Bristol Renaissance Faire
by Dan Zeff
Kenosha, Wisconsin – The Bristol Renaissance Faire tries to bring alive Bristol, England, in 1574, when Queen Elizabeth I visited the little town. In that sense it’s sort of like “Brigadoon,” only in Elizabethan times instead of nineteenth century Scotland.
The Faire is located in an open area near Kenosha on summer weekends and accommodates several thousand visitors a day, many of them dressed in costume that reflect provincial England 450 years ago. Some of these costumes are really elaborate, including weapons of the day, head coverings, and armor. Curiously, on the day I attended many young female visitors seemed to have confused Elizabethan apparel with the costumes of a Turkish harem, but they all fit in with the general pageantry of the setting.
The Faire’s statistics are impressive. The festival claims more than 1,200 artisans and performers and 16 stages providing nonstop (and free) entertainment. Nearly 200 artisans and craft workers display their wares for sale, many giving demonstrations. You can also have your fortune told and your palm read and your face painted. You can enjoy a demonstration of falconry and, perhaps the most popular attraction on the grounds, the jousts that perform throughout the day, leading up to a “joust to the death” finale late afternoon.
Perhaps the most striking statistic is the low price of admission, $19.50 for adults and $9.50 for children 5 to 12. The Faire is open for nine hours a day, which means that a visitor who comes at the opening and leaves at the closing (and hundreds do) invests about $2.17 an hour in roaming the grounds and catching as many admission-free shows as desired. That may be the best deal, coastwise, in the metropolitan area.
Of course, the Faire offers visitors plenty of opportunities to spend their money, on food and beverage concessions, rides, souvenirs, and crafts. Signs at the entrance state that no food or beverages could be brought onto the grounds but the rule wasn’t enforced on our entrance and countless pack backs were carried into the Faire, I suspect containing bottles of water and sandwiches and snacks. Even so, it’s unlikely visitors won’t buy something to eat or drink during the day, possibly a roast turkey legs that has become the signature food item at the Faire.
The entertainment can reach a surprisingly high level. There are a number of Renaissance Faires around the country and the performers can make a circuit, juggling and fire eating and doing comedy routines from event to event. Which brings us to The Mud Show, the entertainment I make my highest priority every time I go to the Faire.
The Mud Show consists of a mud pit and three grizzled performers playing to a small amphitheater jammed with spectators. The show is a blend of very low comedy and the Jerry Springer show. The three men do various gross out stunts in the mud, engage the crowd in rapid fire backchat, and pass the hat at the end of each of the day’s five performances (the funniest part of the show).
The men of The Mud Show are a racy trio and much of the humor has a PG-13 and up tinge to it. But the Faire caters to a blue collar crowd that delights in the kind of raunchy comedy the Mud Show men deal out, and even though there were many youngsters in the crowd (loving the mud wallowing) I didn’t find a moment of the performance offensive—tasteless and vulgar yes, but never a cause of embarrassment.
The Mud Show performers are absolute masters of the comeback and insult. They are prepared for anything the crowd throws at them verbally and the repartee is barbed and hilarious. These are really gifted men in their chosen trade and their artistry should be sought out as soon as the customer enters the ground. This could be the best free show of the summer in Chicagoland, though most of the viewers happily sent their children down front to toss a dollar or two into a cap in return for an exhortation to return to their parents and get more.
The Faire operates rain or shine, and heat can be consideration. This is an outdoor experience and though there are small shops that are enclosed, patrons will be out in the heat and humidity for most of their visit. The weather doesn’t seem to daunt anyone, including the visitors wearing those heavy and bulky Elizabethan costumes. The performers wearing armor and engaging in sword fights and jousts must be in top condition to endure the heat with undiminished high spirits.
