Spotlight: Brevard Renaissance Fair brings a mix of history and fantasy to Melbourne
If you’re looking to travel back in time to 16th century England, then you’re in luck.
The Brevard Renaissance Fair is back for the 9th yea, bringing guests a mix of history and fantasy.
WMFE's Talia Blake sat down with Entertainment Director Andrew Meade to find out what you can expect from the fair, which is runs through February 4, 2024.
Listen to the full conversation in the player above.
Talia Blake: Andrew, I'm not gonna lie to you. I've never been to a Renaissance Fair before. For someone like myself who's never been, what can they expect when they come to Wickham Park in Melbourne?
Andrew Meade: The first thing you're going to see is a big castle gate that you're going to walk through, and you're going to be transported back into 16th century England or our best approximation of it in Central Florida. There's going to be tense vendors hawking their wares; craftsmen, blacksmiths, and glassblowers actually practicing their craft right in front of you. You're going to see jugglers, musicians, jesters, (and) all sorts of different entertainers who have been working their entire lives on their skills. You're going to see costume characters. You're going to meet the Queen of England and Queen Elizabeth, the first one, not the second one. Of course, we also have a lot of food and drinks. We've got four or five different bars. We have an adult-only pub in the back. We have turkey legs, scotch eggs, shepherd's pie, all those kind of classic fish and chips, those sort of things you associate with Renaissance England. There's also gyros for some reason, but they're really good, so I'm not going to question it.
Talia Blake: It almost kind of sounds like an immersive experience before we had VR, in a sense.
Andrew Meade: Absolutely. It is a fully theatrical experience. Some people say, "Oh, is it like a county fair? Is it like, is like a carnival?" No, it's like none of that. It's wholly its own thing. Ultimately, when people walk through the gates, we want them to leave the current world behind, put your phones down, come out, enjoy the sunshine with us, and learn a little bit and kind of get lost in the fantasy.
Talia Blake: Can you tell me about the history of the Brevard Renaissance Fair. You're going into your ninth year this year?
Andrew Meade: Yeah this is our ninth year. The Brevard Renaissance Fair actually started about 10 or 11 years ago. Our owner was trying to fundraise to save Dragon Point out in that area. So he opened up what he called The Festival of the Dragon. He had never really done a lot of Renaissance Fairs before. So he recruited a lot of local people to help him out, and they did for a couple years. They did this kind of smaller festival called the Festival of The Dragon to help save Dragon Point. It was unsuccessful in its goal, ultimately, but from that was born the Brevard Renaissance Fair. Our first year, we were still building the front gate when people were showing up on Saturday morning. Since then, we've grown considerably. We had only used half of the area of the park when we had rented it initially. Now we're using probably 90% of it. We have these nighttime concerts as well. The cool thing about Wickham Park is that there is a huge, concrete amphitheater in it. In that amphitheater, we're able to host with pretty major concerts. On Saturday nights, now, we host a concert every night that isn't necessarily Renaissance themed but Renaissance adjacent. We're open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. We have our final show of the day ends at seven. Then you kind of hang out for about half hour at the bar. We have another band that plays at the bar, and then you come back to the amphitheater and you get to enjoy a big headliner show. We have acts like Gaelic Storm, the Screaming Orphans, Cassie and Maggie, we just had an app called SYR. So a lot of a really popular Celtic music groups or Cape Breton music groups that come down and play. They're kind of more like more like rock bands, so not really, renaissance, but as I said, renaissance adjacent. This weekend is our fantasy weekend. So we're having a band called Sanctus. They have a four time carillon bell, which is racks and racks and racks of carillon bells made in flanders and they're transported on a trailer. The guy presses these levers and he plays the bells. So he has that. It's called cast in bronze is pretty cool. And then he has a gothic metal band backing them up.
Talia Blake: It sounds interesting.
Andrew Meade: We like to play with stuff a little bit. You know, obviously, they didn't have gothic metal in the Renaissance, but it is fantasy weekend. We get a lot of people that come out and they're looking for a place to enjoy their own personal fantasies or they're looking for inclusive spaces as well. So for instance, some fairs don't let people come in wearing fur suits because they they're not Renaissance enough. We say 'if you want to wear for a suit, come on in.' If you want to come in dressed up like Captain Picard, come on it's cool like. Obviously, we very much enjoy it if you come in dressed as a Renaissance character but you want to enjoy a little bit of your cosplay or what have you then, come on and have a good time.
Talia Blake: It sounds like this has grown tremendously over the last nine years. As you said, you only used half the park, now you're up to the full Park. How many people have you had to guesstimate how many people attend average on the weekends?
Andrew Meade: So last year, we peaked at on one of our days, we peaked at 10,000 people. From the first year we were getting 500-1,500 people a day. But it's a really big part of the community. I would say about 30% to 40% of the people that come come from Brevard County. The other 60% come from surrounding counties like Orlando and other areas. Then we also have a decent amount of people that come from out of state.
Talia Blake: The fair is running all month and with each weekend having a different theme from fantasy to Viking to Celtic, which one are you most excited about?
