"The Santa Fe Renaissance Fair turned out to be a pleasant surprise"
As I followed a line of cars along Los Pinos Road en route to El Rancho de las Golondrinas for the fifth annual Santa Fe Renaissance Fair, held on Sept. 22 and 23, I tried to temper my excitement. Having grown up on the East Coast, a visit to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire was a vital part of autumn tradition. It has a permanent site on a vineyard and is open for several months each year. When I first moved to New Mexico, I assumed my renaissance fair days were over. I tried to tone down my high hopes for Santa Fe’s one-weekend fair, but I couldn’t help having certain expectations. My stomach was nagging me for a big turkey leg to hold in my fist and savagely rip apart with my teeth like a king in a cartoon.
Parking was easy and landed me right across the street from the entrance. A long line turned out to be the ticket-purchasing queue, and I already had my pass. I walked straight inside without a hitch. Before I even had a chance to observe with my eyes, the delicious promise of food hit my nostrils (do I smell…could that be a hint of turkey in the air?).
The Santa Fe Renaissance Fair turned out to be a pleasant surprise. How silly I was to think I needed to lower my expectations! It was the renaissance fair equivalent of Santa Fe – small and dusty with a lot of heart, and managing to provide almost everything you could want in spite of its size.
The section of the fair by the entrance was Merchant’s Alley, which I understood to be placed there with an “enter and exit through the gift shop” mentality. I bought a refillable corked bottle of gourmet soda from The Dun Stag while perusing the chainmail and weapons for sale. As one would expect, some vendors were selling their local products – honey and lavender – in booths masquerading as olden-timey.
The children-to-adult ratio was very different than what I’d experienced at Pennsylvania’s fair. Clearly, Santa Feans viewed this as a kid-centric event. As I ventured deeper inward, I could see that it really was more child-oriented in design. I spied no knife and axe-throwing games, only Nerf archery and beanbag-tosses for children. On the edge of the fair I did spot the one decidedly adult location in the whole place: the tavern, where the Santa Fe Brewing Company and Falcon Meadery were making a hefty profit.
Deciding to take the lay of the land before sniffing out the turkey leg stand, I wandered past the main stage and down the hill to see the Field of Champions and the Fairy Village. The combination of historical buildings and tents at Las Golondrinas created the ideal environment for a fair. Only the metal food-trucks with buzzing motors seemed out of place.
As I approached the jousting and archery field, I saw that it was between events, abandoned. The charming Fairy Village, however, was awash with children playing by the stream and sitting under trees, talking to ladies adorned with giant glittering wings and building “fairy houses” out of sticks and leaves in a freshly tilled field. Down the path was a small wooden bridge where a man in a suit of armor demanded that a joke be told in exchange for permission to cross. I quickly turned around and hiked back up the hill.
The costume contest was due to start, so I decided it was time to grab my turkey leg and enjoy some entertainment from a bench. A warm man named Gilbert Romero was running the turkey leg stand. As a caterer, he enjoys working special events such as wine festivals and renaissance fairs from up in Taos down to his hometown of Albuquerque. In 2008, before Santa Fe’s first renaissance fair, Director of Programs and Marketing for Las Golondrinas Amanda Crocker called Romero and said, “Gilbert, we want you to do turkey legs.” He has returned for the fair each year since. “After we did it, we fell in love with it,” says Romero, who proceeded to tell me how much more inclined he is to work events where he’s treated well and has a good time as opposed to events that promise more profit but less fun. (Although at $9 for a turkey leg, I had difficulty seeing how this fair would be less profitable than any other event.)
With lordly meat in hand, I perched on a bench at the main stage and witnessed the costume contest. The event was chaotic from the start, with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella arriving late, but the children looked adorable in their costumes. A group of friends sitting near me were discussing their own attire, and how they had attended the fair the day before in normal clothes and felt so lame about it that they had to return in costume.
While I wondered where to go next, I heard a sound that gave me goosebumps (the good kind); a bagpiper was playing Scotland the Brave. I followed the enchanting music – the music of my summers in Scotland and of every renaissance fair in existence – past a group of children in a corral whacking each other with foam bats to a large area on the outskirts of the festival. People were fencing and men stood around in real armor, and in the distance was a small field of tents. I had stumbled upon the camp of the Society for Creative Anachronism. The SCA is a worldwide organization divided into kingdoms based on time zones. New Mexico is in the Kingdom of the Outlands, which also includes parts of Colorado, Wyoming, and Texas. Within the kingdom there are smaller local groups, such as the Santa Fe and Los Alamos chapter represented at this fair: the Shire of Drygestan.
Despite my full stomach, the large whole turkey roasting on a spit over a fire in the midst of the camp still smelled mouth-watering. Deputy Seneschal (a.k.a. vice president) Frank Succardi, who also acts as the local chapter’s herald and webmaster, was eagerly telling visitors about the society.
“We try to preserve the arts and sciences of the middle ages,” he proudly declares. “We try to pass on chivalric values to kids.”
Women sat around Succardi utilizing old-fashioned weaving and knitting techniques and doing calligraphy while he displayed an array of authentically made tools and trinkets to the gathered crowd. The Shire of Drygestan has around 70 members and meets weekly in Santa Fe. To look into joining the SCA.
Fully in the spirit of things now, and seriously considering joining the Shire of Drygestan so I could make new friends and then battle them with real weapons, I decided it was time to part with more of my money. I came across Dragon Bait Stew, a leather/feather hat and mask business out of Colorado run by Drake Stewart and his wife Briana. Stewart’s uncle, who started the family business with Burnt Mountain Crafts, was set up on the other side of the tent selling wooden swords and shields for children. Drake Stewart explained that it was more than just the perfect weather that made the Santa Fe Renaissance Fair one of his favorite fairs to attend.
“More people tend to get dressed up here,” he said. “When people get dressed for it, it’s easier to get them to smile.”
From someone who works fairs in Colorado, North Dakota, and Arizona as well, I found that to be an interesting fact about our Santa Fe. I bought a mask.
Back down the hill, it was time for the falcon show. Tom Smylie of the Wildlife West Nature Park in Edgewood, N.M., was proud to show his bird friends at the fair in an attempt to raise awareness about the Peregrine Fund. Founded in 1970 after the birds of prey faced extinction due to the widespread use of DDT, the organization succeeded in increasing peregrine falcon numbers enough to remove them from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1999. After the Queen arrived and we all stood to honor her presence, Smylie demonstrated the fearsome skill of the fastest member of the animal kingdom.
As the fair began winding down, there was only one item left on my list of things to see: Clan Tynker. Locals of Santa Fe, the five siblings of the Clan Tynker Family Circus perform around the world. I managed to sidle up to Rebekah Tynker before the show and ask her how she felt about her hometown renaissance fair.
“I really like this one a lot,” she answered cheerfully. “There’s a lot of flavor, and the tickets are affordable. It’s not too commercial; it’s for the community and the community embraces it.”
Clan Tynker’s show was a comedic mix of magic, dance, and feats of skill that charmed audience members of every age. The boy sitting in front of me rewarded his parents for staying for the show (despite their desire to go home) with a breathless “That was awesome!” after each act, and truthfully they seemed to enjoy it as much as he did.
Post-show, as the remaining fairgoers trekked toward their cars, it occurred to me that aside from using the historical site of El Rancho de las Golondrinas and hailing Ferdinand and Isabella instead of Queen Elizabeth, very little indicated to me that this was “a renaissance fair with a Spanish flair” as advertized. I joined the exodus. Honestly, I didn’t care either way. I crossed the street to my dust-coated car feeling that I’d had one of the best, most carefree days in a very long time.