Faire takes a trip back in time

Annual Hoggetowne Medieval Faire offers variety of events that highlight the Middle Ages


Andrew Lee of Minneapolis blows out a flaming torch following his performance as Jamison the Juggler during School Day at the 2010 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, when more than 8,000 school children and chaperones from 21 counties around the state attended the festival.

DOUG FINGER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER/FILE
Published: Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 11:34 a.m.

Tucked up in the northeast corner of Gainesville, magic happens — at least it does for two weekends out of the year.

Facts

25th Annual Hoggetowne Medieval Faire

What: Festival celebrating the Middle Ages with costumed performers, jousting, living chess game, artisans marketplace, food and more.
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Feb. 5-6; 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. on School Day, Feb. 4.
Where: Alachua County Fairgrounds, 2900 NE 39th Ave., next to Gainesville Regional Airport.
Tickets: $14 adults, $7 ages 5-17, free for ages 4; tickets half-price on Feb. 4.
Information: 334-ARTS or www.gvlculturalaffairs.org.

Trumpets blast. Children laugh. Jugglers perform. Knights joust. Turkey legs are there for taking. It's the season of the 25th Annual Hoggetowne Medieval Faire.

Taking over the Alachua County Fairgrounds starting Saturday and continuing Sunday and Feb. 4-6, the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire is the city's and the Southeast's premier medieval marketplace with hundreds of artisans, world-class performers and a variety of entertainers.



“It's a great escape from reality,” says Linda Piper, Hoggetowne Medieval Faire coordinator. “During these complicated times, you can step back into a time period that is so very simple.”

This is Piper's 17th year producing the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, and she's seen it grow to become a nationally ranked renaissance festival. When once there was only three stages, 100 artisans and 3,000 visitors a day, the fair now hosts eight stages of entertainment and brings in 160 artisans from around the country and more than 50,000 guests each year.

“It's like going to Disney World on the biggest day of the year,” Piper says.

It's almost too big now because parking has become one of its main problems, but Piper recommends getting there at 10 a.m. to avoid traffic jams and long lines.

Arriving early also gives you the opportunity to see the gates open, with all of the entertainers — from jugglers and belly dancers to jousters and comedians — up front welcoming and greeting the visitors into their colorful era of time.

“Words cannot explain the excitement,” Piper says. “The sites, sounds, smells; it's sensory overload.”

Piper describes the Faire as the Hoggetowne reunion for the artisans that come to sell and showcase their crafts, including weaving, blacksmithing, jewelry making, leather working, woodcarving and glass blowing.

“It's like coming home to family,” she says.

For them, this is the first big renaissance fair of the year, kicking off a 10-month season of traveling across the country. This year, 20 new artisans will be joining the veterans.

War Horse Farm is no stranger to this community. President Kelley Bailey and wife, Barbara, have been bringing their jousting horses and craft booths to Hoggetowne for the past 13 years.

“The primary reason we keep coming back is because they've always been very hospitable and accommodating,” Kelly says. “We are truly appreciative of what they're doing, which goes a long way to making us happy.”

The husband-and-wife business has been in the war horse business for 31 years, so it was only natural they make the three-hour trek from Sarasota each year to participate in Hoggetowne. The couple even met at a renaissance fair, where she was manning a craft booth and he was tending to horses. That foundation grew into a strong partnership.

Each day at the fair, the horses do two jousts and one gaming show in which knights slash cabbages and apples to hone their hand-eye coordination.

The Bailey's farm is home to nine draft horses and six of them are being showcased in the joust at the fair. Visitors are also able to greet the horses as well as take jousting lessons with padded jousts and practice armor.

“The horses are the real stars of the show,” Barbara Bailey says.

The Hoggetowne Medieval Faire prides itself on being a family friendly event. Just one thing that they do for children is allow them to kneel before the royal king and queen of the fair and get knighted.

Another event is School Day on Feb. 4, the sole Friday of the run when 6,000 preregistered school children from 24 counties will come to Hoggetowne for a field trip and a day of face painting, hair braiding and crafting. And for the adults, general admission on School Day is all half-priced.

Even though the Hoggetowne Faire is put on by the City of Gainesville Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, it's entirely funded by the revenue from admission tickets, which, at $14 for adults, is trumpeted as a steal compared to similar festivals with prices averaging $20-$26, Piper says.

“We want to keep our ticket prices low enough so they have money to spend on the artisans so they come back every year,” she says. “That's what makes this so successful.”

Still, the visitors and the North Central Florida community are what keep the fair thriving, with 56 percent of the visitors coming from outside the Alachua County lines.

“They live for this event,” Piper says.

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