Yesterday, My Lovely Bride™ and I made a visit to the brand-new, 1st Annual Oregon Renaissance Festival, at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Hillsboro, Oregon. We were looking for a unique and fun RenFaire experience, and what we found was most certainly unique! But I’ll detail all that out in a bit. I would like to say right off the bat that I was coming into the Faire with an open mind, but also a bit of a critical eye, because they are new to the local Ren-Faire scene (even if the folks running the event have plenty of experience with other Ren-Faires around the country), and the hype that had grown around this event. So please forgive me if I’m a little blunt in some of my comments below.
As we approached the ticket booth and entrance to the Faire, I took stock of what I saw: A very nice, castle-like display at the gate, but also mundane staff in blue polo shirts checking people in. Now, some people might have a problem with this, as they might expect all of the faire staff to be in garb, but I have worked in Security for the better part of twenty years. For me it was comforting to see the people at ORF had arranged for professionally trained event staff to deal with the trivialities such as checking bags and taking tickets at the gate. They and the booth staff were both friendly and professional, and if there were any security issues during this first day of the six-weekend long event, I didn’t see them.
That is a very good thing.
Now then, ORF was in many ways just a normal Ren-Faire, with the same basic vendors types, entertainers, etc., but at the same time, it was completely different than what we usually get here in the Pacific Northwest. You see, the ORF folks took good advantage of the fairgrounds complex, using the structures to house some vendors in addition to having other vendors in tents in the open areas. They had plenty of covered areas, especially at the Taverns (yes, plural) and most event stages, with seating frankly everywhere! So kudos for rested feet!
One thing I noticed that was different from the other local events was the layout of the faire itself. Rather than having a large “vendor village” with stages interspersed throughout, and a separate ‘food court’ area, at ORF the food vendors were scattered along most of the periphery of the village. This meant if you were hungry or thirsty, rather than have to trudge perhaps all the way across the grounds to sate your needs, there was likely a cold beverage and something edible on a stick only a few paces away! Oh, that’s right… ORF had food on a stick, something we just don’t see at the usual local events. Chicken, pork, mac-n-cheese, cheesecake, etc. This is a staple of many faires around the country from what I understand (I sadly have yet to attend one outside of the Pacific Northwest myself), and something our usual food vendors don’t generally provide. I especially recommend the ‘Steak on a Stake’, it was really tasty!
When it came to entertainment, I have to say I was really impressed with Oregon Renaissance Festival overall. The jousting was fun to watch, even if I couldn’t cheer well, as my voice kept breaking. There were magicians, jugglers, dancers, musicians, and of course the Washing Well Wenches, whom if you haven’t seen their show, you really need to! To the Youtubes with you… once you’re done reading this, of course! While I do enjoy the entertainers at the established faires in the Northwest (obviously, since we keep attending year after year, no?), I will say it was nice to see acts that are ‘new to us’, in addition to some from the area. To my knowledge this was the first time the Washing Well Wenches had come to the Northwest, at least in the last few years, and I have been really wanting to see them in person. I was not disappointed.
My Lovely Bride™ would also like me to note the various rides and games available at ORF. There was a Ferris Wheel and Carousel (of sorts), both man-powered I believe (I couldn’t get Karen to ride them), as well as archery, knife-throwing, and such to enjoy. Although it wasn’t “period” (I’m not one to quibble about such things, although some might), there was also free hot-air balloon rides to be enjoyed, although again, neither of us took a ride. My feet were happily planted to the ground, and stayed that way, thank you very much! Nothing against the balloons, I’m sure they were quite fun, I’m just not one for heights. NOTE: I believe the hot-air ballon rides are only free during the first couple of weekends of ORF’s six-week run.
But what about the vendors? Well, there were lots of them, and I had a great time perusing their stock. As with the entertainment, ORF had a lot of vendors who don’t normally attend our local faires, with a few we’d patronized before, and we again spent probably more than we could afford on their wares. No, I didn’t buy another $1000 set of armor, but I could have if I’d been of a mind to do so. Yes, Rose and Thorn Armory were in attendance at ORF, and I managed to talk a friend into trying on some of their wares (see the gallery for that). I’m thinking I’m going to have to start working some serious overtime during the offseason to be able to afford attending next year’s faires, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Now then, was Oregon Renaissance Festival perfect? No, of course not, but what faire is? It is simply different than from the usual ‘soft structure’ faires we have in the Northwest. I believe ORF really would do better in a permanent structure setting, as it clearly is designed for such, and let’s be honest here… the Northwest really could use a permanent-structure event. This is not meant to tear down or otherwise disparage the other fine events we have in the area, far from it. If Canterbury, Shrewsbury, Washington Midsummer or Ye Merrie Greenwood set up a permanent structure faire, I would fine with that as well. I do think it is about time we had a classic, permanent structure faire in Oregon or Washington, although our current soft structure faires work just fine as well.
In the end, although this was just the first day for the inaugural Oregon Renaissance Festival, I really enjoyed the event, and will return again.