All’s Fair at the Ren Faire

By Brittany MenjivarMay 2, 2024

All’s Fair at the Ren Faire
ORIGINAL RENAISSANCE PLEASURE FAIRE, Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area, Irwindale, April 6–May 19, 2024.

My ren faire experience began with a quest of fantastic proportions. After parking on a side street to avoid traffic, I headed toward the fairgrounds, anticipating a leisurely stroll, and instead wound up facing a rocky slope more suited for a mythical realm than humble Irwindale. I could’ve hung my head and returned to my car—or, alternately, hiked up my maxi skirt and accepted the challenge. Ready for an unorthodox afternoon, I took the latter route. I wasn’t the only one—a bevy of princesses, pixies, and pirates scrambled up the hill after me.

The sight of this motley crew speaks to the dedication of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire’s patrons, most of whom celebrated the occasion by donning costumes so elaborate that it was hard to tell them apart from the cast members. I’m admittedly a ren faire elitist—I grew up attending the Maryland Ren Fest, the second largest in the country—but Irwindale’s ren faire met even my high expectations. After all, it holds an accolade that my hometown’s can’t boast of—it was the first in the country, founded near Malibu by a schoolteacher in 1963 with an emphasis on educating the public. Today, the atmosphere is not so strictly Elizabethan—cottagecore attire and fandom cosplay are encouraged on the official website—but distinctly otherworldly. Exploring the festival’s 20 acres, I felt transported to an alternate reality, one where the crown reigns but magic rules.

Finally inside the fairgrounds, I found myself enchanted by the dozens of vendors lining my path. Flower crowns, circlets, and pirate hats begged to be tried on. Chain mail, fairy wings, and plush critters that could be affixed to one’s shoulder were available for the more aesthetically adventurous. Culinary delights abounded as well—I opted for a hearty pulled pork sandwich, although more colorful options (such as bacon brownies) were available.

Lest any of us get too caught up in hedonism, a band of musicians calling themselves “Danse Macabre” wove through the crowd wearing skull masks and bearing a banner with a grave message in poetic lines: “Priest or Noble, / Serf or Free / Death will Always / Come for Thee.” A few paces down the road, a group of zealous Protestants sang a similar tune, preaching against “papists,” “cryptopapists,” “merrymakers,” and “fooles.” The faire was full of such costumed characters, all of whom were game to banter with guests. Not everyone was morbid—the queen and other royals were present, as were several sprites covered head-to-toe in body paint alongside what can only be described as “toadstool people” (more on them later).

Shopping and improv weren’t the only amusements the faire had to offer. Performances, games, and even manually powered “rides” gave patrons a chance to participate in the revelry more fully. I paused to watch a maypole ceremony that started with intricate dance routines and ended with an invitation for everyone with a toadstool hat to come into the circle. (There were many—I just might have witnessed the Guinness World Record for “largest gathering of people wearing toadstool hats.”) The unquestionable highlight of the day was sailing through the sky on a swing large enough to fit my friend group of five, pushed by a kindly peasant who implored me to write about how funny and charming he was in my article (here is thy shout-out, good sir).

As the sun sank lower, we made our way toward the jousting arena for one last huzzah. Alas, the stands were already packed. We watched the knights ride horseback from a distance—then, after a moment, we headed out grinning, knowing that the best show wasn’t any particular demonstration, but rather the one unfolding all around us.


Photo by contributor.

LARB Short Takes live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Brittany Menjivar was born and raised in the DMV; she now works and plays in the City of Angels. With her partner in crime Erin Satterthwaite, she runs Car Crash Collective, hosting late-night literary readings at Footsies Bar in Los Angeles. Her poetry and fiction have been featured in HADDream Boy Book ClubSpectra, and Dirt Child, among other publications. Additionally, she was named a 2023 Best of the Net Award Finalist. You can stream her short film on YouTube’s ALTER Channel, where it has nearly two million views. You can also find her on Substack: she posts cultural criticism via BRITTPOP, and keeps track of the most exciting events happening in L.A. each week via The Angel Almanac.


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