Tennessee Renaissance Festival: Fun for Whole Family

renaissance festival
photo by Lee Rennick

Huzzah! The Tennessee Renaissance Festival (RenFest) offers lots of fun for everyone at Covington Glen. Located on lands by Castle Gwynn near the village of Triune, this past weekend many attending lords and ladies of the realm came festooned in their most elegant period attire to peruse the market and enjoy the many activities offered. The event will continue for the rest of the weekends in May and Memorial Day.

This is the 36th time the gates to the Glen have been opened for the enjoyment of all. Queen Elizabeth oversees the festivities with her lords and ladies, including jousting on the tilt, birds of prey performing swooping feats, a proper tea, as well as epicurean delights like giant turkey legs, a market full of purveyors of eclectic goods, and games of skill for all ages.

“Sir” Mike Freeman, a local photographer, who owned the Glen before selling it recently to Williamson County, started the RenFest in the mid-1980s. With the help of many friends, he managed it for years before passing the baton to Williamson County Parks and Recreation. He wanted to ensure the popular event continued into the future. The change has made little difference, the grounds have been overflowing with visitors, perhaps more than ever before. And at the new Queen’s tea more than half of the guests stated that they had never been to the RenFest.

The festival takes visitors back to 16th century England. It is all part of Freeman’s childhood dream to build and live in a real castle, an idea he conceptualized when he was in high school. Once he began building his dream, he found people sneaking onto the property to see his creation. He started the RenFest to give those interested in seeing the castle a chance to do so, hoping they would leave him in peace the rest of the year. It worked, now thousands upon thousands flock to the grounds every weekend in May.

Fans of RenFest are loyal and they have supported Freeman in manifesting his dream. Through his network of friends, he has acquired beautiful handmade tapestries, gained a collection of real armor, and added on to the Castle Gwynn for more than 40 years. He has been aided by fine craftsmen of every castle-building ilk, including stone masons, engineers, and purveyors of all kinds of antiques and period reproductions. His goal is to make it as realistic as possible. And he has.

“My original plan was to have a flat roof on the two main towers, explained Freeman, “but the roof leaked, and my wife begged me to add a different kind of roof.”

According to Freeman, the original two towers were based on a Welsh border castle, but he has added a hand-made copper roof. Over time he has also added a passage between the two towers, and about four years ago he began working on a dining hall modeled after one found in a French hunting lodge. The fireplace will be big enough to stand inside and there will be a working drawbridge. It is all part of his original plan to hold weddings on the grounds. He intends to eventually rent it out for weddings and other events, however, the pandemic put a bit of a kink into his plans. He now says it will be two more years, as much of the construction is done by master craftsmen working alone or in small groups, like the copper roof on the new dining hall. Visitors to the festival will still be able to see his beautiful castle and grounds for free with admission to the event.

This year has seen the addition of a few new events. One is High Tea with the Queen. Held at 3:00 in the afternoon, it takes place in a tent under shady trees. An immediate hit, the ladies and gentlemen attending enjoy the delightful humor of the Queen, two of her ladies in waiting, a gentleman of the court and family-friendly entertainment Those in attendance shared tea, pastries, tea sandwiches, and small desserts with the very gracious queen.

“We came to the tea because we thought it would be fun,” said one “Lady” Mary.” And it is my daughter’s birthday today.” The queen even sang the young lady her own unique birthday ditty.

As in the past, there are themed weekends. The second weekend featured Arts and Crafts, with the introduction of a Fairy House / Hobbit Habitat Building Contest. Both Saturday and Sunday houses made entirely of natural materials were displayed and prizes won. The habitats varied greatly with lots of creativity shown by all contestants. Other weekends include a pirate weekend and a Celtic weekend.

The RenFest runs every Saturday and Sunday in May, plus Memorial Day. Hours are 10:00 a.m. until 6:00pm. There is free parking and free admission for children 5 and under. This year the Tennessee Renaissance Festival will only be accepting cash for food and beverages.

For information on entertainment, craft vendors, and how to get to the festival, go to their website at http://www.tnrenfest.com/. Anon! Translation: See you at the Festival!

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