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Saturday, April 01, 2023

Hoggetowne Medieval Faire brings back the Middle Ages

Hoggetowne Medieval Faire returned to in-person event at a new location

The Sahnobar Dance Ensemble performs on the gyspy stage at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire on Sunday, Jan. 16. The festival made its return this year in a new location after a hiatus.
The Sahnobar Dance Ensemble performs on the gyspy stage at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire on Sunday, Jan. 16. The festival made its return this year in a new location after a hiatus.

Stepping beyond the gray archway at Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, visitors were immediately transported from Gainesville into the Middle Ages. 

Rows of colorful tents and stands with shopkeepers lined the massive field in southwest Gainesville. In the distance, the raucous medley of sword-fighting, lively music and laughter rang out from different corners of the transitory village. The mouthwatering scent of turkey legs and fried treats filled the air. 

Hundreds of attendees flocked to the medieval village Saturday after COVID-19 pushed last year’s festival online with a new name: Hoggetowne at Home

The 35th annual Hoggetowne Medieval Faire, which debuted in a new location at 9409 SW Archer Rd., is scheduled for three more consecutive weekends: Jan. 15 and 16; Jan. 22 and 23; and Jan. 28 to 30. The typical hours of the festival are from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with altered hours on Jan. 28 for “Family Friday.” 

Some visitors opted for jeans and a t-shirt while others were clad in leather armor, mysterious cloaks and flowing gowns. Elf ears were not out of the question for some attendees. 

Costumes weren’t donned only by visitors — performers sporting medieval regalia provided a variety of entertainment to fair-goers. Performances took place on various stages across the fairgrounds with showtimes displayed on tall wooden boards. 

Alluring centuries-old harp music resounded from a white tent. 

Lisa Johnson, a 79-year-old retired teacher and musician, played an intricately carved wooden harp and evoked a sense of calm as the clamor of knights jousting reverberated through the fairgrounds.

Johnson’s group, the Harpers of Hoggetowne, has played harps, viola da gamba and recorders at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire for about 25 years.

“I love playing the music of the past, especially medieval music. The thirteenth century English and French songs that we play are so much fun,” Johnson said.

With multiple time slots offered for performances, one had the chance to watch a maypole dance at the Maypole Field, or marvel at acrobatic feats by the group Barely Balanced at the Gate Theatre. Performers alternated at locations like Caravan Camp, which featured dance groups and jesters, and Tournament Field, which showcased armored combat and living chessboard scenes. 

Aside from shows and music, there was no shortage of entertainment in the village. Those curious about arcana and divination could have their palm or tarot cards read, while children could enjoy a “Sea Dragon” ride or find their way through “The Amazing Maze.”

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Near the entrance, attendees could test their axe-, star- or knife-throwing skills at a target game station. 

Left of the station, Brittany Shipley, a 29-year-old fair employee, encouraged attendees to ring the bell of a high striker game “Dragon Slayer Test of Strength.” Players struck the target with a mallet and watched their strength graded from a lowly court jester to “His Majesty” on the tower. 

Shipley, who has been on the road working at medieval festivals for three years, traveled nine hours from her home state of Virginia to be at Hoggetowne. 

“It allows me to make money and travel and see a lot of things I wouldn’t have been able to see working five days a week in a factory,” Shipley said. “We are such a tight-knit community, we take care of each other. I just love the closeness that we all share.”

Dozens of food and refreshment stands lined a row at the far right side of the fair. Vendors offered philly cheesesteak sandwiches, barbecue pork and fresh-cut fries. At Ye Olde Ale House, patrons chugged a beer while lounging on hay bales. A short walk away was the “Come Try LARP” (Live Action Roleplay) tent to spectate a combat demonstration while having a drink. 

Many attendees walked out the mock-stone gate with bulging bags filled with chain mail, wassail drinking horns and crystals. Those who visited the royal tent were knighted by the king and received a special pendant. 

“The energy that festivals bring is just a different kind of feeling than what you get out in the real world,” Shipley said. 

Contact Eileen at Follow her at @EileenCalub.

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