- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Maryland Renaissance Festival is wrapping up its 38th season, but there’s still time for some medieval fun — and giant turkey legs.

For two more weeks, area residents can head out toward Annapolis to hear the sound of clashing steel, taste a dark ale and witness the royal drama of 16th century England.

“You really can’t see it all in a day,” said Jules Smith, the festival’s president and general manager. “You can have a completely different day than the people who walked in the gate right next to you. They might do music and shopping at the craft stands, while you might do all the food at the tavern, and jousting.”

This year’s storyline takes place in 1521, with King Henry VIII and wife Catherine of Aragon, including the intrigues among the royal couple, and various earls and dukes summoned to the medieval British village of Revel Grove.

“We like Henry VIII,” Mr. Smith said. “More people can identify with him. They think turkey legs, big goblets of ale. They know he had a lot of wives. He was a prominent guy. The storyline is a loose thing. It just kind of sets the tone for the day. This is our third time through it. We’ve gone through all six wives twice.”

While there’s no special theme or event this weekend, on Oct. 18 and 19, a jousting competition is scheduled featuring the Free Lancers jousting company.

“Although we have jousting every weekend, this is kind of a bigger thing,” Mr. Smith said. “They’re bringing in more contestants. They’ll be competing throughout the weekend.”

For nearly four decades, the men and women behind the festival have raised banners, stoked the fires and welcomed visitors to the event at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds in Crownsville, Maryland.

“Each year it starts, [and] it’s like it never ended,” said Mr. Smith, whose family started the festival in 1976. “We see so many of the same customers. So many of the performers are longtime friends of ours.”

Mr. Smith said about 2,000 season passes were sold this year.

“It is a village, it’s a community,” he said. “All these people have known each other for a long time. Even if you’re a new vendor, you pretty much become part of the community. The truth is, most people are leaving because they have another event to go to.”

Mr. Smith said it takes about a month to clean up after the festival, but then it’s right back to business booking venders and entertainment for the next year.

“It’s very important to what we do. It’s part of who we are. It’s quite a draw for us,” said Connie Del Signore, president and CEO of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau. “It’s pretty huge. Our hotels do very well with it.”

Joseph Lespier, owner of the Annapolis Inn, has hosted a few renaissance fans.

“We had a woman who owned a 47-acre horse farm in Pennsylvania,” Mr. Lespier said. “She and her husband were both professors at Princeton. I remember the first time she came down for breakfast, she had this Elizabethan gown on — a very deep purple, with a skirt — and an Elizabethan gold-encrusted bodice.”

He said other guests were a bit frightened at first, but ended up asking the staff when the woman would be dining next so they could see her again.

“For some people, it’s practically spiritual or religious,” Mr. Lespier said. “It’s like an annual trip to Jerusalem or Mecca. They don’t miss it for anything.”

If You Go:

WHAT: Maryland Renaissance Festival

WHERE: 1821 Crownsville Rd., Crownsville, MD 21401

WHEN: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Oct. 19

TICKETS: Available online and same day at the gate, but range between $10 and $22 for single, one-day tickets. Group rates and multiday passes available. For more information go to www.rennfest.com.

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