This was my third year visiting Kentucky's Highland Renaissance Festival. Being a costume loving geek, I've been to the ginormous Ohio Renaissance Festival north of Cincinnati plus Ren Faires in Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Georgia.
Our local Ren Faire wins major points for common sense. Most Ren Faires are scheduled when it's 90+ degrees outside and humid as a sauna. What a perfect time for people to dress up in seventeen layers of outfits inspired by what the wealthy wore during a mini ice age! Adding sweaty insult to heat stroke induced injury, a heck of a lot of them take place in faux villages on a barren baked mud packed plain (yes, I'm looking at you, Ohio) where the only hope of escaping sunburn is to duck into the shops.
Kentucky's common sense prize goes to their forest canopy. Unlike any other Ren Faire I've seen, they kept all the glorious trees on the property and wove footpaths through them. It's literally 15 degrees cooler on the forest paths, which might explain why I somehow always end up buying more from those vendors than the ones set up along the festival's main street. The trees are atmospheric, practical, and one of the reasons I genuinely love this festival.
I've been to plenty of massive Ren Faires, so it was something of a relief to attend one that didn't make me feel like I needed to rush. There's enough going on to keep you solidly entertained for a day, but not so much you leave kicking yourself over what you missed. At the larger Ren Faires you have to pick between an action packed schedule of shows versus wandering through the village. Everyone leaves hot, sweaty, and frustrated they didn't get to see what they wanted.
At this year's KY Ren Faire, I kept cool under the canopy of trees, chatted with the vendors, and still saw a mud show, juggling, belly dancers, singing troubadours set up in multiple places, and jousting.
Okay, a word about the jousting. Guys, c'mon. If you're going to be the WWE of jousters, stop taking yourselves so seriously. Either learn to actually joust, learn to be somewhat convincing about faking it, or learn to camp it up into a big happy joke we can all enjoy.
Between the guy selling horns and the town stocks a very clever merchant set up selling a dozen kinds of fresh chilled fruit. Like I said, this festival is both practical and fun. The woman selling it was happy to grin and pretend it was all an exotic delicacy brought in by sailors rather than a nod to healthy snacking. She also let me have some of her precious ice. Across the field, a sweating blacksmith hammered out swords by hand while back in the shade a woman in period costume demonstrated how to spin wool into yarn by hand. That's fine for the adults, but the kids were more interested in the muscle powered rides. I think they could make as much money off letting people spin the medieval muscle versions of vomit comets as ride inside the things, but maybe that's just me.
As for the vendors, I was pleasantly surprised how affordable they were. I didn't see any of the high end costume shops where prices start around $200 and quickly soar into 4 digits. Instead, I saw a lot of nice swords for $75 and under, a lot of kids toy swords for $15 and under, jewelry from $5-90, plenty of leatherwork, and a few nifty surprise items. I really wanted to bring home the oak charred mini barrel home rum making kit. Take that, home beer brewers! I was also pleasantly surprised to find a massive booth selling bulk herbs and spices at rates a heck of a lot lower than what I pay at Kroger.
The Eminence Ren Faire is only 45 minutes away from Louisville (the next closest ones are over 3 hours drive away). Dress light (unless you're in costume, in which case you already know how to dress for these things), leave a 12 pack of bottled water in the car, and bring a few extra bucks to buy yourself something fun. The Highland Renaissance Festival runs every weekend through July 11.