Other than The Mud Show, which really is a must see, the visitor can enter the grounds with no agenda. The best plan is no plan at all. Just wander through the craft and food areas, watch the turtles from a bridge over a pond, stop for a show already in progress, and generally let the day just develop at its own pace. For those who stay to the end, there is a big parade and a giant maypole dance on the village green to which all customers are invited to cavort. Then it’s out to the massive parking areas, hoping you remembered where you parked (parking is a very nominal $5). It will be a day and early evening well spent and all attendees should sleep very soundly that night.
The Bristol Renaissance Faire runs on Saturday and Sunday through September 3, Labor Day. The Faire is located west of I-94 at the Russell Road exit near Kenosha and just over the Illinois-Wisconsin state line. Call 847 3945 7773.
Dan at email@example.com July 2012
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By Dan Zeff
Kenosha, Wisconsin—Pick any warm and dry Saturday or Sunday this summer and there is no better place to be to enjoy fresh air and exercise than the Renaissance Faire if you live in northeast Illinois or southeast Wisconsin. It’s an especially agreeable place if you have children who like to run around a lot.
The Renaissance Faire has built itself into an area institution over the past 24 years. The Faire is a theme park of sorts, creating the ambience of medieval England, with its lords and ladies and medieval jousting tournaments. The activities are spread out over 30 acres and include (by the Faire’s count) 16 stages that provide 90 different shows, nearly 200 artisans and craft workers displaying their wares in rustic shops, and 73 different food items for sale.
I attended the Faire on a warm but comfortable Saturday. The grounds were flooded with customers in a very good mood. Many obviously were repeat visitors. They were the ones dressed in medieval costumes, not just individuals but dating couples and even entire families. They mixed in with the staff and performers to create a sensory sensation of what it might have been like to visit Bristol, England, on a summer day in 1574.
The admission price is $19.95 for adults and $9.95 for children. The Faire opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m. and plenty of visitors cash in on the entire nine hours. That works out to about a dollar a child, maybe the best entertainment bargain for youngsters in this region. However, opportunities to spend on concessions are voluminous, especially for liquids on hot days.
The best way to explore the Faire is just to let your feet do the walking and wander among all the stands and shops and stages until something strikes your fancy. The shows are all open air and patrons can drift in and out of a performance at their pleasure. One of the major attractions is the jousting a series of presentations on horseback that lead up to a grudge match among four knights, kind of a mixed martial arts tournament Middle Ages style. Passions run surprisingly high among spectators who have followed the tournament throughout the day to its climax and have strong feelings about their hero.
The live acts tend toward circus skills—juggling, hand balance, and the like, buttressed by plenty of chat from the performers who love to get the audience verbally involved. I caught all or part of a half dozen shows, each one worthy. My favorite was an entertainer who calls himself GypsyGeoff. He does juggling, magic tricks, escapes from a strait jacket, but most impressively, he has a wonderful way with children. He gets kids up on his stage and treats them as equals, getting some amusing results from his little conscripts. For families with children about 12 or under, this is a must stop.
signature food offering is a giant turkey leg. The Faire claims to sell between
30,000 and 45,000 during its nine-weekend season. They all sell about 450,000
gallons of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, which may be conservative. A
visitor can work up a powerful and continuous thirst over a hot July or August
The grounds are populated by performers dressed in the garb of the period (including numerous wenches with industrial strength cleavage). Groups of costumed musicians and soldiers parade throughout the day. All that armor and those heavy long skirts must make it touch duty when the heat really gets oppressive, but everyone maintains their good nature. My sympathy really goes out to the young men who hand operate the children’s rides.
The day ends with a major parade through the grounds and a giant Morris dance on the village green near the entrance, with anyone invited to join in. The energy level after multiple hours on the grounds was remarkable and I suspect that the Faire could have remained open another three hours and still retained a significant percentage of its visitors.
A final appreciative observation. The Faire must be a major employer of teenagers and college students during the season and I saw some senior citizens among the vendors, too. So it’s not only fun but a significant economic engine for the area.
