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Alabama Shakespeare Festival Enter for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Alabama Medieval Fantasy Fest brings 9th Century Europe to life

Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival

The tiny town of Greenville in Alabama’s Black Belt is known for its camellias. The flowers even give the community its nickname. Its beauty lies in its gorgeous scenery and rugged atmosphere.

Baillee Majors
First-timers William Thomas and Chance Lucas are all smiles as they prepare to enter the Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival.
Medieval cooking demonstrations put on by H.E.R.A as part of the festival's historical reenactments.
Baillee Majors
Medieval cooking demonstrations put on by H.E.R.A as part of the festival's historical reenactments.

However, once a year, Greenville transforms into a place straight out of the Middle Ages, when history buffs take over for the Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival.

The event, centering around the Renaissance, draws patrons from far and wide to see knights, jesters, ladies in waiting and the Royal Court.

Andrew Willis
Matthew Greer, also known around the festival as Sir Richard, poses in his full suit of armor.

Within the faire, visitors can become whoever they want for that first weekend in March. Attendees get a chance to experience a re-enactment of life based in the 800’s, surrounded by hundreds of costumed characters recreating a 9th Century European Marketplace filled with mythical beings.

Many patrons of the faire dress up for the occasion, incorporating many magical and fantasy elements into their medieval-inspired costumes, like Chance Lucas. She's a first timer at the Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival and went all out with her costume, dressed as a fairy, but with a twist.

“I've just kind of wearing [ram horns], I always love ram's horns. I'm a Capricorn so horns are it for me and then just kind of fairy aesthetic,” Lucas said. She’s at the Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival with William Thomas.

“I do like a mushroom theme,” Thomas said. “We have a whole party. Once the theme is all together, it'll be a little more obvious.” Lucas,

Thomas and their crew are among those looking to join a new world of exploration and fun.

Spread throughout the festival are several re-enactments of “living history demonstrations” created by the group Historical Education and Recreation of Alabama, or H.E.R.A., for short.

These performative presentations include everything from cooking demonstrations to a blacksmith from the 9th century, offering a glimpse into the Renaissance and Medieval world of discovery and adventure.

Matthew Greer was in the crowds and is known around the festival as Sir Richard. He’s a knight hoping to break into the living history scene. Greer says his favorite part of the Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival is seeing the past come to life.

He helped make that happen by sporting a full suit of armor-- donned with chainmail. That’s a type of protectant used in the Middle Ages consisting of small metal rings linked together.

Apothecary Amelia Fisher sharing her knowledge of medieval medical practices with APR's Caroline Karrh.
Baillee Majors
Apothecary Amelia Fisher sharing her knowledge of medieval medical practices with APR's Caroline Karrh.

“Before chainmail, people mostly just wore padded garments, but obviously, that doesn't work super well against swords in sharp blades. So, they started developing chainmail to protect against that,” he explained.

For those looking to learn more about armor or chainmail, look no further than Greer, who detailed the different types of chainmail, including the one draped across his armor.

Allison Reid shows off her handmade faun costume, complete with taxidermy ears and real skull.
Baillee Majors
Allison Reid shows off her handmade faun costume, complete with taxidermy ears and real skull.

"This is flat round riveted. There [are] round rings, but all real chainmail will be riveted in some way, so it doesn't just fly apart,” he explained.

Resident harpist and retired dragon slayer, Eric Allison, plays enchanting music for patrons to enjoy.
Andrew Willis
Resident harpist and retired dragon slayer, Eric Allison, plays enchanting music for patrons to enjoy.

Greer was just one person decked out for the occasion. Among the others dressed up was Amelia Fisher, who works doing living history interpreting at Fort Conde in Mobile.

She brought her skills to the Medieval Fantasy Festival in Greenville by explaining what kind of practices medical professionals of the time would perform while aboard the seas.

"We have the apothecary booth to kind of just show a little bit about like what ships doctors would have went through in the 1700s because we do historical reenactments," she explained.

Apothecaries prepared and sold medicines treatments back in the day, and they are now known as the modern terms, “pharmacist” and “chemist.”

"They do medicine, compounding, they would perform surgeries on the ship. They also did woodworking on the ship, which is also pretty interesting," Fished detailed.

