While most Middle Tennesseans know "The Castle" in from their drives up and down I840 or Highway 96, the opportunity to visit it comes but once a year for most of us at the annual Tennessee Renaissance Festival. Castell Gwynn ("The White Castle" in Welsh) opens its doors once more this month for the 35th annual festival, and after last year's Covid-related closing, its offerings are more delightful- and safe- than ever.
Here are five things to know about the 2021 Tennessee Renaissance Festival.
1. You'll Want to Bring the Kids
If you've never attended before, rest assured that the family-friendly atmosphere is staunchly maintained at the festival. While there's plenty to captivate the adults-- from thrilling jousting and hilarious comedy shows (PG ratings are indicated) to breath-taking craftsmanship-- there's plenty to do that is just for smaller patrons. They'll love meeting Robin Hood and Maid Marian in an interactive play performance and playing with the fairies in Covington Glenn. Animal enthusiasts will be wowed by Master Falconer Ash Cary for birds of prey demonstrations, and on the Pirate's Weekend young pirates can swashbuckled in front of a crowd during the pirate costume fashion show.
The price is helpful, too: Ages 5 and younger are free, while ages 6-12 are $10. General admission is $25.
2. You'll Need to Plan Ahead
The first time my husband and I attended the festival it was more or less on a whim on Memorial Day weekend. This year guests will need to be a little more intentional, purchasing tickets ahead of time as no sales will be held the day-of. Choose from themed weekends Opening Weekend (May 8-9), Artisan and Crafts Weekend (May 15-16), Pirate Invasion Weekend (May 22-23), and Celtic Weekend (May 29-21).
3. You'll Want to Create - and Wear - Masks
Yes, it's outside, and yes, masks are required for ages 5 and up and for any close-contact activities such as hair-braiding, ride, face painting, etc. The Facebook page is already full of complaints, and the festival directors aren't budging, but neither are they letting an opportunity for creativity go to waste!
As part of this year's "Royal Masquerade" theme, guests are invited to create, design, and exhibit a hand-crafted face mask and attend the late afternoon Hammerbeam Pub Sing each open day where judges will decree and award a "Winner of the Best Royal Mask." Requirements include that the mask must cover both nose and mouth, eyes must be visible, mask must be hand-crafted by the wearer, and no full-face masks or costume heads. A winner will be announced each afternoon during the Pub Sing and a prize will be awarded.
4. You'll Need - and Want - to Bring Cash
More than 60 vendors attend the festival each year, offering a dizzying array of goods from handmade armor and jewelry, to leatherwork, glass and stone creations (not to mention the many craft food vendors on site). With more than typical fair fare, chances are you'll find truly unique items to take home. But plan to keep the cards in the car this year-- cash and coin is all that will be accepted by vendors. Plan accordingly and tuck a fanny pack under your kilts and robes.
5. You'll Want to Witness Castell Gwynn
The result of more than 50 years of dreaming, planning, and work by owner Mike Freeman and his wife Jackie, as well as some of the finest craftsmen and women in the country, Castell Gwynn is an architectural marvel that each attendee at the festival is invited to see. Modeled on a 12th century Welsh castle, the most recent addtions have been repair and resurfacing of damage caused by I840 construction. Worked in metal by Joe Brown, with leaded glass by Jim Hackett, new doors and windows now highlight and complete the bright exterior of Castell Gwynn.
Ready to go? The Tennessee Renaissance Festival is located at 2124 New Castle Road, Arrington, and will be held each weekend in May and Memorial Day. Tickets must be purchased in advance and guests are advised to be familiar with all safety and health protocols before attending. Get all the details at tnrenfest.com
Laura Beth Payne is a writer mama and Murfreesboro native who lives in the Blackman community with her husband and two children. Follow her at @murfreesboromama on Facebook and Instagram. Got a column idea? Email her at email@example.com.