’m squashed into half of a two-
person seat on a bright yellow Revisiting history
school bus. It’s hot, it’s crowded, Rick Smith is one of the faire’s original
and people keep tripping over my founders. His volunteer organization ran
sword, which is sticking through the annual event for eight or nine years,
my belt and into the aisle. I haven’t found until “the wheels started coming off,” he
an easy way to sit with it. I could lay it says. “We didn’t want to do it anymore,
flat across my lap, but there’s no way I can but we didn’t want to see it die.”
stand up now and adjust it without poking Enter Larry Gunn and Mickie Perez. As
the guy behind me in the eye or smacking the local faire producers were running out
the little girl with fairy wings in the face. So of steam, Gunn and Perez were incorporat-
I just hold it as close to my leg as possible ing History Revisited, a nonprofit dedicated
and smile apologetically at the people whose to teaching history in a way no classroom
shins it scrapes against as they walk past. ever could. They bought the faire and have
I’m dressed like a pirate. And I’m not been running it with lots of help ever since.
the only passenger struggling with a 16th- Gunn produces the faire and is president
century wardrobe malfunction. Most of of History Revisited. Perez is chair of the
the crowd is wearing shorts, T-shirts, and History Revisited board and the faire’s
sunglasses, but a goodly few are decked entertainment coordinator. Most of the rest
out in period garb. There are tall boots of the board, the coordinators, and the offi-
and floppy hats and a woman or two bust- cers live in SLO County. Smith agreed to
ing out of a tightly laced bodice. handle the faire’s publicity for a year, and is
I’m on my way to the Central Coast still doing it 15 years later.
Renaissance Festival. We all are. My car “It’s like my baby,” he says in a phone
is behind me, parked in a lot at Cuesta interview. “I have a hard time letting go.”
College; my wife is next to me, dressed like Each year, Gunn and Perez—both retired
a peasant of some sort; and the fictional from the building inspection department
Elizabethan market village of Donnybrook in Contra Costa County—show up a week
is ahead of me, temporarily rising out of or so early to start the construction and
nothing to fill El Chorro Regional Park like be sure the faire is up and running by the
San Luis Obispo’s own Brigadoon. EARL IN THE HEAT third full weekend in July.
My wife and I have visited several times Rydell Downward This year, I drive out to their camp-
before, almost always in costume, so we’re portrays the Earl of site in El Chorro Regional Park to catch
no strangers to the scene. In fact, once we Leicester at the Central them before the hammers start pounding.
get there, I almost immediately recognize Coast Renaissance
Festival. Many of the
Their home away from home is a Dodge
a bare-chested guy—though I think he Pleasure-Way van and a blue E-Z Up
had fangs last year. say they used to play awning—a far cry from the canvas walls
The path we follow meanders pur- nobles, but turned to and fluttering pennants of the faire itself.
posefully between alehouses and vendor peasant costumes Gunn meets me and soon has a beer in
booths, gaudy stages and small petting because they’re more hand. He’s a large man with a mustache, a
zoos, food stalls and guild encampments. comfortable in the heat.
jovial personality, and a lot of hats—liter-
A few days earlier, this was a large, bare ally. Throughout his time-traveling life,
swath of browning grass punctuated by he and Perez have visited, participated in,
playground equipment and a couple of PHOTO BY RICK SMITH and/or dressed up for Dickens fairs, Old
large climbing rocks that look like a rudi- California events, Civil War re-creations,
mentary attempt at a mini Stonehenge. A
and—of course—Renaissance festivals.
few days from now, the park will return “Any of these period events, it gives
to its original state—a mite trampled, but us a chance to escape reality and go into
free of tents and structures. another world, how people used to live,”
But for now, the air is charged with music Perez says.
and voices. The scent of sizzling meat mixes Their main event, though, is the
with the pungent aroma of live goats and— Central Coast faire. They also put
from a distance—horses. Passersby nod at together workshops so kids can learn
each other. Gangly pre-teens gawk at glitter- about Renaissance life.
ing daggers. A man shackled to a tree growls Now, Gunn is sporting sunglasses, a
and lunges at people as they walk past. I wide-brimmed hat, and a Hawaiian-type
remember him, too—I think his chains are Visit the Renaissance without leaving print shirt with wine bottles instead of
a gimmick to get him free beer. Then two
women strolling arm-in-arm catch my eye. the Central Coast or the 21st Century flowers or hula dancers. He looks relaxed,
but keeps jumping up to answer his cell
They were here before, but maybe in differ- phone or tweak the campsite to make it
ent costumes? BY RYAN MILLER
more comfortable. The first of the volun-
The familiar faces get me thinking: teers are rolling in, too.
What drives people to come in character kards and adding letters to words—like idea is planted in my head, and it ger- “We have 800 participants,” Perez says.
to the faire year after year, braving the “goode” and “olde”—for two decades or minates until now, July of 2007. Who Gunn explains that volunteers get into the
late-July heat and sometimes puzzled more. I wear a costume and all, but many makes this all happen? What brings faire for free, though many of the helpers
stares of khaki-shorts-wearing visitors? I of the regulars have full-on alternate these hardest of the die-hard re-cre- who create the temporary market village
know why I come, or at least I have some personas with richly devel- ationists back year after are members of guilds—formal knots of
idea. It’s fun to every once in a while oped histories, elaborate year? What drives them people who cooperatively pretend to be
throw off my everyday work clothes and outfits, and scores of to not just dress up, members of a particular social group or
slide on a puffy shirt and rough leather friends who meet but literally live for culture. There are peasants. Nobles. Scots.
vest, and thereby slide into an alternate
reality. I’ve been known to dress up to see
regularly to develop Hear ye, hear ye a couple of days as Gypsies. Merchants. Militarists. Italians.
new characters or This year’s Central Coast Renaissance Festival earls and fishmon- Take your pick.
the occasional movie (including life jack- further embroider is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on July 21 and 10 a.m. to gers? And what’s Perez, in a vivid blue shirt and hoop ear-
ets for Titanic), but some of these people old ones. 5 p.m. on July 22 at El Chorro Park on Highway 1, the deal with that rings, explains that they try to keep the
have been drinking out of pewter tan- A seed of an across from Cuesta College. Tickets cost $14 for guy’s fangs? history depicted at the faire as authentic as
$10 for seniors, and
$8 for kids, ages 6 to
12. A two-day adult pass is $22. Parking is $1 per
vehicle, and guests get a free bus ride from the
parking lot to the entrance gate.
PHOTO BY RYAN MILLER
possible—though the edges of real- Nissan Altima baseball cap.
ity sometimes get fudged for fun.
Take the Scots. They weren’t even
Teubner sometimes goes by the
name of Winston Waters. He’s the Get dressed
The Peasant Guild of San Luis Obispo is
around at the time this festival peasant I found at Farmers’ Market. looking for actors, singers, and all-around fun
is set, Perez points out, but still, Winston, Teubner explains on a people to participate. For more information,
“everybody wants to be a Scot.” break, used to be a sailor. Now the call 466-9436 or e-mail email@example.com.
“We have to limit them here,” she English peasant sings and drinks
says, noting that History Revisited and entertains the crowds at the everyday life. In fact, guild members have
allows two Scots groups to par- market faire. His fellow guild mem- a term for un-costumed customers who
ticipate, but there are more than a bers are all English peasants. They visit the faire: Mundanes. Then there are
dozen waiting to get in. sing, stagger though the streets, the people who wander the stalls dressed
Gunn says that administrators, play games, hold parades, and as Klingons.
doctors, lawyers, and the like tend make rude sheep sounds at the “And they thought we were weird,”
to gravitate toward acting in the Scots. Teubner explains the peas- Teubner says.
lower classes. Burger flippers, gar- ants as the “real people” who live
bage collectors, and members of
similar professions don outfits that
in the fictional village where the
market is set up.
Bottom of the class
inspire groveling. As for themselves, “Everything we do is part of the Like most of the faire folks interviewed
Gunn and Perez play a variety of act,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun, espe- for this article, publicist Smith mostly
characters that span the socio-eco-
cially if you are really into history.” plays a peasant.
Teubner plays “I used to be the queen’s master of
nomic spectrum. They used to regu- the character of Teubner speaks from experi-
larly dress up as full nobles. ence. He’s been attending faires revels,” he says. “That’s a higher-class
“But you know, you don’t want a former sailor since 1981, and came into the local costume, and it’s not as comfortable …
to be a noble in San Luis Obispo in who sings and peasant guild through his daugh- When we started this faire, I was the Earl
July,” Gunn says. interacts with
ter, who, as a minor, needed to be of Leicester, the queen’s right-hand man.”
He’s been the mayor a couple of
visitors to the
accompanied by an adult. She’s no The bottom rung of the social ladder
Central Coast seems to be where the comfort-seekers
times, but he and Perez often choose Renaissance longer in the guild, but he’s still
peasant personas now. The limit- around, plus he’s on the History settle. Maybe it is the heat. Or maybe it’s
ing factor is the heat, which is a Revisited board. And he’s the the fact that you can get away with more if
bit of an anachronism itself—one Peasant Guild’s guildmaster. you’re not royalty. One year, Smith walked
that mercilessly beats down on the Eventually I find the people I’m looking “I’ve been doing this faire as an around trying to sell rotten rutabagas and
velvet-draped, multiple-layer-wearing for, tucked between Democrats seeking actor, a participant, for 12 years,” he says. cabbages. Other years, people would offer
upper class. Renaissance England didn’t new voters and a bright booth advertising Amy Underwood, another peasant help- fish or sheep’s heads.
see Mediterranean summers, but the faire some feature of EOC Health Services. ing to set up the faire, explains that years “It adds authenticity,” Smith says.
is when and where the faire is, and History There’s a man leaning on a walking of guild activities require ingenuity. “Where else in your life could you walk
Revisited can’t control the sun. Thus, you’ll stick, politely nodding to passersby. “You come up with new ideas, new around with a plate full of entrails and try
find monstrous sno-cone-style ice-slush There’s a woman sitting to one side things to do,” she says. to sell them to people?”
creations for cooling off at the festival— munching on clam chowder in a bread At one time, the Peasant Guild would The answer is obvious: Nowhere.
another out-of-period allowance, but one bowl. Capped heads are bobbing to attend 10 faires a year. Now they’re down “Most of us have pretty normal lives,
that not many people argue against. Huge music from the nearby Soulamente, to two or three, including an Ojai pirate but for one weekend, you can go out there
turkey legs don’t raise much of a fuss either, which is belting out a particularly rous- faire—some of the peasants do double and put on a costume and be someone
despite the fact that mutton is a more ing “Lady Marmalade.” duty as seafaring plunderers. else,” Smith says. “I think it’s kind of
appropriate choice for the era. I pick out a man I recognize from vis- The Peasant Guild averages between 35 healthy for most people.
While we’re on the subject of wrinkles its to faires past. He’s got long hair, a full and 50 members, with a core group of about “The more we can make it real … the
in time, I ask about the fangs. Perez nods beard, and a wooden sign around his neck 15 or 20 that’s practically a family. They lose more fun it is for the participants, too,” he
with sympathy. Pointy teeth were a fad that reads “Lord Mayor.” a couple of people each year, but they tend continues. “You can feel it when you’ve got
at the faire one year, she explains. It was I clear my throat and deliver what feels to gain a few, too. Teubner says that guilds somebody caught up in the fantasy.”
horns another year. And wings some- like a secret password, one that will open are a good fit for historical enthusiasts, bud- And that fantasy extends beyond what
times make the rounds. Fantasy fans who doors to me, doors that lead into other ding actors and performers, and introverts the public can see. When the gates close
quote Tolkien while playing Dungeons eras, other timelines, other worlds: “I’m who want to be extroverts. and the last bus takes the last of the
and Dragons are an obvious presence. It’s looking for the Liar of the Shire.” There are a lot of computer geeks, too, Mundanes back to their cars, the illusion
unavoidable, but there’s no harm, no foul. The man fixes me with an intent gaze he says. of a 16th-century market village fills the
There are still plenty of authentic black- and flips his sign around to reveal the No matter the reason, the whole experi- growing dark.
smiths and weavers and unchoreographed title I’m seeking. He’s busy drumming ence, Teubner says, is to get away from “A lot of them don’t take their costumes
full-contact jousts—this year from the up support for the faire and his off on Saturday night,” Smith says of the
Knights of the Crimson Rose, Perez says. guild, so I take a business card guild members and other participants.
from him (“Do you know some- “Once the public’s gone, it’s like their vil-
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE KNIGHTS OF THE CRIMSON ROSE
There are also historical standards with
which guilds must comply, but the board body that is just aching to dress lage. People just wander around in their
is less concerned with becoming a sort of up in funny looking clothes cloaks and night clothes and pretend it’s all
timeline Gestapo and more concerned with in front of faire customers and real. It’s magical.”
keeping the event out of the commercial hang out with the coolest group Even as a casual visitor to the faire
realm, which has taken over some other of people?” it says) and make each year, I can sense that slightly
faires we won’t mention. In other words, plans to meet him at the faire supernatural element. It’s a little intoxi-
History Revisited isn’t into selling T-shirts or site on Saturday, a week before cating, a little tempting. Sure, I pull on
hats or little plastic knight figurines. the gates open. boots and wrangle a wayward sword at
I have more questions, but to learn The weekend rolls around, and my hip each year, but I certainly don’t
more about the guilds themselves—the I return to El Chorro park. I see have an alternate persona. I can put on
dramatic DNA of the faire—Gunn sug- a car with a “Pirate Girl” sticker. whatever costume I want, but I’m still
gests that I visit Thursday night Farmers’ I notice a higher percentage of technically an outsider. A visitor. A
Market in San Luis Obispo. men with ponytails and bristly Mundane in pirate’s clothing.
facial hair than I might on an Do I have what it takes to make that
average city block. Volunteers extra step, that move from observer to
Peasant hunting have stretched hundreds and participant? A few of the peasants I talked
I’m looking for the Liar of the Shire. hundreds of feet of burlap to for this story think so. They can see me
Gunn told me that I would find the lead- around the park, creating tan teetering on the edge, they say. Just a little
er of the local Peasant Guild at the market. walls that enclose the faire and push, and I’ll land with both feet firmly in
So I stalk up and down Higuera, brighten- keep out the modern world. A KNIGHT OUT The the 16th century.
ing when I glimpse some out-of-place cos- Gunn is there, raising poles Knights of the Crimson We’ll see what ultimately happens, but it
Rose—that’s Sir Tyler sounds like a goode idea to me. ∆
tumes—only to resume my search when to create the mayor’s tent with on the horse—will bring
the group bursts into a rousing rendition a couple of other men. One of full-contact jousting to
of “I Won’t Grow Up” to advertise Kelrik them is Michael Teubner, his the faire this year. Editor Ryan Miller can be reached at
Productions’ staging of Peter Pan. long hair tucked into a gray firstname.lastname@example.org.