The Bristol Renaissance Faire runs on weekends no matter what the weather through September 5 at the grounds just west of highway I-94 at the Russell Road exit. Hours are 10 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets at the age are $19.95 for adults and $9.50 for children ages 5 through 12. Discounts for advance ticket purchase are available at www.renfair.com or by calling 847 395 7773.
The Faire experience gets a rating of four stars.
Contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org July 2011
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Bristol Renaissance Faire-2009
By Dan Zeff
KENOSHA, Wisconsin—The Bristol Renaissance Faire is open for nine hours each Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day. Visitors who attend the fair for all or nearly all of those nine hours will enjoy the biggest bargain in family entertainment in the area, working out to maybe $3 an hour for adults and much less for youngsters.
Consider the numbers. The Faire covers about 30 wooded acres
near the Wisconsin-Illinois state line. There are 16 open-air stages that
feature free entertainment. Almost 200 craft persons display their wares for
sale, items from pottery to handmade longbows. In all, more than 1,200
performers and sellers are available throughout the fairgrounds, along with
carnival rides and games of chance and skill.
This is the 22nd summer for the Bristol Renaissance Faire. The premise is that Queen Elizabeth and her retinue visited the English town of Bristol in 1574. Hence the theme of Elizabethan England, with period costumes for men and women. It might be noted that historical accuracy weighs very lightly on the Faire. There is indeed an Elizabethan motif, but there are also echoes of King Arthur (500’s), the Vikings (late 700’s to 1100), Robin Hood (1100’s), and modern flower children (1960’s).
But the Faire wants to create an atmosphere of pleasure, not deliver a history lesson. It’s doubtful there were many jousts in Elizabethan England, but the live battle on horseback between good and evil knights is one of the signature attractions of the Faire.
The best strategy for enjoying the Faire is just to pick a dirt street and wander past the shops and games and rides, stopping when the mood strikes. You are sure to encounter at least one show about to begin. I caught the joust and some jugglers and hand balancing acts but the Mud Pit Stage topped my list of pleasures along with a performer called Doktor Kaboom, who flings eggs through the air from a small catapult into containers held by volunteers from the audience. The good doctor has a nimble tongue that can deliver an improvised putdown with split second timing.
The Mud Pit Stage is just that, a mud pit enclosed by bleachers on three sides for the spectators. This is the venue for three men called the Sturdy Beggars, led by a grizzled and bearded master of ceremonies who is a hoot with a wisecrack and salty repartee. Including preliminaries, the show runs for about 45 minutes and if my performance is a measuring stick, it’s always hilarious. The show is rated PG 13 for sexual innuendo and a bit of language, but nothing your typical 11 year old hasn’t heard on the playground. It’s a deliciously gross performance not to be missed.
The Sturdy Beggars is a reminder that the Faire caters to adults as well as to youngsters. There are even shows at the Pig & Whistle Tavern rated R and N C 17. There is also plenty of industrial strength cleavage among the saucy Elizabethan maidens who decorate the grounds. But families will feel thoroughly comfortable at the Faire and many customers voluntarily come in costumes representing medieval and Elizabethan England.
The Faire is best experienced on a clear day that isn’t too hot, though it is open rain or shine. On my day the weather was perfect but I could see difficulties if the temperatures rose into the humid 90’s, especially for performers wearing those bulky Elizabethan robes.
There is a nominal $3 parking charge. The admission fee covers everything except concessions and a special event called the RenQuest, which is a kind of live action fantasy experience with an ongoing storyline designed for repeat visitors. Otherwise, the financial outlay for food and merchandise and games is strictly in the hands of the patrons.
If possible, stay for the final 30 minutes before closing time. There are parades of Elizabethan characters and a big come-one-come-all dance frolic on the village green that resembles a jubilant group scene out of Woodstock.
The Bristol Renaissance Faire runs at Saturday and Sunday through September 7 on grounds west of I-94 near the Russell Road exit. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is $18.95 for adults and $9.50 for children 5 to 12. Call 847 395 7773 or visit www.renfair.com.
The show gets a rating of four stars. July 2009Contact Dan at email@example.com