16 reasons to get to the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival
Just like Steeler training camp, the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival is a sure sign fall is coming fast.
It all starts up Aug. 19 — and we couldn't be more pumped.
A lot of 21st-century Pittsburghers know the joys of the 16th-century realm of Good King Henry. However, (and we're still struggling to understand this) too many have yet to experience it.
For those (poor) souls, we offer up these 16 (see what we did there?) reasons that make the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival worth the quick trip to West Newton. By the way, the 10th edition of this festival runs rain or shine Saturdays and Sundays only (except for Labor Day) — Aug. 19-20, 26-27, September 2-3-4, 9-10, 16-17 and 23-24.
- IT'S LIKE TRAVELING BACK IN TIME
- THEY'VE GOT JOUSTING!
- TURKEY LEGS
- THERE'S ENOUGH COMEDY FOR ITS OWN FESTIVAL
- THEY'VE GOT RIDES!
- NO WEEKEND IS THE SAME
- YOU GET TO THROW VEGETABLES AT PEOPLE
- THE VILLAGE MARKETPLACE
- THERE'S A FAIRY
- THAT STORYTELLER GUY
- WATCHING THE KIDS HAVE FUN
- ROYALTY, SILLY!
- TWO WORDS: WINE WEEKEND
- GLASS BLOWING
- BLADE GUYS
- THE BELLS! THE BELLS!
No, you don't dress up in 16th-century clothes — that's what the performers do. Your bit is so much easier: Bring your 21st-century self (in shorts and your Stanley Cup champion Penguins shirt if you desire) and walk the grounds — down village streets and pathways — soaking in the medieval times. Be ready for costumed characters to interact with you (and give you the business if they catch you on your cellphone.) Think of it all as an historical amusement park.
Where better to start with a Renaissance Festival than with watching dudes on horseback gallop toward each other with long, colorful lances? And they've got three jousts a day! Festivalgoers get to cheer (and boo) the knights, becoming a key part of the fun. Of course, the knights also get down off their high horses to engage in some sweet staged stunt combat. So, grab a stein of your favorite ale, pull up some ground and catch the action.
If you've had one, you know. (And you're already on your way.) But for those that have yet to indulge, get going. Nothing will put you in the 16th-century spirit of a Renaissance Festival more than holding tight to a massive drumstick of succulent smokey meat roasted to perfection. But we're warning you: It's big, so plan accordingly and save some stomach room. Sure, there's so much more food than turkey legs — Knave Sandwich, Baron of Beef, Dragon Wings, Cheddarwurst, kettle corn, fruit cobbler — but we're just such fans of the leg.
Whether your yucks come from the manic ribaldry of the Washing Well Wenches , the zany outrageousness of the German Brothers or the interactive improv of the Greatest Pirate Story Never Told, you'd be hard-pressed to escape the festival without getting a chuckle or 10. The sheer amount of funnery is almost overwhelming. This year, Fool Hearty — the comedy duo of court jester Marquise and his mate, Ima Nutte — will join the ranks.
If you think the Middle Ages didn't have amusement rides, you're sorely mistaken. Take the Hippogriff (pictured), which is basically like Kennywood's Pirate Ship — only run on human power. There's several other rides, like the giant swings of the Nina Pinta Santa Maria Ride, the Children's Realm Free Butterfly Ride, the Pony Ride, Jacob's Ladder and various games of skill as well as other rides.
Each of the festival's six weekends offers guests a different theme. So, you could really go back each week and not get the same experience twice. Not bad. Opening weekend is "An Adventure to the Past," which introduces King Henry, Queen Anne and the Royal Court (with a BOGO) . On Aug. 26-27, it's "Men in Kilts," with Celtic musicians, Scottish pipe bands and balladeers throughout the Realm. Labor Day weekend (Sept. 2-4), it's the "Prince, Princess & Pirate Party," which is set aside for young lads and lasses 12 and under. Next up, Sept. 9-10, is "Wine Revelry!" (that's a reason all to itself, see below). The "Pirate Invasion!" happens Sept. 16-17, with rousing tales and tunes of high-sea adventures. Finally, Sept. 23-24 closes it out with "A Final Huzzah" and an Oktoberfest celebration with German goodies like bratwurst, sauerkraut, and pretzels. And beer!
