Iowa Renaissance Festival and Gathering o’Celts | May 25-27 | Amana Park, Amana Colonies
The 22nd annual Iowa Renaissance Festival and Gathering o’Celts will represent a bittersweet occasion for Sir William Rogers, also known as Greg Schmidt (at least, in this century), who plans to abdicate his noble position as the festival’s producer-director in search of glorious new adventures.
What can visitors expect at this year’s Iowa Renaissance Festival? The best of the best, according to Schmidt. Before passing off the torch, he intends on making his final year the best one yet, calling it his “grand finale, of sorts.” Schmidt said he plans on showcasing many of the Iowa Renaissance Festival’s most popular acts, including the “equestrian spectacle” known as Joust Evolution, the Shattock Schoole of Defense comedy theater and Kansas City’s Brotherhood of Steel, just to name a few.
In total, six stages are set to feature more than fifty special events throughout the weekend. Approximately 200 costumed characters–from village minstrels to your average peasant–will be wandering about as well. This year’s festival will also feature a number of newly added acts to the roster, including the Hardtack Jack pub band from Minnesota and the Fabulous Fantastic Flying Fratellis based out of Omaha.
For those who prefer to wander off the beaten path, a number of encampment groups–such as Warwick and the Guardians of the Black Forest–will fill the surrounding meadow, offering a variety of combat shows and folk life exhibits.
Over the last two decades, Schmidt has seen to personally recruiting performers for his festivals, building his roster year by year through his hands-on approach.
“Through the years I have either sought out, auditioned, created and directed or ‘discovered’ numerous novelty acts in the Upper Midwest that have enhanced our festivals. Some of the most professional show troupes have come from the local talent pool, right there in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids,” Schmidt said over email. “What keeps it fresh is when someone from a defunct performing troupe starts up a new one and brings that to me to showcase at the Renaissance festival. Plus, the youngsters continue to show an interest in learning the classical art forms and joining the show.”
Hands-on activities such as archery and knife-tossing will be available, as well as a beer garden and various food carts (i.e., mead and vittles for all you peasants). For the wine enthusiasts, complementing this year’s Royal Pavilion Beer Garden is a newly added selection of wines from Crane Winery.
This year, the merchant’s bazaar will be the largest shopping village the festival has ever had. Ten new artisan vendors are set to join the fold, offering collector weapons, custom-made jewelry and various unique, home-made goods exclusive to the festival. Many of these artisans will not only be selling their goods, but creating them on location as well.
Over the years, Schmidt as developed a special sort of relationship with merchants, performers and patrons alike.
“We’ve seen both patron children and performer children grow up to continue the appreciation for the Renaissance festival experience,” Schmidt said. “I’ve come to know the merchants and performers so well that I can anticipate many of their particular needs and preferences at each event. You might say I want them to think of me as their favorite uncle.”
Although his departure is a sad one, Schmidt’s new ventures are fitting for a man with such a chivalrous alter ego. He plans on dedicating more time to his charity Quarters for Quarters, founded in 2012, to provide better sleeping quarters for Iowa’s children.
“We expect to take it state-wide next year,” Schmidt says. “When I was volunteering for a local church weeknight bussing program, I saw first-hand that some of our Iowa children don’t have beds of their own. They have to sleep on the living room couch after the parents are done watching television. According to my superintendent friend, it really bothers their performance in school.”
Schmidt also plans to pursue his passion for Iowa-interest documentaries and screenplays. “For some six or seven years, now, I’ve seen that several of my priority projects might fade into the mist if I didn’t get them completed,” he said. Schmidt went on to mention a number of projects currently in the works or in the planning stages, including the documentary River Riders, which advocates more river recreation in the state of Iowa as well as the establishment of the Paddlers Annual Great Boat Ride Across Iowa (PAGBRAI).
Schmidt says his experience with the Iowa Renaissance Festival has been a fulfilling one. And although he’ll be leasing out the production rights of the Iowa Renaissance Festival to other entities who will add their own artistic touches, Schmidt will remain as the head of Festivals International–the regional festival organization Schmidt operates with his wife Bonnie–wherein he will continue to act as a consultant.
“We felt blessed when we came to the community of the Amana Colonies and the site for the festival,” Schmidt said, noting that this is the festival’s third location over the years. “I will hear parents tell me that the Iowa Renaissance Festival was the best time the family had, together, all year. The work became less and the enjoyment grew more so, each year.”
The Iowa Renaissance Festival and Gathering o’Celts runs from May 25-27 between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., daily. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for children ages 6-13 (younger children receive free admission), with two and three day passes available for $17 and $22, respectively. Parking is free and group discounts are available. Visit www.iowarenfest.com for more information.