The Colorado Renaissance Festival straddles the line between satisfying and subverting historical expectations. The eight-weekend, rain-or-shine celebration has all the anticipated 16th-century trimmings - a royal court, turkey legs, nobility dressed in flowing garments. Also, fairies and Japanese pottery.
"People come out, and they don't know what to expect," says Marketing Director Jim Paradise Jr. "When they experience the unexpected, it's so amazing that it brings them back."
The fair, now in its 41st year, averages 200,000 peopleover 16 days. Themed weekends ensure that repeat visits elicit different experiences. This year's themes range from "Love and Romance" to "Pirate Invasion," a festival favorite featuring a swashbuckling sing-along.
"Everything we do is based on fan-patron interaction," Paradise says. "We like, and our performers do a great job of, making the patrons a part of what they do."
Beggars, fairies and nobility wander the streets under the watchful eyes of Good King Henry and Fair Queen Anne. The Kingdom of Larkspur Shire is populated with about 60 cast members who speak in Elizabethan English, don intricate costumes and interact with patrons.
"I think people are surprised at how authentic it is and how everybody stays in character all day long," says John Bryan, who does double duty as Good King Henry and cast director. "You're standing behind someone who doesn't know you're there, and they're talking to one of their friends on cast in Elizabethan English. It's 10 hours of being another person."
Acts perform on the festival's 10 stages throughout the day. Entertainment includes the musical styling of a medieval instrument made of 4 tons of bells, jousting and an endangered cat show. The artisans' market is a similar grab bag of surprises. More than 200 vendors sell everything from themed clothing to candles to swords. You also can buy the aforementioned turkey legs and other food.
"The first time I went, I had no idea what to expect," Bryan says. "What I found was a fantasy step back in time."