Reviewer: Lisa Purchase Kelly
Venue: Holly, Michigan
Fourteen precious days spread out over seven weeks. It arrives in mid-August, happens only on weekends (with Labor Day and one Festival Friday thrown in for good measure), and then it’s gone after the first weekend in October (that’s THIS ONE!).
The Michigan Renaissance Festival in Holly is about to wrap up its 42nd season.
I try to take one of those few days every year to nerd out with the peasants, knights, bards, wenches, barbarians, fairies, elves, pirates, jugglers, jesters, and at least one troll. I’m there for the turkey legs and Scotch eggs, the beer and the mead, the shops and the taverns, the music and the shows, the jousting and the axe-throwing, and the terrible terrible jokes. The shows tend to be bawdy; the bagpipers are bawdy, the washing wenches are bawdy … even the pickle vendors are bawdy (okay, especially the pickle vendors are bawdy).
And apparently, at least once a year, that’s just what I need: a ridiculous day of eating and drinking ill-advised substances, and rolling my eyes at lousy jokes, and singing along to Irish drinking songs, and buying some absurd thing I definitely needed (this year I came home with a new good pirate hat … my other “good” pirate hat has been in service so long it’s getting a little tattered).
But mostly what I need is the people-watching. One sees some amazing stuff there. Among the splendid sights this year were a walking tree, barbarians resplendent in their leather and fur, several dragon-tamers with tiny moving dragons sitting on their shoulders, at least two wizards (who appears to be Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White traveling together), and my personal favorite, a beautiful pink saytre. Most of these are not performers. They’re just walking around enjoying themselves, and making the most of the rare opportunity to dress up like a wizard. Or saytre.
I don’t have any role at this event either, I’m just there for the weirdness. Dressing up is part of the fun for me too. Over the years I’ve acquired bins full of skirts, blouses, tunics, pantaloons, hats, vests, bodices, scarves, belts, and “puffy shirts” that layer nicely into a variety of peasant or pirate outfits. I can dress the whole family. Other than the bodices (which I have bought at a handsome price at renaissance festivals throughout the years), everything came from Goodwill and cost almost nothing. I highly recommend it as a means of leveling up your enjoyment of the event.
I love going to this event year after year. I’ve developed some traditions. I always see Emery Fleet, Rat-Catcher (a show so bad, it’s good!), and I always try to catch Hob the Troll singing on the bridge (to give him some hush money). And I discover new things every year. Somehow this was my first time catching the Washing-Well Wenches show (be prepared to get wet, and don’t volunteer for anything!). Pro tip: get there early … the Wenches took orders and went on a beer run for us! And I mean all of us, the whole audience!
This weekend the weather looks perfect (well, Friday and Saturday anyway; it looks like Sunday might be a mud-fest, which can also be fun). I highly recommend finding your way an hour down I-75 to enjoy some loosely-interpreted Renaissance culture. It’s your last chance to catch the Michigan Renaissance Festival this year. After that, you’ll probably have to wait until next August to break out your Viking hat or your pink goat pants, or to hear a troll sing.
Admission is $24.95 for adults, $15.95 for children 5-12. And bring some spending money … those turkey legs aren’t cheap, and you know you’re probably going to need a new pirate hat!