Lake Norman & Mooresville

Escape from modern times at Carolina Renaissance Festival

It is officially fall. That means it is time again for the Carolina Renaissance Festival in Huntersville.

The event begins its 21st year as a staple of regional entertainment when it opens Oct. 4. Approximately 180,000 people, many of whom wear costumes and participate in the atmosphere, attend the 16th-century, medieval-style event during the eight weekends it is open, festival producer Jeff Siegel said.

The season will last until Nov. 23. The festival will be open Saturdays and Sundays.

Siegel, who began the festival in 1994 and has lived in Cornelius, has watched the event grow to be one of the largest Renaissance fairs nationwide.

He said the number of artisan vendors has nearly doubled since the earliest festivals, and the number of entertainers and regional participants has also grown substantially.

This year, there will be about 100 vendors of all types of crafts and foods and more than 500 costumed characters to interact with from all walks of medieval society and imagination – from fairies and royalty to wenches and peasants.

A few new personalities will be introduced for 2014, such as a singing comedy troupe that does a medieval spoof on “Charlie’s Angels” and a fairy friend of the well-known Twig the Fairy, who is loved by many of the youngest attendants of the festival.

There will be 11 stages with scheduled comedy, live music, dance and entertainment.

The festival, which started with 6 acres of exhibits in 1994, has expanded to more than 20 acres.

It offers a wide variety of entertainment, craft and novelty vendors, games, food and beverages, wandering characters, live music, jousting, a petting zoo, medieval experiences like rotten-tomato throwing and dungeon tours, human-powered rides – including what is claimed to be the world’s largest rocking horse – and more.

“Our audience enjoys the charming feel of the pretend village, the entrepreneurial nature of the artists, the fun and carefree energy of the performers and the bit of escapism so often necessary in these complicated modern times,” said Siegel.

Siegel believes the unique “Village of Fairhaven” experience is what has grown the festival so successfully.

“Our participants tell us they have a great experience with our staff and the show,” he said.

“Our audience is happy with the quality of the production and our eagerness to make the experience a good value that includes discounted rates and events to assist those with less disposable income.”

Some of the Carolina Renaissance Festival’s success may also be due to location. Siegel said North Carolina had frequently been suggested as a place that would be appropriate for and receptive to this type of event when he started it.

“Its reputation for fine hand crafts and extensive folk music communities, along with the beauty of the N.C. forest in the fall, all contributed to North Carolina being a prime candidate for a beautiful countryside outdoor fair,” he said.

“North Carolina offered a real Sherwood Forest type of setting for a European-style of festival.”

Siegel also believes the festival provides an environment for parents to connect with their children while also educating children about medieval life. The festival has existed for a generation, long enough for locals who attended as children to now take their own children and share the same excitement and magic they felt years ago – and now on a larger scale.

“Kids have a great time with the added bonus that they also have opportunity to learn,” Siegel said.

“Entertainment becomes a dash of education with a spoon full of honey… or a bite of a giant turkey leg!”

The festival is working to rearrange some of the entertainment, add another stage, add more activities for children, and to improve the “privies,” among other things, for the 2015 season.

The Carolina Renaissance Festival also gives back to the community by donating $10,000 worth of tickets to nonprofit organizations each year for use in fundraising, such as raffles, silent auctions and as prizes. A few of the organizations the festival donates to include the local chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Parker Autism Foundation, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and United Way of Central Carolinas.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer