What Travel Writers Say

The Lords & Ladies of Sterling

© By Mike Keenan

  Our Niagara friends continually ask us to accompany them to the Sterling Renaissance Festival in New York, but not being particularly fond of the 14th - 17th century time period, we always find extravagant excuses to beg off. "I'm getting my annual anti-political party tetanus shot," I might say or "I'm assisting a neighbour install an outdoor toilet to cut down on municipal taxes." This year, we finally acquiesced and attended, and it was a blast as well as an opportunity to linger in the Finger Lakes region, an added bonus.
     After following a long road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we arrived. Upon entering the spacious grounds, set in the middle of dense woods (I expected Robin Hood and Little John), we were warmly welcomed as "My Lord and Lady." I quickly looked around, expecting to encounter Conrad Black and his wife, Babs, but the Lord and Lady were in Chicago on some weighty matter. The Festival is a reenactment of life in 1585 in the English village of Warwick during a supposed visit from Queen Elizabeth I. All I could remember about the period was the horrible "Black Death," the same curse that afflicts Buffalo sports teams in the playoffs.
     One might fritter away an entire day here with motley stage and street performances, professional actors and much merriment from hearty pub songs, lusty wench auctions, and the hilarious trial & dunke, on a hot day, welcome liquid relief for those "criminals" forced under water in a wooden chair.
     Along the paths, artisans sold unique wares, and when hungry, there was steak-on-a-stake, pita pockets, huge turkey legs, portabella mushroom sandwiches, mile-high cakes and more.
     Historic music fashioned from a dazzling array of period instruments, filled the air: madrigals, old English, traditional and original Celtic tunes on hammered dulcimer, Irish flute, pennywhistle, concertina, bodhran, vocals, guitar, bouzouki and mandolin.
     Everyone exulted in period dress as well as many customers, like Trekkies from previous years, displayed in their own outfits. There was a shop to rent costumes and a braiding station for the ladies. It's certainly a place for family fun, but be prepared to explain the bawdy commentary.
     The sword swallower was so smooth that I was compelled to watch in awe from the first row. He swallowed everything in sight including a long plastic balloon. It reminded me of listening to politicians at election time. There was a lively rendition of the Commedia dell'arte, predicated on silly double entendres, a station for throwing rather large and surprisingly hard tomatoes at a brave soul in a wood cutout, slides and other exciting rides for kids propelled by human power, and my favourite, the joust.
     Jousting on horseback was robust and entertaining, the diligent knights in armour genuinely intent on doing harm to each other. Riders were knocked off horses, lances broken and the crowd, asked to champion specific knights, roared their biased approval.
     Another personal favourite was a washer wench, performing her laundry rites at the town wash pit, quite content to exhibit suggestive poses for my camera. During the day, a long parade of actors wound its merry way throughout the grounds. Their costumes were terrific. For cerebral types, there was a live chess match employing people as pawns, knights, bishops, etc.
     The Sterling Renaissance Festival celebrates a short season conducted on weekends from July to August. Mark it on your calendar. There are themed weekends featuring children, romance, pirates and costumes.
     The site is located at 15385 Farden Rd., Sterling, NY 13156. For ticket information, call: 315-947-5783. The Sterling Renaissance Festival is 5 minutes from Fair Haven Beach State Park, 2 1/2 hours from Buffalo with free parking. Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Leave Fido with your neighbours; no pets are allowed.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

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