While showing off potions and tinctures, Fisher was adorned in a petticoat, flowy skirt, a headscarf and billowy blouse – as women pirates would often wear. Like Fisher, many festivalgoers give it their all when it comes to costumes or cosplaying.

Matthew Greer, the knight with the chainman, estimated his historically accurate armor weighs somewhere between 60 and 80 pounds.

Farthing Fourth Penny, Queen Annwyn's Royal Jester.
Baillee Majors
Farthing Fourth Penny, Queen Annwyn's Royal Jester.

"It's a little heavy, but it's not too bad. The key is getting it to fit right, and then the weights not most of the weight on your hips," he explained. "I've tinkered with it and, and trying to make it as authentic as possible and make it fit as good as it can."

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For many attending the Medieval Fantasy Festival, it’s about more than history—it’s also about art. Allison Reid is a visitor from Garland, Alabama.

She’s been to the fair for several years, but this was the first time she decided to attend the fairy-tale character of a faun, which, in several mythologies, is a creature that’s part human and part goat. Reid said her costume was a labor of love.

"We made it over about two weeks at some of this is just bought stuff. But we 3D printed a lot of it and put it together. These are formerly high heels," she explained. "This is just faux fur. It was a process. I think the hardest part was the taxidermy ears. This is actually a real skull."

Giving visitors the chance to be someone else for the weekend is a popular aspect of the festival. The food, fun and authenticity draw patrons from far and wide, but the highlight of the faire, according to Reid, is an attraction other attendees agree on: jousting.

The live joust just might be the pinnacle of the festival. Knights on horseback dressed in full armor charging at one another with long, pointed rods—what could be better? The spectacle is enough to make festivalgoers feel positively medieval.

The joust is certainly eye catching, but over the clanking of swords and beating of hooves, attendees could hear the melodious strums of a medieval musician, Eric Allison.

"I'm a member of the minstrel’s guild, but I'm also the court scribe. So, I keep records," he explained.

This time of year, Allison wears many different hats, including scribe, retired dragon slayer and… a harpist. His gentle plucking of the strings can be heard all through the festival. Allison said he started playing to keep himself busy.

 "I bought this harp when I turned 50 to start looking for a retirement hobby. And it came with a book by Sylvia Wood titled Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp. If you go through all those lessons, you actually know how to play the harp at the end of the day."

Allison’s ethereal music adds liveliness and ambiance to the festive atmosphere, but the historic harpist says his attendance at the festival was out of his hands.

"The Queen ordered me to be here," he explained.

Queen Annwyn is the festival’s resident monarch. She strolls the faire grounds with her Royal Court Processional, tossing coins to subjects who pay her the proper respect with a bowed-head or curtsey.

Her Majesty’s subjects say that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her hospitality to visitors. The locals of her kingdom explain she rules the faire with an iron fist… but a generous spirit.

“Queen Annwyn is very beautiful. She's very gracious,” said the Queen’s Royal Jester, Farthing Fourth Penny. His royal duties include keeping the Queen and her court entertained.

"I make the queen laugh. I also help with battle plans, and I'm allowed to counsel, and if they say something that sounds very silly to me, I make sure to tell them right away so that they know that it's silly," he explained.

The jester says sometimes his job is more difficult than it seems—especially when his jokes don’t land well.

"Well, I actually spend a lot more time in the stocks because I'm not as funny as I think I am, and a lot of times, the King gets mad, and he pulls me in the stocks," he said.

Life in the kingdom is pretty sweet, even in the stocks, according to the jester, who calls it his “home away from home," but he warns not to mess around with the monarch.

"Oh, the queen is very nice unless you make her mad," he cautioned.

After spotting several mythical creatures, talking with a real knight in shining armor and being granted a coin from the Queen, patrons can say they checked everything off their fantasy bucket list, though they might have to save the dragon slaying for next year.

Caroline Karrh is a student intern in the Alabama Public Radio newsroom. She majors in News Media and Communication Studies at The University of Alabama. She loves to read, write and report. When she is not in the newsroom, Caroline enjoys spending time with her friends and family, reading romance novels and coaching soccer.

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