The Arizona Renaissance Festival promises a magical, medieval experience

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. Hilarious and jaw-dropping performances. Sweet honey mead in ornate goblets. This is the Arizona Renaissance Festival, arguably one of the Valley’s most anticipated annual events.

Now in its 30th year, this massive and spirited soiree 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 (including the costumed). So dust off those faerie ears, polish up that armor, and get ready to embark upon a 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 (February 10 and 11), the Royal Court appears in all its 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 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” Winrich, Guinness World Records-holding Whip Master; and Shamus the Insulter, who does just what his name suggests, with great aplomb.

Shamus, whose real is 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 non-hurtful 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, you’re sure to have a fun-filled day in an enchanted time and place at the Arizona Renaissance Festival.