By Laura Stoddard
The rumble of horses’ hooves and the clashing of swords; the enticing aroma of sweet treats and savory meats; a sky colored by bright ribbons and banners; a flamboyant cast of characters, including acrobats, artisans, comedians, pirates, musicians, craftsmen and royalty; jaw-dropping performances; sweet honey mead in ornate goblets; and possibly, more fun than you can handle in one day.
This is the Arizona Renaissance Festival, arguably one of Phoenix’s most anticipated and beloved annual events.
Now in its 30th year, this massive and spirited event aims to transport visitors away from the worries of today, and back in time to an age of magic and merriment. This is a space where anything goes, and all kinds are welcome (included the costumed), so dust off those faerie ears, polish up that armor, and get ready to embark upon an rousing adventure, whilst calling out hearty “Huzzah.”
The festival’s 30 acres, referred to as the Village, are jam-packed with fascinating sights and sounds. Children and adults will discover an abundance of shops, shows and rides. On opening weekend, the Royal Court appears in all their finery atop the castle’s front balustrade, and the King (with much pomp and circumstance) declares the festival officially open.
With 13 stages and more than 200 things to see and do, it’s tough to see it all in one day. Be sure to consult the Village map and schedule of events distributed at the drawbridge entrance so that you can plan to catch your favorites; be it the jousting tournament, the falconry demonstration, or the ever-popular wooing contest.
Some of the most popular characters to see (and sometimes interact with) include Daniel the Fox, who challenges anyone to engage in a battle of both wits and steel; Adam Crack, Guinness World Records winning Whip Master; and Shamus the Insulter, who does just what his name suggests, with great aplomb.
Shamus, real name Tony Miller, has been with the festival for 23 years, and delivers his witty barbs in such a manner that visitors enjoy being his target.
“My insults, while sometimes outrageous, always allow the people I’m insulting to enjoy (themselves),” Miller says. “I am a huge believer in insulting anyone, including children, the elderly, teenagers—everyone. I think all people deserve the chance to laugh and have a good time.”
Miller says he is inspired by simply observing people.
“I keep my ears open for lines between people in the real world, and I also do a lot of writing. I’m constantly working on lines, and ways to do insults (in a nonhurtful way). ”
Over the years, Miller has expanded his repertoire to include compliments, apologies and even marriage proposals.
“I guarantee a ‘Yes’ on marriage proposals or your money back,” he jokes. “But not longevity, that’s out of my purview.”
Whether it’s fighting off raucous pirates, riding in da Vinci’s flying machine, or filling your belly at the Dancing Pig Pub, the Arizona Renaissance Festival promises a fun-filled day in an enchanted time and place.
Arizona Renaissance Festival, 12601 U.S. 60 Highway, Gold Canyon, 520.463.2600, arizona.renfestinfo.com, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays February 10 to April 1, $14-26 daily passes, $70-180 season passes.