Food fights can be crazy good fun — if only we didn't have to cleanup afterward. That's why Vegetable Justice is exactly what we need. You can toss tomatoes (the more rotten the better) at some locked up joker who can only hurl insults back at you. We can think of a few faces to picture as we go into our wind up.
What's a festival without a marketplace? But when do you get a chance to buy such cool stuff from 16th-century vendors? OK, so maybe they don't all sell period products. But that certainly doesn't spoil the medieval mood. There's blacksmiths, potters, costumers, herbalists, leather workers, furniture crafters, herbalists, toymakers and so much more. Best of all — it's all hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind stuff — so when you buy it here, you know it's unique.
Yeah, you read that right. A fairy! The magical Juniper, the Fairy (aka Gina Carli) will be roaming about the grounds in her free-spirited way — dancing, smiling, laughing and bringing back "childhood dreams of magic, and bubbles." And we're not talking tiny bubbles — we're talking huge, amazing bubble creations. If you wanna see something truly amazing, just watch how big the eyes of a 5-year-old get after spotting a real, live fairy.
Seriously better than anything YouTube or Netflix has to offer, Pittsburgh-based storyteller Temujin Ekunfeo might be worth the trip alone. His tales of West-African folkore and fantasy have to be experienced at least once in your life. Especially if you call yourself a Pittsburgher. "You put your heart into a story," he says, "and then you open your heart to the audience and it's a shared experience and not just a recitation." In other words, you don't get a canned tale — it's unique for every audience.
We admit that people-watching is among our best time wasters. And you won't find a better place to do that than at the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival. Easily our favorite ones to watch: the kids. Wide-eyed and excited beyond belief, kids are just a bundle of joy out here. Whether they are getting their face painted, trying their hand at archery, or taking a spin on one of the many medieval rides.
Here's where you can go full-on " Game of Thrones ." Whether it's watching King Henry, Queen Anne and the court process through the grounds or encounter them strolling about, you can immerse yourself among royalty. (Where else are you gonna do that around here?) One insider tip we found out: Arrive about a half hour before start time (at around 10 a.m.) and you can catch the royal court put on a bonus show at the front gate. It's kinda like a preview of the day's entertainment to come.
On Sept. 9 and 10, the festival's theme is "Wine Revelry!" a dedication to the nectar of the gods. And, really, there's no better endeavor. Take out your frustrations in the Grape Stomp Competition (for prizes!), and sample vintages from Pennsylvania wineries — for free. Wine and the Renaissance — such a good pairing.
Probably one of the most amazing displays at the Renaissance Festival is the artisans. Among those, seeing glass fired up, blown and sculpted into works of art is just incredible. Demonstrations happen four times a day, most of them can get pretty crowded, so pick a seat down front early.
For the same reasons we like the jousting dudes, we love seeing two men battle it out with steel blades in their hands. Especially when they are funny. Randal Scott and Michael Moody are The Duelists , and their sword fighting show mixes combat with comedy (and while it might be a tad bawdy, it's not offensive in any way). While obviously well-rehearsed, the duo is able to inject some slick improv into their act.
Ever heard of carillon music? You'd certainly know if you had. And the Ren Fest brings the musical style in the form of Cast in Bronze. It's like nothing else: 35 cast-iron bells played from a keyboard using the fists and feet. The best part? It's played by a man wearing the mask of the Phoenix. He once was known as Frank DellaPenna, but he's since "relinquished his identity to the 'Spirit of the Bells' for the good of the carillon. That's insane! But so intriguing.
Truth be told, there's more than 16 reasons to get yourself to the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival, but we figure it's better than you get out there and discover them for yourself.
The Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival is at 112 Renaissance Lane in West Newton (off Interstate 70 — 6 miles west of New Stanton). Admission is $21 for adults, $10 for ages 5-12 and free for ages 4 and under. Times of the festival are from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (and Labor Day). It's held rain or shine. There's free parking. Pets are not permitted. Discount tickets are available at Walgreens, with coupons at Wendy's and Shop N' Save. Details: 724-872-1670.