Come one, come all.
Every summer, with the exception of last year, dozens of acres in Larkspur is transformed into a medieval kingdom for the Colorado Renaissance Festival. After a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the annual festival is back.
Even before stepping through the front gates, the trip backward through time begins. One second, you’re in the middle of a massive, make-shift parking lot right off of Interstate 25.
Then, after walking a couple minutes, bushes and trees no longer block the horizon, and you can see hundreds of people lining up in front of a castle gate. The festival’s king and queen wave to the crowd from above.
As you get closer, you’ll see a ticket sales booth staffed by people wearing medieval-style clothes and speaking in fake accents with varying levels of success.
Inside, the first thing I saw was a medieval folk band surrounded by “villagers” dancing to the music. Throughout the event, it was nearly impossible to determine whether someone was a paid entertainer or an attendee who went all in so that they could join the fun.
Some people walk around menacingly in full suits of armor. Others run around yelling nonsense, as if they’re real-life Shakespearean fools. That pseudo-historical immersion is a huge part of the Renaissance Festival’s appeal.
But some people, like Brett Creider, dress up in an astronaut costume, pretending to be a time-traveler. Anything is possible when there’s magic in the air.
“If you're lucky, you’ll find [a spacesuit] on Etsy that's legit, but you know, you have to rip off the badges ‘cause they all look kind of janky,” said Creider, who traveled from Texas. “When you come here, it's kind of like the vibes are very chill. It's just like, you're in an alternate reality.”
The festival isn’t just a tourist attraction. For dozens of vendors, it’s also vital source of income for their niche products.
Ginger Baird travelled from southern Arizona to sell woodwind instruments made of bamboo at her stall, the Bard’s Music Shop. She said her husband became interested in bamboo instruments while serving in Vietnam, and the business grew from there.
“This will be my 25th year here. I am so glad to see all my friends again, you know, I track them on Zoom. We have Zoom gatherings and everything else, but there's nothing like a good hug,” Baird said.
On the other side of the festival, Kevin Sarhadie paid $5 just so that he could throw tomatoes at a booth’s owner, who stood “trapped” in a stockade.
“He was just talking about my hair and just talking down,” Sarhadie said about the booth owner.
Unfortunately for him, he missed his loudmouth target every time.
“He’s just sitting here talking trash to everybody, so I wanted to see if I could get him in the face," he said. "But I failed. I feel bad, because I wanted to really get him.”
In the middle of all the minigames, rides, old-fashioned festival food, and exhibitions came bagpipe renditions of music from the “Lord of the Rings” movie franchise.
It was time for a wedding.
Mario Vigil, a cousin of the bride, was wearing modern clothes, but in this procession, he was the one who stood out.
“The groom’s wearing a bear pelt hat thing. It’s pretty awesome actually,” he said.
A former coworker of the couple knew the story behind that bear pelt hat thing. Curtis Cole said he’s worked with the bride and groom before, in a pretty different context.
“The groom is a professional wrestler. Half of the crowd here are pro wrestlers. That bear is what he wears to the ring. He’s a Viking named Hunter Grey. And Marissa, the woman who he’s marrying, she used to be a pro wrestler. And that's where they met,” Cole said.
The ceremony, despite the presence of an evil half-orc, half-man hybrid, went off without a hitch.
Walking back to the front gates toward the parking lot, I ran across Ricky Lewis. This was his first time at the fair, and he was wearing a tank top and shorts. It was a pretty unremarkable outfit that wouldn’t make anyone at the festival look twice.
Well, except for one thing. A pair of antlers. He said that when he walked into the shop where he got them, it was love at first sight.
“I don't think you need it, but it's definitely nice to have for sure. Like as soon as you get here, everyone else is dressed up. You're going to want to dress up too,” Lewis said.
That’s the spell the Renaissance Festival casts on its guests. Even for people who just came with their friends to watch some jousting while sipping on a cold pint of mead, there’s a contagious enthusiasm in the air.
The Colorado Renaissance Festival will be open every weekend until late August, with different themes for each week. Tickets are available online.
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