While we were waiting for the truck to be fixed, we decided to visit the Ohio Ren fest. In 1990, when we were newly married, someone built a permanent outdoor venue for a renaissance festival in the small town of Waynesville, Ohio. It seemed crazy at the time because there was next to nothing in this farm town, but it’s proximity to both Cincinnati and Columbus made the crazy idea work. Plus there were lots of people in our generation who loved cosplay (although it wasn’t called that back then) and loved to dress to come to the venue.
When our kids were small, we made the hour drive to visit the fest and although it was an expensive day it was always worth it. Many people we knew went religiously every year but for us it was only something we felt we could splurge on occasionally. Once we moved to New England, we never found anything quite like it, so it had been 20 years since we last visited.
We weren’t exactly sure what we would find but it turned out to be a great mix of the old and new. The structures were the same (although they have expanded the footprint by more than double) and the actors still greet everyone at the opening. After dropping Jack off with my dad for the day, we arrived about 15 minutes before they opened and were surprised that a pretty big crowd had already formed. We were also delighted to see about 50% of the people in costumes, many sporting pirate costumes because that was the theme of the weekend. That was something new, the themed weekends, and I think its brilliant because it taps into all different types of folks who like to dress up.
The crowds were a mix of regular folks, dressed up people, and performers. The performers are spread throughout the facility and all the acts are free, which is great. Tipping is strongly encouraged though, because that’s how they make their money, and since this group of performers has been hit particularly hard by COVID we tipped generously. Our very favorite act has been around since the beginning and we made sure to catch the very first show of Theater in the Mud. Two of the performers were the originals from when we brought the kids and they do versions of classical plays in a mud pit. It’s highly entertaining and a big favorite with the kids, although it’s almost impossible to not get some mud on you no matter where you sit. We watched a newer play called Jerkules and the crowds roared as the mud flew. Its hard to explain unless you see it in person, but here’s some pictures.
Before the show started one of the original performers came out and talked to some friends and I shamelessly eavesdropped as he talked about his life. He said he was finally in a place where he was comfortable with who he was (I can relate) and one of the benefits was that his kids felt like they could do anything they wanted with their lives. It was very nostalgic for us to see the two original players and it made me remember when the kids were small.
Another show that we really liked was new to us and the Kamikaze fireflies had been on AGT. They put on a great show and were very open about how grateful they were to be performing in public again. I hadn’t really thought about what a hardship COVID had been for these small traveling performers, but they were really excited about being back and that excited was contagious. The cool thing about the shows is they are very interactive and the crowds are encouraged to participate.
My other favorite part of the Ren fest is the shopping. The crafts are all handmade and range from the very inexpensive to the elaborate. They have beautiful handmade clothes, weapons, and many other items and I think we walked into every shop. It’s a good thing I am not into Cosplay or I would spend thousands of dollars on the clothes. As it was it was super hard not to buy something, but I managed.
The only part of the entire experience that I didn’t like was the food. In the past they had all kinds of cool things like turkey legs and other “old” food, and although they still had these the prices were much higher. They also had limited shaded seating to eat in and since it was a very hot day that was a factor. I probably could have lived with the food situation though if the drinks weren’t so screwed up. None of the food vendors was allowed to sell drinks (not even water) so we had to wait in a separate line to get something to drink. There are no public fountains and it was crazy hot so we spent a ton of money on water and had to wait in long lines to get it. I am pretty sure that the venue itself controls the drinks which is why the arrangement was so strange but it really put a damper on the day for me. Around 2pm I actually was feeling nauseous from the heat and crowds and asked Lee if we could go home. He really didn’t want to and there was certainly more to see but I just wasn’t feeling that great. If I would have had ready access to ice water I am sure I would have been able to stay longer but I just couldn’t handle it.
So we missed seeing several acts, which was a bummer, but I am glad that we were able to experience it again. Unfortunately I don’t think I will go back anytime soon, but if you are in the area and have never been I would recommend going at least once. Just get there early!
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