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Monday, May 20, 2024

Gainesville hosts 37th Hoggetowne Medieval Faire

This year’s event offered a smaller, shorter spin on the longtime Alachua County festival

A young boy gets his face painted at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire at Depot Park in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024.
A young boy gets his face painted at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire at Depot Park in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024.

Flocks of families, friends and fabled characters gathered at Depot Park Jan. 27-28 to revel in warm weather and high spirits at the 37th annual Hoggetowne Medieval Faire.

This year’s event offered a different spin on the typical three-weekend affair, with free admission, a one-weekend schedule and a smaller event space.

Lili Tzou, the director of the fair, said the switch in locations brought a new setup. After the usual and much larger venue of the Alachua County Fairgrounds moved four years ago, the organizers have been searching for a different area to put on the event. 

This year brought the festival to the staple Gainesville spot, Depot Park, located at 874 SE Fourth St. The organizers said they could not fence the park off for three weekends straight because it is open to the public.

However, the change in locations and time did not come with a change in spirits. This weekend, the modern space was brought back in time hundreds of years to an olden — yet festive — jubilee. 

On Jan. 27, performers, attendees and vendors alike celebrated the occasion from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with medieval cheer in conjunction with the theme, “The Return of Robin Hood.”

“Hoggetowne is really special in that everyone, like all of our participants, performers and merchants describe it as a family reunion,” Tzou said. “This is a tradition for many people.”

The event featured more than 60 artisans selling homemade crafted goods, six performance stages, various vendors selling medieval-themed food as well as other ancient activities for guests of all ages. 

Costumes ranged from knights in shining armor and gray-bearded wizards to masked and colorful animals. 

Atypical festival features included a living chessboard performed by volunteers from the theater company, Thieves Guilde, a maypole decorated with pastel-colored ribbons and a jousting arena where fully armored knights battled on horseback.

Among the performers dispersed throughout the event space was 57-year-old Teresa Songster, aka “The Harpy.” Her booth offered a calming soundtrack of 13th and 14th-century tunes played on her folk harp amidst the chaos of knightly revelry. 

“I play harp and create an ambiance of music while people are just joining the festival,” Songster said. “The music is a little older than the popular things and singers, but [festival attendees] love to hear it.”

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Songster is a part of Harpies, an Orlando-based harp duo she shares with her daughter. Though her day job is at Disney World, she has enjoyed her side gig of playing the harp for more than 24 years, performing at retirement homes outside medieval festivals.

“We appreciate the community sticking with us, coming out, visiting us, listening to us play,” she said. 

Kaleb Eldred-Mackenzie, a Sante Fe College anthropology student, was one among the thousands of Gainesville residents who flocked to the fair. 

After attending the fair the year prior, he returned this year. His favorite part of the fair is the people, he said.

“I don’t really go out to big social events, so seeing so many people come here for the same cause is just really cool,” Eldred-Mackenzie said.

Mary Rodriguez, a 36-year-old artisan, was one of three vendors selling crafted goods at the booth, The Mystic Merchants. She is the creator of Aries Heat Candles, a Gainesville soy candle company, and has been involved with the fair for eight years, she said. 

She sold her candles, beaded spiders and dragons, alongside ceramic creations made by fine arts student Kathleen Harton and crystal suncatchers created by Miranda Samantha, an artisan who created the shop, Crystal Prisms. 

“[Hoggetowne Medieval Faire] is dear to my heart,” Rodriguez said. “You get to meet with old friends and you get to yell that your friend is a witch.”

Though the collective of craftspeople is always evolving, the spirit of a medieval found family remains.

“The Mystic Merchants is different every year,” Rodriguez said. “We’re gonna keep on going as long as we can. We love the show and we love the feeling we get from the people.”

Contact Bonny Matejowsky at Follow her on X at @bonnymatejowsky.

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Bonny Matejowsky

Bonny Matejowsky is a third-year journalism major and a Fall 2023 Avenue Reporter. When she’s not writing, you can find her thrifting or watching Twin Peaks.

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