It may be 600 years in the making, but this is the first year Gulf Coast Renaissance Faire & Pirate Festival will be coming to Milton.
This historical festival has been running for 18 years in Pensacola, but this year the jousting, jesting, and jovial Jolly Rogers are coming to the Santa Rosa County Fairgrounds on March 3-4 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Have you ever wanted to go back in time but couldn’t find a time machine somewhere?” asked Steven Melei, the fair’s founder. “The Gulf Coast Renaissance Faire & Pirate Festival is a living history event where people try to recreate that time in history — the medieval and renaissance timeframe from the 1400 to 1600s — and enjoy great historical fun that you can find nowhere else.”
Melei said he founded the festival because he loves medieval history and missed the renaissance fairs in his college town of Houston. But his main motivation to keep the tradition alive is promoting authentic human interaction.
“I really like seeing the kids and their reaction to it,” he said. “I like to foster people and kids getting out into the open air and watching people doing things like they did in the renaissance times.”
At the Gulf Coast Renaissance Faire, jousting is the main event, and thanks to the covered sports arena at the Santa Rosa County Fair Grounds, this year it will take place rain or shine.
“The jousting is something that is unbelievable to see,” said Melei. “If you want to see men in armor on giant horses, with lances taking each other on, this is the place to come.”
Jousting was a serious form of fighting and displaying strength and military prowess during the Middle Ages. It later turned into a major sporting event in Europe, especially popular with nobility until the 17th century.
Today, there are teams of “full metal jousters” that travel the world showcasing the historic horse-and-lance skill at festivals and fairs, and even participate in tournaments. In fact one such team, The Knights of Valour led by world jousting champion Shane Adams, will be appearing at the Gulf Coast Renaissance Faire.
"These groups count the renaissance fairs across the country as training for their tournaments," Melei said. "They have a fail-safe so they don’t kill each other with the lance, but what you do see is a lot of unhorsings."
You can’t have a Renaissance Faire without entertainment, food and drink, and Melei said there will be plentiful provisions in all three of those categories.
“We have jesters, jugglers, a sword swallower, magicians, gypsy dancers, food, drink, camel rides, jousting horse rides, medieval games, a petting zoo, and lots and lots of renaissance merchants,” he said. “There is always something going on. We will have four stages of entertainment as well as what we call our ‘lane entertainment,’ which are our street performers — there is never a dull moment at the fair.”
Melei said there will be food vendors of every sort, including those who fancy themselves more medieval than the common food truck.
“It’s a lot of stuff similar to regular fair food,” he said. “Of course, there are the giant turkey legs, a lot of funnel cakes, sweets shops vendors, Oriental food, American food, barbecue — about every food category. We have some vendors that come in and sell items with themed names like Dragon’s Blood or Ogre Spit to add fun to the event, and all of the vendors have to wear medieval costumery.”
The Jovial Jolly Rogers
What about the pirate side of the festival?
“Pirates have always existed even before the Renaissance,” Melei said. “They are the infamous thieves of the sea but they’ve got a romantic side to them that fits into the fair.”
Pirate lore lovers can revel in the fun with pirate-themed musical acts, costumed characters and event sword fights and street performances.
“It’s a fun part of the event,” Melei said. “The historic side of it plus the modern side with all the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' fans."