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New features, foods joust at Michigan Renaissance Fest

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Lords, ladies, witches, pirates, fairies, knights and wenches have returned for whimsical weekend fun at the Michigan Renaissance Festival.

Walking into the 17-acre village, the sights and sounds of the 16th century — or at least modern day’s entertaining version of the 16th century — abound. The outdoor attraction is teeming with costumed staff members, actors and performers. A good number of the guests also wear corsets, capes, fairy wings and other fantastical garb.

Now with the growing popularity of cosplay culture — as in immersing oneself as a character of the times — and shows like “Game of Thrones,” the Renaissance Festival in Holly has grown by attracting folks who are interested in genres outside of the royal court.

The festival’s Washing Well Wenches give several shows throughout the day and have become crowd favorites.

“Later in the season, we have an all-new Steampunk Ball. It’s an after hours steampunk cocktail party,” says Kim Heidger, the festival marketing manager. The event coincides with the “Wonders of the World” themed weekend Sept. 10-11. “We’re doing a Doctor Who costume contest that weekend as well.”

Heidger says popularity of the Ren Fest has increased the past few years and she’s seeing guests branch out as far as costumes go.

“You get a pretty good mix between costumed and not-costumed (attendees),” she says.

Attendance grows throughout the season, she adds. Typically Michigan’s Renaissance Festival runs for six weekends in the late summer and fall. Heidger estimates that about 10,000 people a day attend in the early weekends, and by late September the fest may pull in around 25,000 people a day.

Besides the Steampunk Ball, other new attractions are a wine and painting event called Royal Painting, a LEGO building competition, a zipline attraction called “DaVinci’s Flight School” and more.

This year will also see an increase of William Shakespeare-related programming to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death, culminating on the Oct. 1-2 closing weekend.

Kids and those with active imaginations will enjoy features like the chance to meet a mermaid, a bronzed statue and the armored joust, which is likely the most famous festival attraction.

The joust happens three times a day following several minutes of boisterous hype and chest-pumping. Attendees gather around as a drummer sets the mood for the impending clash of two knights on horses. Folks can hang out afterward to pet the horses and meet the warriors.

A crowd favorite are the Washing Well Wenches who perform throughout the day. It’s a sassy, beer-friendly show with a lot of crowd participation.

While the festival is largely family-friendly, there is a fair amount of double entendres, bosom jokes and a general “wink-wink” attitude, but nothing explicit.

Shopping also is a big component. Period clothing, hats and accessories are for sale, along with jewelry, candles, wooden toys and leather, glass and ceramic goods. There also are featured services such as face painting, henna body art, messages and tarot readings.

Food and drink are no afterthought at Ren Fest.

Twice a day the Feast of Fantasy is held in the magical castle. The six-course meal, $70, is accompanied by live entertainment. Beer, wine and cider are plentiful and there’s even an organized pub crawl through the many taverns and beer stands. A wine tasting tent offers a break from the sun or heat (or chill, later in the season) with samples.

(313) 222-2402

Michigan Renaissance Festival

10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sat.-Sun. through Oct. 2, and also Sept. 5 and 30

12600 Dixie Highway, Holly

(248) 634-5552 or

Prices: $19.95 adults in advance, $22.95 at the gate; $11.50 ages 5-12 in advance, $13.95 at the gate; $20.95 seniors at the gate only, $19.95 college students with ID at the gate; $10 dogs. Group discounts and season passes available.

Themed weekends

Highland Fling, Sat.-Sun.

High Seas Adventure, Sept. 3-5

Wonders of the World, Sept. 10-11

Shamrocks & Shenanigans, Sept. 17-18

Harvest Huzzah, Sept. 24-25

Festival Friday, Sept. 30

Sweet Endings, Oct. 1-2

Special events

Gears, Gadgets and Glam: a Steampunk Cocktail Party, 5 p.m. Sept. 10, $85 (includes festival admission)

Royal Masquerade Ball, 6:30 p.m. Sept. 30, $85 (includes festival admission)