LEWISBURG, W.Va. (WVDN) – Every Weekend in June is renaissance festival time in Greenbrier County. The West Virginia Renaissance Festival is now a featured landmark and offers residents and visitors from all over the country a genuine, live experience with talented actors, comedians, artists and musicians.
The first renaissance gathering in the country was in California in 1962. It was planned as a “living history exhibit” and spawned commercial enterprises across the country. The largest today is in Texas, and the second largest is in Minnesota, where Dawn Kieninger started as a vendor in 1981. There she met a jouster named Taso N. Stavrakis, and the two of them have been operating the festival in Lewisburg for several years.
Kieninger says, “We draw attendees from all over the country, and our reputation here is a good one. What surprises me is that many local and West Virginia state residents do not even know about this opportunity.
“It’s like a circus. The main difference is that, instead of being inside a big tent, it is held in an open-air property with many tents, wagons and structures, including outdoor performances, and you can walk around and experience it at your own pace.”
The West Virginia Renaissance Festival’s hours are 11 a.m.-8 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday in June.
There are themed weekends where patrons are encouraged to dress in the themed attire, as well. Cosplay (dressing in costumes as characters) is a popular activity, and many attendees already own the outfits for different themes, because they expect to participate.
The theme for the weekend of June 3 and 4 is “Pirates Landing,” where a pirate outfit is popular to wear. The June 10-11 weekend’s theme is “Celtic Crossing,” and a kilt would go quite nicely. The June 17-18 weekend’s theme is “Beer and Barbarians” — just use your imagination.
The final weekend of June 24 and 25 is “Bacchanalia,” which suggests toga attire (bedsheet design is optional). Costumes are not required but could make a fun family experience.
As the festival grows, so does the number of acts and vendors. Over 60 vendors this year will have items for sale, including food, treasures and clothing for the festival or themed weekends.
Demonstrations are scattered about, including glass blowing, blacksmithing, glass figurine making or pottery — even dancing the country English style with the king and queen.
More local vendors are welcome to apply. This is a juried program, and applications are selected usually include items that are handmade, period appropriate and fantasy oriented with modern touches allowed.
Stavrakis is the visionary of the festival. He started jousting in 1979, and his performance is legendary, and his experience and leadership have brought this program together in Greenbrier County. Stavrakis has a background in acting, stunts, horsemanship and animal husbandry and boasts many movie and stage credits.
Stavrakis has participated in the Greenbrier Valley Theatre and is always on board to represent the West Virginia Renaissance Festival with appearances in other local parades and festivals. Stavrakis also performs at other festivals around the country.
The farm on Route 60 West, where the festival is held, is home to 28 horses. Six to eight of the horses travel to other festivals with Stavrakis, but many are retired and are simply enjoying the appreciation and love that their careers earned them.
Kieninger said she is excited about some of the newer acts will that appeal to the young and young at heart — fairies, mermaids and unicorn rides are particularly fascinating, she said.
The big new act coming up this year is the Iron Lions who practice “Buhart” or the medieval art of armored combat. Those who have “warrior” in their hearts might really be fascinated by that.
There are participatory programs, as well, where the audience can be part of the reenactment, like trimming the May pole or shouting in the stands during the joust. The jousting takes place three times a day at 12, 3 and 5:30 p.m.
In addition to new acts, new buildings pop up on the grounds every year. New for this year, a large barn has been erected on the hill above the entrance, allowing for more space for indoor performances, a wine bar, and the food and drink vendors Hawk Knob Cidery and Swift Level Fine Meats.
The second floor of the new barn is used for hay storage — most of the buildings on the property have the dual purpose of festival and regular farm use.
Kieninger says newer vendors really appreciate the common spaces under a single roof, because it means they don’t have to set up tents or carts; they just need to bring their wares; and a space can be found for them. Her background as a vendor gives her special respect for the needs of traveling artists.
Also, Kieninger says, there is a new carriage house which is more personal to her, as it displays antique carriages that belonged to her family.
The West Virginia Renaissance Festival is located at Hollow Hills Farm on Route 60, west of Lewisburg or east of Alta, depending on where you are coming from. The address is 23439 Midland Trail, Lewisburg, WV.
The festival also has a Facebook page and website, featuring many of the acts and selling tickets in advance. There is a family package this year for families of three or four, and admission is free for children under 6 years old.
King Edward and Queen Eleanore invite you to their kingdom to experience the fascinating times of the renaissance. Pick a weekend in June and head to West Virginia’s own renaissance festival!
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.