Life’s rich pageant

Getting medieval at Feather Falls Ren Faire

Anon, Viking Tom.

Anon, Viking Tom.

Photo by Ken Smith

Despite the advanced state of meteorological magic and satellite scrying techniques, the art of weather divination remains an uncertain form of augury. Many a soothsayer foretold that last week’s spring squall would wreak havoc on the North State through the weekend, but the omens miraculously proved wrong.

The organizers and attendees of the Feather Falls Renaissance Faire owe the gods a debt of gratitude. The sun shined brightly on the festival held last weekend (April 7-8)—the first of its kind at the KOA campground at Feather Falls Casino—much to the delight of the smiling faces of vikings, faeries, pirates, peasants and muggles milling about the mud and hay-sopped encampment.

I’ve thrown my share of 20-sided die and I own a pair of nunchucks, but until last weekend attending a Ren Faire went unchecked on my geek bucket list. The local fair was an excellent introduction—it was free, fun and the Renaissance-at-a-rancheria location added greatly to the event’s intrinsic surrealism. The vendors and performers included a mix of locals and fantasy festival circuit regulars, many of whom were eager to offer insight into their unique skills and peculiar passions.

“I’m Viking Tom!” a bearded guy dressed in a loincloth and little else said as he shook my hand, his voice and demeanor a far cry from what his imposing physique and garb might indicate—he was more Ned Flanders than bloodthirsty Norseman. Tom lives outside of Redding and tows his “ship”—a converted flatbed trailer fashioned to resemble a Viking longboat—to festivals and kids’ parties around Northern California. The ship is outfitted with toy guns, swords and costumes.

There were plenty of real weapons—swords, blunderbusses, battle axes and more—at the fair as well, prompting an interesting conversation with Captain Chaos Vane (né Dan Barnard), an arms-dealing pirate from Washington who runs Iron Dragon Trading Co. He explained the firearms he deals can be sold with no red tape because they were manufactured before 1898, and are mostly sold to re-enactors and black-powder enthusiasts to fire blanks. Sword and knife laws vary by city, county and state and Vane said he sometimes denies weapons to customers who are too drunk or act blatantly irresponsible.

“I used to deal in modern weaponry, but honestly with all the school shootings and the politics, I got out of that because it started to feel gross,” Vane said. “I hang out with a bunch of pirates, we go out in the field and shoot blanks and have a great time and talk about science and politics. I’m a lot more comfortable [with that] than hanging around a bunch of rednecks bum-firing.”

More wonders abounded at the fair, including handmade leather, metal and ceramic crafts, full-contact combat matches by armed and armored players of a live-action role-playing (LARP) game called Empire of Medieval Pursuits, and bird-handling demonstrations by West Coast Falconry.

I unfortunately missed the raptor action, but briefly met a falconer named Dave Myers and his companion—an African hawk-eagle—when he stopped by the beer tent to wet his beak. Over a few flagons of ale and a tasty cup of mead, I had more interesting conversations there with a veritable rogues gallery of characters, including a nimble dipsomaniac called The Bawdy Juggler and Gabe Zonotto, a Gridley artist who’s spent decades building a life-size, fire-breathing metal dragon named Claude.

Some people might consider LARPers and fantasy-loving folks easy punchlines, but I walked away impressed. Be it for a weekend or a lifetime, they live life on their own terms.