I was browsing the internet looking for a day-trip location in Florida when I stumbled upon this awesome sounding fair in Gainesville. It was the 29th annual Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, which had a most interesting website and collection of events on display. After exploring many Baltic capitals in Europe last year, I realized my love for quaint medieval jewels that embrace their culture and share their fabulous histories with their visitors. My curiosity got the best of me and I decided to drive across the state and see for myself what this fair entailed.
By definition, LARP is “a type of interactive role-playing game in which the participants portray characters through physical action, often in costume and with props”. For two weeks, the fairgrounds in Gainesville transforms into a LARP dreamworld, bringing back historic days of the Middle Ages with medieval markets, games, food, and more attractions than you can shake a stick at. Over 55,000 guests, majority of them sporting medieval garb, will gather to share in the festivities over two weekends that include the following events, and then some.
- children’s activities
- jousting on horseback
- royal procession
- educational demonstrations presented by history re-enactors
- camel, horse, and elephant rides
- psychic readings, tarot cards, palms
- jugglers, jesters, magicians
- variety of musicians
- full flight falconry
- 9 stages with continuous entertainment
- talented artisans
- face paint and henna tattoos
- crossbow shooting and jousting lessons
- olde world games and rides
- food from around the world
- singers and dancers
- marketplace shopping
My friend, Lynne, and I entered the gates of the medieval faire held at Alachua County fairgrounds (2900 NE 39th Avenue) at the start of opening ceremony where singing, cheering, and many laughs were involved. We followed the hoards of people through the castle gates and into the enchanted kingdom where we were greeted by well over 100 costumed participants, including some stars of the show, the King and Queen, and Punch & Judy. This years theme is “In the Days of Robin Hood”.
You will be given an event schedule when you first arrive, but the signage was very good and displayed times in front of each location. The events are held at: Gypsy Camp, Royale Theatre, Tournament Field, Gate Theatre, King’s Table, Maypole, Blue Boar Inn, Pavillion Theatre, and Fooles’ Corner. The harpists and the knife throwers were my favorites. The fairground is large enough to hold the crowds and still offer plenty of room for maneuvering through the aisles. The fairgrounds are broken down into the marketplace stalls with rides & games scattered throughout the inside lane, and the educational center completely at the back right side of the field with blacksmithing, weaving, and much more. Food is on both sides, left and right, at the back of the venue, where you will be close in proximity to two major events: the tournament field stage and a ring in the center that featured jousters.
A snapshot into the concessions available for the lords and ladies will leave you drooling so I will mention only the giant turkey legs, Ole English fish & chips, ye olde funnel cake, gypsy rice bowls, her majesty’s buns, mini donuts, and blooming onions. I ordered the gypsy rice bowl with garlic chicken, black beans, sautéed onions & peppers, and tzatziki sauce. The price was $10 and it was filling, perfectly seasoned, and delicious, plus that included my bottled water. The yellow rice had an interesting mix of whole almonds, dried cranberries, lentils and seasonings. Plenty of seating is available on the picnic tables in the area. I have to say “well done” to the staff for having ample recycling bins and clean trash receptacles. Beer and wine are available for purchase at two locations.
As you stroll down the paths and explore all the marketplace treasures, you will be thrust into life as it was hundreds of year ago, along with a few imaginative creatures, complete with knights, fairies, wizards, bar wenches, and more. My guess would be that 1 out of every 3 people at the fair were dressed up in fantasy costuming, and all I kept thinking is that I wish I had some to join in all the excitement. Seeing all these unique things was quite an eye-opener for me and it was all in good fun and fellowship. It was the friendliest event I have ever attended; artisans and volunteers alike would make conversation or just shout a cheery hello or ask how your day was. I am a big fan of having my picture made with characters and everyone that I approached, both part of the fair and its patrons alike, were all too glad to accept my invitation, lean in, and genuinely smile. It is not often that a crowd at an event is this happy and willing to give their time without expecting monetary compensation in exchange for their participation.
Speaking of marketplace wares, there are way too many things to list but some of my favorites were the garlic seasonings, leather hats, pewter wine stoppers, and exquisite jewelry and cameos from Ladysmith. Other things of interest were the amazing costumes and corsets (some range up to $485!), flower halos, the coin mint, and the broom closet, featuring brooms with uniquely carved faces on the handles. Vendors from all over the United States were represented. A must-see is the Sea Dragon ride, located near the center middle, not for the ride itself, but for the playful and very acrobatic attendant who will awe the crowds with his crazy feats and tricks.
Some fun interactive events included jousting lessons, crossbow lessons, animal rides, tomato throwing, and boardwalk style games. They were all between $1 and $5 each, which I thought was very reasonable. The bump-a-monk game was too cute and the girl working the booth could sell ice to an igloo. Pay close attention for the troupes of actors, singers, and dancers who will float freely through the aisles of the fair bringing fun and frolic. I had my palm read from a third generation reader from Sarasota and she did not miss a single thing. I was bowled over from the clarity and exacts that she shared with me.
I read that the Hoggetowne Faire is one of north Florida’s most beloved events and having witnessed it for myself, I could not agree more. For only a single day, I was transported to a most interesting era full of excitement, splendor, and chivalry. The word that sums it all up better than the other is “unique”, and the feeling I walk away from the fair with is “hospitable”. This event was not limited to any sex, age, race, religion, shape, size, or ethnicity. It was simply a mixture of everyone; a certain age or sex did not tip the scale over the others. My interest totally peaked about all these new wonders I have discovered and I cannot wait to explore some additional events of this nature. Won’t you join me? The fair runs again this weekend, Jan 30-Feb 1. Be sure to mark it on your calendar and charge up your camera. You are going to have hundreds of pictures after attending this awesome event!
- Hint: Arrive early, prime parking fills up quickly.
- Tip: Bring the whole family; this event is fun for all ages.
- Hint: Food and drinks are allowed inside the fairgrounds so you can bring your own picnic to save money, but I highly recommend the delicious food choices.
- Bonus: Parking is free!
- Do not miss: The incredibly talented Boston Terrier who can do a variety of tricks including “plundering” in exchange for a high five and play the xylophone and sing. It is a real treat for dog lovers like myself.
Introduction to LARP: Larping started evolving in the 1980’s and can either be game-like or concerned with dramatic or artistic expression, with this particular festival being the latter. Larping can sometimes involve elaborate costumes or scenery, and is a happy mix of a game and form of theater. My personal definition would be an adult version of playing make-believe. Here is a most interesting post I found in making myself familiar with Larping.