the Elizabethan age – has held for so many over its existence. Who better to accompany me on a proverbial and literal trip down memory lane than my mother? We visited on a Sunday in September, the day after my birthday, and I was ready to be intrigued, but overall baffled.

Because here’s the thing. I love to wear costumes. Halloween is my favorite holiday. In 2018, my friend and I won third place in a costume contest, dressed as Liberty Belle and Zoya the Destroyer from Netflix’s “Glow.” (Special thanks to my mom, who handmade my winning costume!) But wearing a costume to Ren Fest after age 10 has always seemed extremely silly to me. I know, it’s not necessarily nice to say. I sure don’t think my friends who dress up are dumb, I just think of myself like looking stupid. Not in his place. Out of time. Turns out that’s the point.

follow the sun

“When you walk through our doors, we’re trying to transport you to a much simpler time,” said Cheryl Bucholtz, director of marketing for the Ohio Renaissance Festival and its associated events. “You don’t have to worry about what’s on Dish Network or what channel the Bengals are playing on or modern conveniences. We really want to give you a time travel experience. I think that’s one of the reasons they’re so popular and have remained so, is because we provide a form of live, interactive entertainment that you honestly won’t find anywhere else.

The “they” that Bucholtz refers to are the multitude of Renaissance festivals that exist across the country. You also thought Ohio Ren Fest was the only one? Naively, until I started working on this story, I certainly did. It turns out there’s a whole circuit of Renaissance festivals that, as one of the artisans told me about handmade silver jewelry, “follow the sun.” Those in the north, like ours, take place at the edge of summer and autumn. During the colder months, craftsmen and artists flock to southern Renaissance festivals. The oldest in the country, the Original Renaissance Pleasure Fair, held near Pasadena in Southern California, from April to May each year. It was created in 1963 as a sort of living history experience for schoolchildren. This spawned a previously non-existent industry for Renaissance festivals across the country.

“We’re here, about 200,000 people per season, which is, overall, pretty big for a Renaissance festival,” Buchotlz said. “We have more than enough parking spaces for everyone and the village has a very intimate feel even though it is 35 acres.”

A turkey leg for mom

My only goal for my long-awaited return to Ren Fest was to get myself a flower crown. My mother dreamed of a turkey leg. We left. The basic layout involves different facades of wooden shops, stalls and cabins, all animated by craftsmen and artists who roam the 1572 promenade. reflect their position in the company, and almost every employee affects a “ye olde English” style of speech.

I started to get into the spirit of the village and started asking questions. One woman I spoke to has worked in the Renaissance festival circuit for 40 years. 40 years! The dedication to performance and craftsmanship – because the things these people sell are very unique, and obviously very skillfully made – was singular and fascinating. I wanted to know their “why”.

“I’ve always loved playing dress up and I’ve always loved getting away from it all,” said Jodie Linver, a local massage therapist who worked as an employee at Ohio Ren Fest in the mid-1990s (and is a good friend of mine). “You enter this world which is just a little magical, completely different from the world we are in now, steamy, funny and joyful.”

my mom and me were transported (at least physically, but more on that later) to another world. We came across a lot of experiences and interactive offers – you can dip your hand in wax or buy wooden flower souvenirs. We passed families wearing T-shirts and fairy wings, women wearing long dresses and petticoats, and men wearing kilts. We wandered into shops with clever names like Cloaked in Shadows (a cape shop) and the Starstruck Cafe (a coffee stand in a familiar green color story) and Boss Wench (Renaissance clothing for the enlightened feminist) and Pens & More (a store We pit-stopped for a bite to eat at the Rose and Crown, with the helpful “Turkey Legges” sign, to fuel more drinking, and ended up seeing the last Kamikaze Fireflies show of the day .

Magic: Found

This is where the magic of Ren Fest started to solidify for me. We watched as the performing pair – Cincinnati-based Rob Williams and Casey Martin – set things on fire on stage and got the whole crowd into the act. It was Pirate Weekend (every weekend is a different theme) and several swordsmen participated in the analog antics. Rob entertained the masses with a veritable litany of jokes and puns between physical feats, which included, without a cap, a sandwich he made using only his feet, which an audience member then ate. The reward for the final stunt, in which Casey spun six hoops adorned with lit torches, was prodigious. We ate it. We clapped and smiled until our hands and cheeks hurt, and I happily threw $10 into a hat.

I realized I hadn’t checked Instagram or really looked at my phone except to make sure the light balances were good for taking pictures and videos. As the sun descended in the sky and we began our journey out of the village, I was still determined to find a wreath. In Poet’s Alley, my dream came true. I stopped in front of a stall filled with wreaths of varying degrees of abundance. I chose one with teal flowers and robin’s egg. I liked it.

On our way out, a street artist took our picture in front of the castle-like entrance. Reflecting on this photo and through subsequent conversations with friends, I finally identified why I had previously felt so uncomfortable about dressing up for Ren Fest. It came to me a few hours before my deadline: I didn’t meet these people where or when they were. I hadn’t completely suspended my own disbelief and got carried away into the world of Ren Fest…like I had as a kid and thought the real Queen of England was just hanging out on Brimstone Road in Harveysburg, Ohio.

Suffice it to say, I’ll be going back and wearing my flower crown – and maybe other costume pieces – with pride.

Breadcrumbs along the way

  • The House of Sir Jeffrey pub was packed and seemed the most fun. I will check next time.
  • Although we weren’t able to enjoy it on this visit, fear not, the jousting still takes place, as does the chivalry and the mud show, among many other entertainment experiences.
  • Brimstone & Fire LLC, the company that runs Ohio Ren Fest, also runs other local (but not as big) festivals, including Celtic Fest Ohio, Yuletide Village, and along with Ohio Ren Fest, the sulfur lair. Maybe I should make my next visit a twofer.
  • There is a huge circular wooden structure on the grounds that my mom and I couldn’t identify when I walked in. etc It is open to the public and has perfect acoustics.

The Ohio Renaissance Festival continues Saturday through Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., through October 30, 10542 E. Ohio 73, Harveysburg; renfestival.com.


Comments are closed.