Farwell to normal
Hello to Chico’s first Rennaisance/fantasy fair
As we neared the end of our arduous trek toward the End of Normal, my adventuring companion and I beheld a delightful series of strange sights, which we merrily agreed bode well for our quest to find fun and freakiness.
We’d traveled many fractions of a league through the blazing heat to reach the Sierra Fantasy Faire on Saturday (June 6), and our first encounter—an ice cream truck singing its siren song as we neared the main entrance—promised sweet delights and relief from the heat. The second—an adorable half-chihuahua, half-gargoyle beast so undaunted by our motorized metal wagon he refused to budge from the road—offered a peek at the wondrous creatures and characters to come. Then, upon witnessing a man in his early 20s engaged in a passionate make-out session with a costumed woman twice his age in a wooded glade, we had proof that at least two people’s fantasies were coming true at this gathering.
Romantic rendezvous were not part of the event’s official itinerary—the lucky couple must have found the surroundings particularly enticing and acted on their own accord—but there were delights aplenty promised at the Fantasy Faire, a fundraising event for Blue Oak Charter School. As the school’s executive director, Nathan Rose, explained during the fair, “We were aware of the success of [other schools’ fundraising] events like Sherwoodstock and the Wildflower Music Festival and figured no one else in town does a Renaissance fair. Then we decided to make it a fantasy fair, so whether you’re a steampunk or a mountain man or in the SCA [Society for Creative Anachronism] or the Scottish Guild, we’re here for you.”
For a fortnight prior, I’d used my web-scrying oracle to keep apprised of the fair’s expanding offerings, and grew ever more excited with each added wonder. Irish cowboy fiddle music, a Swedish nyckelharpa player, Bay Area-based Celtic-rockers Tempest, fairy folk, belly dancers, Burners and proud weirdos of all sorts united for one big family-friendly fandango.
I bartered a fun farthing (a wooden drink token emblazoned with the countenance of a jolly gnome) for a frozen margarita and began making the rounds among the merchants’ stalls set up along the perimeter of a wide green sward. In the center was a roped-off ring where men in homemade armor occasionally battered one another with homemade swords, though these bouts became less frequent as temperatures continued to rise. It was mid-afternoon, and Rose said that the fair had been much better attended in the morning, and he expected more would come when it cooled off (the event ran from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.).
The stalls featured lots of homemade jewelry, crafts and costume clothing as well as some rarer items, like a fantabulous array of instruments and amplifiers handmade from reclaimed materials by ONESIXTWO Cigar Box Guitars. There also were stalls for fantasy-friendly organizations like the aforementioned SCA, an international organization of medieval-times enthusiasts who not only dress and act like characters from the purported days of yore, but also study and practice ancient arts, sciences and warfare.
The SCA folks invited us under their canopy for a respite from the heat and to tell us about their organization. They do not live, as the rest of us do, in Chico, but in the Barony of Rivenoak in the Kingdom of the West.
As we talked, a minstrel named Randall Dighton (a member of the Butte County Scottish Society, another group of adults who like to play dress-up) strolled in and declared he’d like to play us all a song on his lute about an American tourist who goes into a Scottish pub. Monique de Francesca, the Baroness of Rivenoak (“mundane” name: Monique Bird), stopped texting to engage in a water-gun fight with a balloon-sword-wielding toddler escorted by his mother, who was dressed as a Western/steampunk courtesan. And my adventuring companion slipped off to get another beer and have a woman sew the wooden flower button he’d just bought onto his fringed suede jacket.
I finished my second margarita as the minstrel’s song ended, and in the distance heard a man on the main stage rapping about the perils of modern life, backed by the musicians of the Electric Canyon Convergence. I prayed—to the old gods and the new—that Rose was correct, that this fair was just the first installment of a long-running tradition, and that next year’s might be scheduled at a more temperate time.