Shelby Farms will be transformed into the Shire of Shelby, circa 1576, this weekend (August 22nd-23rd) and next (August 29th-30th) during the first-annual Mid-South Renaissance Faire.
The “pleasure faire,” as they were called back in the day, will be set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. She and her entourage are traveling through the fictional countryside when they stop for a rest in the Shire of Shelby, and the local villagers throw a festival in her honor.
It’s at that fest that modern-day Memphians are invited to experience life as it was in the 16th century. The city’s first-ever Ren Faire will feature archery, full-contact jousting and other fighting demonstrations, and merchants peddling wares that range from soaps to swords. Attendees can play historical games, such as horseshoes, Jacob’s ladder, and even something called “Veggie Revenge,” where people hurl tomatoes at a man as he hurls insults at the crowd.
And, of course, there will be turkey legs, provided by Big Guns BBQ. Sled Dogs will be peddling steak on a stake and meat pies, but they’ll have some more traditional fair food, too (funnel cakes, burgers, quesadillas). Those who would prefer less-indulgent modern fare — smoothies, chicken salad, hummus, iced coffee — will find plenty to eat at Bella Café’s booth.
It wouldn’t be a pleasure faire without plenty of mead and beer. Harp, Guinness, PBR, and other beers will be available, and the Memphis Roller Derby is sponsoring a mead (honey wine) tent. Patrons can opt to purchase a handmade stoneware souvenir beer stein or goblet.
The faire will be divided into themed areas, such as the Champion’s Gap, where kids and adults can pay to learn basic archery skills. Or patrons can sit back and watch fighting demos by members of Paragon Jousting and the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). SCA members will also be demonstrating 16th-century arts and sciences near the queen’s pavilion.
“In the queen’s pavilion — Gloriana’s Glade — you’ll be able to learn Elizabethan dancing. We’ll have John Ross, a guitar professor at Rhodes College, playing lute,” said Mid-South Renaissance Faire founder Beth Kitchen.
Faire-goers will have a chance to meet with the queen, who is being played by local drama teacher Jennifer Wood-Bowien.
Another area of the faire — The Fairy Queen’s Grove — will feature storytelling, singing, and maypole-winding. An area of the festival dubbed the Silk Road will feature cultural highlights, such as henna and belly dancing, from Middle Eastern and Asian countries. And the Mid-South Buccaneers will be repping the pirate life in Sea Beggar’s Bay.
Kitchen got the idea to host a renaissance faire here after visiting large-scale faires in other cities.
“I started my own henna body art company, and I was doing festivals. I got pretty festival-savvy, and I love ren faires. But we didn’t have one here, so I started researching,” Kitchen said. “And then a friend of mine, Aundrea Lowery, posted an innocent Facebook post last October saying she needed a ren faire in her life.”
And thus, the seed was planted. After months of planning, the Memphis faire is finally kicking off. Kitchen says costumes aren’t required, but she anticipates that a good number of attendees will be decked out in period-appropriate attire.
But for those who don’t own renaissance-era clothing, there will be on-site vendors selling (and some even renting) costumes.
The festival will take place at Shelby Farms from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday through Sunday, August 22nd-23rd and 29th-30th. Entry is $13 per day for adults, $8 per day for kids ages 6-12, and free to kids under 5. Four-day passes for adults are selling for $35 or $20 for kids.