Buy Me a Sword: Iowa Renaissance Festival brings the life and times of centuries past back to the Amanas

2018 Iowa Renaissance Festival and Gathering o’ Celts

Middle Amana Park — May 26-28 and June 2-3

Joust Evolution returns to the Iowa Renaissance Festival this year. — video still

Hear ye, hear ye: The Iowa Renaissance Festival and Gathering o’ Celts will transmogrify Middle Amana Park into a historical wonderland for the next two weekends, featuring feast and potation fit for royalty, mercantile from all the sovereign lands and various performances in the courtyard, from jousting to swordfighting to the arcane arts.

For its 26th year, the festival has expanded to two weekends: May 27-29 and June 3-4. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. rain or shine (or snow, as has happened in years past) thousands of people from the Midwest will gather in tunics or iron-clad in armor. Tickets are $12 for ages 13 and up, $6 for children. Multi-day passes range from $10-39. On Memorial Day, current and retired military are admitted free (with military ID).

The roughly 400-year period in European history known as the Renaissance will sweep through the shire of Medici Grove, as the park has been dubbed for the event. But the two weekends will also feature other eras.

“We try to provide a range of different timelines through the Renaissance,” says festival producer Mike Amos, who took the helm last year.

There are seven different “encampments,” Amos explains, that showcase different periods of history alongside the Renaissance, from vikings to celts to pirates. Each of these different exhibits will feature live performance, spanning comedy to firebreathing to musical troupes. All of this culminates at the mainstage, with the Joust. My experience last year placed the event as a cross between a Game of Thrones theatre production and WWE. The performers, Joust Evolution, are a regional act, who shape the outcomes of their spars based on audience participation.

Iowa Renaissance is family-friendly and more than just entertainment value, Amos says. It’s an opportunity for hands-on and immersive education, whether for aspiring pupils or wise sages. There will be workshops in metallurgy, lessons in pony-riding for kids and run-throughs of everything that goes into a knight donning their armor for battle (which is a series of layering — tunic, chainmail and then plate armor — ultimately weighing some 50 pounds).

All throughout the day, the festival sets up a flea market with merchants of goblets, swords, tapestries and more period-specific goods. If one has a discerning eye, they might find famous village characters, such as Robin Hood or Herr Karl or many more (village royalty is always on display at Ren Fest), patronizing the marketplace or the royal food court. From 5-6 p.m. each day, The King’s Smoker — a new addition this year — will open its doors to legal-aged patrons for beer, wine, mead and jokes.

For the bulk of its life, Iowa Renaissance Festival has set up in the Amana Colonies, a sort of breathing museum of European ancestry in Iowa. “There’s a lot of fun and games with Ren Fest,” Amos says, “but also the opportunity to learn. This ties in well with the Amanas, where we see a lot of preservation of history.”