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What's Up Magazine

The Maryland Renaissance Festival | Photographic Memories

Aug 05, 2018 12:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo

In the 40 plus years since its inception, the Maryland Renaissance Festival has become a time-honored tradition for the many families and merry enthusiasts who flock to the Crownsville, Maryland grounds each August through October to enjoy an escape from reality. Sword wielding reenactors, stage performing jesters, Lancelot-like jousting contests, cheesecake on a stick, beer quaffing queens, and all matter of traditional arts and goods embody the atmosphere, which, on a sunny autumn day, can feel magical. 

This year, the 42nd season of the festival, continues to follow the storyline of Henry VIII in the year 1529. “The story progresses through all his reign and all six of his wives. This year finds the festival in its third progression, with the King wanting his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled so he can wed the bewitching Anne Boleyn,” reads the official declaration of the festival.

It continues, “With his courtiers in tow, Henry has come to the countryside to visit Revel Grove. Traveling with his courtiers is the youthful and beauteous Anne Boleyn who has caught the eye of His Majesty. Revel Grove is celebrating its harvest festival with much gayety and merriment; however, Henry is privately concerned. Although he has a daughter, he ponders who will reign after his time on the throne, should he have married his brother’s widow, and what opportunities has he squandered. His Majesty undertakes plans to alter the course of England.”

Spread throughout 27 acres, “Revel Grove” offers plenty to explore. The sights, sounds, smells, and all manner of merriment provide a sensory immersion unlike any other. What’s Up? Media’s original photographer and longstanding contributor Larry French has immersed himself in the culture of the Renaissance Festival for the past several years. Attending each weekend of the season, with camera in hand, French has captured a cacophony of characters, color, and myriad attractions.

“What first attracted me was the simple fact that it exists,” French explains. “I went to my first renn fest years ago in upstate New York and was immediately hooked. The energy, the zaniness, the carnival atmosphere. The highest quality of the craftsmen, from the leather to the glass to the ironwork and everything else. These people are the best, and many have made costumes and swords for the movie industry.” 

“I started photographing it two years ago after dressing up for a few years because I needed something to do beyond just wandering around, as I always have a season pass,” French adds. “As I had become a villager after a few years and gotten to know many of the craftsmen and performers, my professional side started to kick in and I realized the opportunity to make amazing photographs. 

“That said, I look for the play of light. The contrast between light and dark, shadows and highlights. There are a million things going on at the fair, and I don’t really choose what I shoot. I let the light dictate that, be it a performance, a craftsman, the crowd, what have you. So essentially, I look at what the light is doing and follow it around all day. My guide is the renaissance painters, and the concept of chiaroscuro.”

One can be all but assured of seeing French in action this festival season, for which the trumpets herald for the first time on August 25th and continues Saturdays and Sundays and Labor Day Monday through October 21st.—James Houck 


2018 Maryland Renaissance Festival

Special Themed Weekends

Every one of the nine weekends of the Maryland Renaissance Festival is filled with more than 200 performers entertaining on ten stages, joust tournament field and streets of the 16th century English village. Seven weekends include additional performers or special guests to create additional themed Special Event Weekends.

8.25 and 8.26 Children's Weekend 

One child aged 7 through 15 is admitted free with each adult ticket purchased. Children 6 and under are always free!

9.3 Seniors Day! (Monday)  

All wise elders 62 and older are admitted free.

9.8 and 9.9 Romance Weekend

Saturday: Various shows are ASL interpreted. Please visit Guest Services at the Festival for complete listings and a Singles Party for those 21 and older. Sunday: Renewal of Vows ceremony, all couples are welcome to reaffirm their troth to one another. Please visit the website for details

9.15 and 9.16 Celtic Celebration 

In addition to the entertainment throughout the village additional music and merriment with a Celtic flare.

9.23 and 9.24 

Special guests the UK vocal ensemble Mediaeval Baebes perform throughout the weekend. The Baebes are currently featured on the Emmy nominated title track of the hit TV show Victoria.

9.29 and 9.30 Pirate Weekend! 

Enjoy rousing special guests on stage and in taverns. Show up as your favorite pirate.

10.7 and 10.8 Shakespeare Weekend 

A tribute, The Bard, at various stages and path shows throughout each day. Also Sunday, various shows are ASL interpreted. Please visit Guest Services for complete listings.

Johnny Fox Remembered

The late Johnny Fox, who passed away in December of last year from liver cancer, was adored by fans and revered by his peers at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. His whimsical charm was unparalleled among the fair’s performers, of which he was the longest running for 37 years. The 2017 fair season was his swan song and photographer Larry French captured his last performances, as well as Fox’s genuine camaraderie among denizens of fans. 

“I came to know him a bit this past season, through my photography,” French says. “I sat in the front row for 24 or 25 of Johnny’s shows last season, becoming invisible to him but also someone he knew, and thusly could just keep shooting, and this picture [praying] was essentially the end result. 

“I think it was an intensely private moment he shared with and sent out to everyone in attendance. Only Johnny knows what he was feeling, but he did this in full view of the audience at the end of his first performance on the last day. I think he knew this was his last day at the fair, ever, and was feeling every moment of all his years performing there and elsewhere, with thanks and gratitude for all of it, in this moment. In a way, it was like he was signing off.

“Earning his trust was a big deal for me, as I shoot the fair completely as a personal project, to give back what the fair has given me; a magical place to go during the end of summer with a positive energy that enriches the soul.”