It is almost certainly unfair for me to give an overview for you, the (likely) Texan reader, of Scarborough Renaissance Festival. As an English guy with an English education steeped in all things kings and queens and such, and with a bachelor’s in history, there is very little chance of my offering an objective view that will bear any verisimilitude to your experience. I will steer clear of an historical critique of all that lies within the castellated walls of the festival. Equally, I will be honest.
Scarborough Renaissance Festival, a.k.a. Scarborough Fair, a.k.a. The Ren Fair, a.k.a. TRF, is an interactive, live-action, 16th-Century village experience. It runs on a 35-acre site every weekend from April 8 through Memorial Day. It has been this way since 1981.
There is a befuddling array of action, sights, and sounds at every turn: 27 stages featuring a range of live entertainment, a birds of prey display, a jousting arena, 200-some shops selling a cornucopia of craft goods – candles, jewelry, henna tattoos, hair braiding, drinking horns, artworks, kids toys, swords, crossbows, and clothes.
Food and drink aplenty is akin to State Fair fodder. My personal favorite for an oddity was mac ’n’ cheese on a stick. Twelve old English-style taverns offer an assortment of macro and craft brews with Guinness Stout thrown in as the European representative. As you browse and people watch, your senses are festooned with permanent players of the fair and most paying guests alike bedecked in the elaborate garb of Henry the Eighth’s England. Think: billowing shirts and pantaloons for the men and flowing skirts and bosom-heaving corsets for the women.
I traveled to the Fair with three other TRF virgins, two of whom are 100 percent American though not Texan.
It is, objectively, a weird experience. From Fort Worth, you drive most of the way south along US 287, quickly leaving behind the urban geographic yolk for the typically Texan wide open vistas of Trump country: here a ranch, there a 5,000-square-foot new build, everywhere a big truck. A brief stretch on FM 66 brings you to the turreted entrance to the parking lot, which provides a prologue to the main story. People who eschew stonewash denim for polyester recreations of sartorial days of yore peeled out of their trucks. I’d say that a sizeable minority of visitors dress for the fest. Not everybody is fully onboard with the historical theme. On Easter Sunday, we saw Gandalf asleep on a bench, elves, steampunk kids, a Minotaur, and Pan. Then there was the hippy strain of festivalgoers, somehow tie-dye and at once Renaissance. These are the people who tuned in, dropped out, and never returned. Or so their carefree, lined faces told us.
The fair also is, objectively, expensive. An adult will part with $28 for entry. Thereafter, most else is for sale. Aggressively so. Everything from ye olde pretzels to harpist CDs to $5 feed bags for the petting zoo is thrust before you as you wend your way through the sensory overload. You should allow for north of $50 simply for entry, a couple of drinks, and a snack.
It is, objectively, a bit seedy. I struggle to recall a time when my eyes have been so frequently assailed by surging codpieces and thrusting bosoms. There is an undercurrent of sex in the air throughout the fair (an event that is, I must stress, intrinsically family friendly) – a sense that anything goes if you want to look for it. There are a lot of large men flouncing around in billowy garments, sans underwear, one suspects. Equally marshmallow ladies are shoehorned into corsets, gravity be damned. But it is more than the outfits. There is a perceptible … “ooze” is the word, methinks … about the way in which many of the players and payers comport themselves. Perhaps this is a nod to the ribald stage plays of the age. Perhaps.
Am I glad I visited? Absolutely! Should you go visit? I heartily recommend that you do. For this squire, though, once is enough. Go. See. Enjoy. Check this off the part of your bucket list you didn’t know existed.
Scarborough Renaissance Festival
10am-7pm Saturdays and Sundays thru May 29 at 2511 FM 66, Waxahachie. Free-$28. 972-938-3247.