I recently traveled back in time to the 16th Century – and without the benefit of a time machine. How, you ask? I paid a visit to annual Florida Renaissance Festival, which celebrates its 31st year in 2023.
It’s one of the Florida’s most beloved events, with over 100,000 annual attendees. It also features over 100 artisans selling their wares and over 100 performers (from around the globe) entertaining attendees of all ages. It’s an assemblage of sword fighters, musicians, minstrels, magicians, wenches, and just about whatever else was in fashion during the 16th century.
This year’s festival kicked off on February 4th and runs through March 26th; Saturdays & Sundays only from 10:00am to sunset. And every weekend features a new theme. This coming weekend (#IV) it’s all about “Maidens, Wenches, & Goddesses – A Beautiful Empowerment!” and ends on the weekend of March 25-26 with “A Mad Hatter’s Circus – A Fairytale Finale!”
The Florida Renaissance Festival is produced by the nationally acclaimed and multiple award-winning Bobby Rodriguez Productions. Bobby Rodriguez, like myself, is a native New Yorker, born & raised in Harlem. His parents were immigrants, arriving in this country from Puerto Rico in 1930.
Rodriguez became a lead singer/musician with “Joey Dee & The Starliters”, touring the concert circuit – including opening for the first Rock & Roll Revival at Madison Square Garden in front of 22,000 fans, in 1971. He moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1977 and opened Bobby Rodriguez Productions, a special events and entertainment agency.
By 1982, however, “I couldn’t BUY a client” said Rodriguez in a 2018 interview in VoyageMIA. “I was forced to become a booking agent by day and a musician/singer by night, just to get by.” His luck would change in 1992 when he created and produced a 16th Century themed event called the ‘Medieval Faire’. What started as a two day festival has grown into a six weekend event with more than two million people having participated over the festival’s tenure.
“The Florida Renaissance Festival wouldn’t be a great success every year without all of the loyal fans who join us to celebrate” says Rodriguez. “It’s a wonderful way to celebrate history and culture while learning something new at the same time.”
And it’s a damn good time, too – I can attest to that. And the people who attend the festival? Some of the coolest and friendliest people you’ll ever meet at a festival. Rather unusual when you consider that common punishments for crimes in the 16th century ranged from flogging and branding with red hot irons to beheadings (reserved for the wealthy!) and hangings (ordinary folks).
But I’d hazard a guess that the reason folks at this festival are so friendly lies in the fact that the average lifespan in the 16th century was only 35(!) So you might as well enjoy life while you’re still living, right? Again, just a guess.
Enjoy the photographs.
Kelly Academy of Irish Dance
Bards and Minstrels
The Foxy Bard