Andrew Meade: We came up with a new weekend theme this year. We've never done this before, so I'm excited for that. It's our Beer Fest weekend. We have a company of German mercenaries, they were called landsknecht back in the day, who are going to help us host this weekend. We are going to do all these kinds of fun, beer related things. We're going to have the tapping of the keg. We're going to sing some traditional beer hall songs. We're going to have a contest for the patrons to join in on, the beer stein holding contest. We're going to have these big steins and fill them with beer, you have to hold them out, and whoever can hold it out the longest wins. At the end of the day, we're going to have the Beer Olympics, where we're going to have all these drinking contests that your favorite entertainers are going to engage in in front of you in the adult area. So that's going to be paid drinking for that day, so I think it's gonna be pretty cool.
Talia Blake: Florida Today reported that Brevard County Commissioners last month turned down grant requests for the Renaissance Fair. Is it possible that the fair could be leaving Brevard after this year?
Andrew Meade: We want to say in Brevard. Brevard is our home. We are called the Brevard renaissance fair. The problem is there's not a lot of land options in Brevard. So a couple of things is going to have to happen for us to be able to stay. We're either going to have to convince the commissioners and the county to let us stay in Wickham Park or we're going to need some sort of help from the local government to place us somewhere else within the area because land is getting very expensive in Brevard County. There's not a lot of usable land, and the a lot of stuff that is available is wetlands. We don't have the infrastructure to build on top of a swamp. We have a lot of people in the area that are championing us. The tourism that we bring to the areas is absolutely insane, thousands of beds that gets sold in hotels and people going out to eat, buying gas, etc. Also not to mention, what the actual Renaissance Fair pays to the county every year. In the nine years we've been open, we've paid, just rent, about half a million dollars. That's the kind of gets that right. People seem to get this misconception that we're just on the land. We're paying a very fair price for it, and that doesn't count the camping fees that we pay for, the taxes, the sewer, the the electric, all the other things we pay for, were a huge part of the economy of the county. So, we very much want to stay in Brevard County. We can't do it alone, though. We either have to get them to change their minds about letting us stay in Wickham Park or perhaps maybe some land that's been earmarked for future use 50-60 years down the line, we could use that. But if we can't find something, we're going to have to move out of the county. But that's not what we want to do.
Talia Blake: Only time will tell I guess with that one. Earlier, we were talking about how this is kind of an immersive experience before we had VR. We live in a time where technology is just ever so present. So what's the appeal here? Why do people enjoy this fair?
Andrew Meade: People like to go with their friends and their family. It's an escapist sort of situation. They have their problems and the Renaissance was a complicated time back then, but we like to kind of lean into the fantasy of it and kind of ignore the dicier stuff. I've been doing this since I was four. I grew up doing this. I think that everybody should go to Renaissance Fairs. I think Renaissance Fairs are great. Honestly, what you're doing when you go to a Renaissance Fair, I don't think a lot of people realize this, they're stepping into an actual living, breathing community. Renaissance fairs are an economy and a community all in their own. We don't travel together like a circus. We don't all go to the next one, but we all do after this split off and go into different places. But for now, for the five weeks that we operate in Brevard, we're a community, we're a family, (and) we're a town. So people are walking into an actual, functioning village, and that's really cool. Everybody is fulfilling a purpose. We're all working together. You see there's a camaraderie there especially at this fair, more than most fairs that I've done. There's a real closeness. We've really curated a very family-like environment for our entertainers and our vendors. I think that when you walk in, you feel that first. You're like, "oh, wow, this this feels like an actual village" because it is. I think that one of the things in America, we don't really have, I think one of the things that we crave is walkable spaces, where you can shop, you can be entertained, and you can go out with your friends and get a few drinks or something to eat. So that also kind of recreates that sort of European walkable area, that downtown area, that I think that we naturally crave, to socialize and to explore and to be communal.
Talia Blake: If people want to come and check out the Renaissance Fair, where can they get information? Where can they buy tickets?
Andrew Meade: You can go to our website, which is BrevardRenaissanceFair.com, or you can go to our Facebook Brevard Renaissance Fair or Instagram. You can get all the information you need right there. We sell tickets online. We also sell two day season passes. We also have a bunch of different special events that you can purchase admission to. We have a pub crawl. We have a beer tasting events, which they sound like they'd be the same thing, but ones for kind of drunkenly stumbling through the fair, and the other is for tasting fancy beers and talking about the palette. Very different experiences but both worth attending. We also sell wristbands for kids to buy that let them ride as many rides and play as many games as they want to. We have AX throwing, archery, knife throwing, star throwing, things like that.
Talia Blake: This sounds like an all ages event, you can bring Grandma, you can bring the kids and everybody can have a lot of fun.
Andrew Meade: If you've never been before come. You should absolutely come out. It's one of the last great pieces of outdoor theater that you're going to experience in this day and age. You have so many people getting together to present something really unique and special. You shouldn't miss that. And for at least this year, we're here. We're ready to entertain you. We want to be something that is generational for your family where you go with your parents, and then you go with your kids, and then you go with your grandkids. And you come every year and you see how we grow and evolve. We're in it for the long term and we hope you are too.