Sunday, September 3, 2017

Renaissance Faire - Big Bear Style

Since J and L first started this blog years ago, we always suggested looking in one's own backyard for something fun to do. Excitement is just around the corner if the adventurous go in search of interesting things to explore.

How about a Renaissance Faire? Renaissance in those costumes, please!
That's what we did on a very warm weekend in Southern California. With temperatures in the triple digits, the traveling duo, along with their friend and cameraman Paul Bakas, headed for Big Bear to the Renaissance Faire and cooler temperatures. The Faire was held in the mountain community of Fawnskin, where, at 7000 ft elevation, it was twenty degrees cooler, making the short hour drive well worth it. The venue was situated in a forest of beautiful pine trees which made us feel as though we were transported back in time.  Colorfully dressed knights, ladies, minstrels, entertainers, and guests strolled among the dozens of vendors selling anything from potions to weapons. There was something for everyone.

The afore-mentioned photographer, Paul Bakas, taking a selfie the hard way.
The Big Bear Renaissance Society has been around since 2002 and is a non-profit educational corporation. The purpose of the Faire is to bring history alive for both children and adults alike. The event which runs every weekend in the month of August, allowing people to walk through the pines and view events which mimic what times must have been like during the time of the Renaissance. There are jousting matches, jugglers, sword swallowers, story tellers, and a host of others dressed in period garb.

And he juggles too - ten feet off the ground
This particular weekend was themed as 'steampunk' at the Renaissance!

Is this Steamed Punked enough?
It was like science fiction meets the Old West, which then in turns meets a bunch of people from the fifteenth century.  An eclectic turnout of individuals to be sure.

All sorts of revelers were on hand - from various centuries
But where the heck did this idea for reveling in the past come from?

A tired but still fighting Black Knight wanted to know the same thing...
The history of these Renaissance Faires is actually quite unique to the United States. That doesn't mean to imply that in other parts of the world there aren't themed weekend events, but this is certainly a more American experience. Research points to the beginning of these faires in the United States back in the 1950's. John Langstaff, a traditionalist folk musician wanted people to relive the medieval times and created a music revival in 1957 in New York City. It was referred to as 'A Christmas Masque of Traditional Revels' and was a huge success. In 1966 there was a Hallmark Hall of Fame production with Dustin Hoffman in a starring role and finally in 1971 Langstaff created the permanent 'Christmas Revels' in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

We truly believe though the actual beginning of what today is known as the Renaissance Faire began in Southern California. In 1963 a schoolteacher by the name of Phyllis Patterson, along her husband Ron, put on a small faire in her backyard in Laurel Canyon as a class activity. It caught on and they conducted a one weekend fundraiser for radio station KPFK in Los Angeles - and thus the living history of the Renaissance was born. As the years went by the Patterson's expanded the themed weekend due to all the attention they were receiving both locally and nationally. Soon, Renaissance groups were multiplying and through the decades there are dozens upon dozens of groups who build imaginary English villages from the deserts of California to the green forests of Vermont.

Looks like a small English village, even with a traveling juggler
And here we were in Big Bear pretending to have dropped backwards five centuries to drink mead, chomp on turkey legs, and yell 'huzzah' about a million times per hour. Laughter, yelling at knights on horseback, listening to a foursome of crazy Dutch trying to get the crowd to sing, and other activities kept the guests very busy and happy.

Crazy Dutchman (his words, not ours) trying to get us to sing in harmony
The jousting and dismounted fighting contests were a thrill and the crowds roared for their favorite Champion.

Ready for battle

This actually followed the original jousting matches held in England during the time of the Renaissance. Knights would meet at the King's request to hold festivals and conduct death defying acts of bravery. Charging at an opponent on the back of a horse with a staff made of pointed wood does seem rather brave or rather stupid. In the eyes of the beholder one would assume. We think the latter is more accurate. Anyway, the contests would go on for a day or more and prizes would be awarded by the monarch to the eventual winner - usually the last man standing. And here we were in twenty-first century about to watch a re-enactment of the festivities held over six hundred years ago or longer.

Of course, the Lady of the Day had to come out and thrill the crowds upon her beautiful mount. The contests could only start after her grand entrance and exit. Grace was the only word that could describe the moment she entered the arena.

What a beautiful moment between horse and rider

After the Lady and her steed left the arena the games began - and what games they were.

The Red and White Knight - Our Champion!

The Blue and White Knight 

The Black Knight getting ready to finish the Blue and White Knight
Unfortunately, the Black Knight dispatched our hero in the first round and then after a brutal battle with lances, swords, and mace he easily killed (only pretend) the Blue and White Knight. We do believe the fix was in - it always seems as though the evil knight wins. Or is that just in fairy tales?

After the crowds dispersed from the jousting arena it was time to wander through the village taking photos and looking for the next entertainment. Of course, that called for a call at the pub for a Dragon's Blood and a stout mead.

Laureen, admiring the action.
If there's a stage, then J is at home delivering his thoughts.

...and of course, there's always time for shopping...

And finally the pub - it was rather warm and humid- a needed health break

A moment of Cheesecake for the ladies in the audience
After cooling down a bit - and we mean just a bit it was time to venture out and find some more entertainment for the afternoon.

One unbelievable performer was the acrobat who joked with the crowd while literally standing on his head ten feet above the ground on thin posts stuck into a metal table. He relayed how he and he had started in gymnastics at the age of five and now traveled the world performing for crowds. One of the strangest tricks, to say the least, was when he tugged a tennis racket over his entire body. A guy of normal height and weight going through 'Spalding' - it couldn't be done! It was one of those moments that the fans were wondering - 'how the heck is he doing this?"

At least it was for John, Laureen and Paul.

Snaking his body through a tennis racket - minus the strings

Oh Come On! Must be a trick - nope, it wasn't

Another performer was just as talented but in a different billing. A sword swallower - people really do that? Yes they do and it is not for the faint of heart to watch a fully grown man swallow a three foot sword. Well, he only swallows it up to the hilt - but still?  He stated that he has conquered the gag reflex - good starting point - and then moves certain intestines so the point of the sword does not pierce anything important. And here we thought everything in our gut was important.

That is disgusting and dangerous - talk about heart burn!

Well, one never knows what one will find at a Renaissance Faire but what the traveling explorers discovered only an hour away was a day full of fun and awe inspiring talent. Again, to find and enjoy the world around, one only has to look in their backyard. We did on this weekend and are very glad we did.

Who needs music when you have the right partner?
A special thanks to our good friend - Paul Bakas for taking the photographs so we could dance.

And thus ends this latest adventure.

For further information concerning the Renaissance Faire in Big Bear, California: