For four glorious weekends each May, the grounds of Castle Gwynn in Arrington, TN are magically transformed to become the 16th century village of Covington Glen, as the Tennessee Renaissance Festival comes to town. After many years of intending (but failing) to attend, I finally made the trip this year. My royal decree? This is one event near Nashville that Sounds Like Fun for young & old, hipster & redneck, fantasy buff & history buff. In fact, the crowd last Sunday was one of the most diverse I can recall seeing at a single event. Adult admission is $20 a head ($18 if purchased in advance); Children ages 6-12 can enter for $7 apiece. Parking is free. (You read that right. It’s free!)
Here are my top 6 suggestions for enjoying yourself at the Renaissance Festival:
- Bring your kids – in costume! Break out parts of last year’s Halloween costume and spend a little time and creative energy turning it into a Renaissance-era masterpiece. Fortunately, there’s a lot of leeway in this genre – your child can come as a fairy or gnome, or Viking or pirate, or princess or wildling or wizard. You can buy face paint, elf ears, crowns … really anything you might need to complete the look. There’s a children’s costume contest each festival afternoon at 12:30. Most entertainment is G-rated; the bawdier stuff will go right over the little kids’ heads. For bigger kids, there are human-powered carnival rides that look every bit as exciting and dizzying as the Tilt-A-Whirl at the State Fair.
- Come in costume yourself! The family that plays together stays together, y’all. Imagine your child’s (or grandchild’s) delight when the whole family unit comes to the Renaissance Festival dressed up in the spirit of fun. I’m not saying that renting a costume is necessary, but some riding boots, a vest and a jaunty cap can transform Dad into a respectable tradesman; Mom almost certainly has a maxi skirt and a tunic top that be pulled into service for the day. You won’t be the only adults dressed up – in fact, so many people dress up for this that it can be difficult to tell the citizens of Covington Glen from the visitors!
- Eat a smoked turkey leg. It’s messy, it’s hot, it’s primal. (It’s also gluten-free, carb-free and Paleo!) There is an abundance of standard carnival food choices, so if you really must have a hamburger or pizza, you’ll find it. But I do recommend gnawing on a $9 smoked turkey leg to help you get into the spirit of the day. And, if you’re over age 21, wash it down with a cold beer or hard cider. ($6; $7 premium brands)
- Watch the shows. You could easily spend an entire day at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival and not see the same show twice. Slapstick comedies, entertaining characters, exciting sporting events and talented musicians fill the town. The shows begin on time, so check the schedule or you may miss something!
- Be comfortable. Fortunately, there’s plenty of tree cover in Covington Glen, so you don’t have to spend your day roasting in the strong May sunshine. The jousting grounds has no tree cover, so you may want to bring (or buy) a pretty umbrella to shade yourself while watching – but the rest of the festival grounds are shady and relatively cool. The grounds are also a bit hilly, though – the few women I saw wearing heels looked as if they were regretting that decision.
- Obey the (very reasonable) rules. No pets, no firearms, no outside food or beverages. Swords or knives worn as part of a costume must be “peace tied.” Parents should take steps to make sure their children can contact them in case they get separated.
I know I’ll be back to the Tennessee Renaissance Festival – I hope to see you there! (I’ll be one of the ones wearing elf ears.)