Monday, August 01, 2016

Excursion to the 16th Century Provides a Faire Amount of Enjoyment: A Day at the Bristol Renaissance Faire -- Chicagoland Attraction Review

Tourist Attraction Review

Bristol Renaissance Faire
Bristol, WI (just over IL border)
Open weekends through Labor Day
Visited July 30, 2016

When it comes to attending live events, my track record attests to a clear predilection for rock concerts, musical & dramatic theater and baseball games.

And in terms of other types of attractions for locals and tourists, I generally prefer art museums.

So if tabulating "things I go to" in a given year--the total of which typically exceeds 100--probably 90% would be comprised of the above.

But I also like to seek out events and attractions that aren't so common for me, though even among these there tends to be a good amount of commonality: basketball, football & hockey games, horse racing, opera, classical & jazz concerts, ballets & dance shows, Cirque du Soleil, stand-up comedians & improv, local festivals, zoos, architectural tours, museums in the realms of history, natural history, military history or science & industry, etc.

Yet once or twice a year, I try to get to things that are rather unique for me, be it in traveling to places with regional specialties--rodeos, tango dancing showcases, flamenco guitar concerts, etc.--or within the greater Chicagoland area.

In recent years, these have included going to Medieval Times, seeing the Tempel Lipizzans (white stallions) and attending sublime puppet operas by Opera in Focus in Rolling Meadows.

And though it has seemingly existed since 1972, just this past Saturday I convinced my mom to come with me on an initial foray to the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

Other than thinking it involved people--including performers and the more ardent attendees--dressing in what I think of as Shakespearean costumes, yet not performing any plays, I really didn't know what the Bristol Renaissance Faire was all about.

It had never previously intrigued me to check it out, and even in perusing the website and reading a bit about it on TripAdvisor, I can't say I knew what to expect before arriving.

But especially given the Faire's Wisconsin location--though truly only yards across the Illinois border off of I-94 at Russell Road--I would perhaps describe it as Summerfest of 1574.  (Wikipedia informs that the Faire "recreates a visit of Queen Elizabeth I to the English port city of "Bristol" in the year 1574.")

Not that it is predominated by musical acts, but the basic concept feels somewhat similar, in that a pretty vast expanse of land allows for open-eyed meandering across several hours, catching shows of differing sorts on various stages--whether by design or simply in stumbling upon a crowd--and constantly coming upon vendors selling food, beverages and all sorts of merchandise.

We wound up spending about 4 hours at the Faire (out of a possible 8-1/2 or so) and without quite being royally impressed nor feeling much need to rush back in Elizabethan garb, mom and I found it to be worth our time--and the $20.95 discount ticket available at all area Walgreens.

The only show we specifically tried to see, and watched in its entirety, was a 1/2-hour Tournament Joust, which is really the only part of the Renaissance Faire directly analogous to Medieval Times.

This was fun and well-done, with some pro wrestling-style bravado from a few of the knights, and a pretty hostess on horseback.

Though armed with a daily schedule, we otherwise just went this-a-way and that-a-way to whatever caught our attention (and the constant clicking of my camera).

Thus, while live entertainment seems to be the foremost attraction of the Faire--save for the costume-adorned attendees themselves and many an ample bosom on display (among fans, performers and vendors)--I did not witness enough of any one act to thoroughly recap or review them individually.

As my photos here depict, we saw (parts of) the Sturdy Beggars Mud Show (featuring muddy men kissing audience members of both genders), the cheeky Dirk & Guido: The Swordsmen, a table-setting demonstration pertaining to a queen's visit, a quirky juggler & entertainer known as MooNiE the Magnif'Cent--embodied by Philip Earl Johnson, an actor I've seen in theatrical works--a Fire Whip Show, a trio of musicians dubbed the New Minstrel Revue and an endearing couple called Manticore Consort performing on historic instruments (primarily the Hurdy Gurdy) with rather enlightening explanations amid the old-tyme tunes.

While these weren't the type of acts I would pay $50 to see alone over the course of 90 minutes, all the performers were clearly quite talented in their respective realms and offered modes of entertainment I don't see every day.

Although it seems giant turkey legs are the preponderant gastronomic indulgence of the Bristol Renaissance Faire, mom and I both opted for Fish & Chips. (One minor critique of what I found to be rather well-appointed premises, not nearly as tacky or cheesy as could be imagined and with several nifty buildings representing Renaissance-era Britain, was rather limited seating for eating. Additional permanent restrooms, rather than porte-potties, would also be nice.)

I also enjoyed a large garlic pickle, some chocolate-covered maraschino cherries and a diet sassafras
(essentially root beer).

Not feeling any great need to purchase a sword, corset or Medieval garden gnome, I didn't do any shopping among the myriad merchants--most selling stuff you don't readily find elsewhere--but although forewarned about the cornucopia of cash-grabbing inducements, I found all the shops (a few explored, most not) to be a Faire part of the overall experience.

Even on Halloween I'm not prone to dressing up in costume, but I found it fun to see those decked out in their King Arthur, Queen Elizabeth, Lady Macbeth, court jester and dungeon master fineries--without feeling out-of-place in my t-shirt and shorts.

Had we chosen, we could have caught a few more shows or perhaps aimed to see some in full, but I feel we got a pretty good sense of the Bristol Renaissance Faire, even if we're clearly far from its most fervent fans.

I don't feel any great need to go again, yet imagine it could be pleasant to venture back in time along a variably inexact path.

As it was I'm glad I finally got to the Faire, and would recommend it to anyone seeking a few hours filled with something of a different kind, time and place.

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