NORWICH — Norwich residents can expect a fun new event this year: the first annual Upstate Renaissance Faire will be bringing 1300 to 1600 A.D. England to life at the Chenango County Fairgrounds during Labor Day weekend.
The faire is being organized by Norwich native Heather Baker, who has attended several renaissance faires in New York and Pennsylvania for years. She said over time the travel and cost of attending got to be too much, so she decided to bring the festivities to her hometown.
"It just seemed like it’s getting old, the traveling and the trucking back and forth. But I still love it. So I said, what the heck, let’s bring it here and see what happens," said Baker.
"I see the prices of faires going up and up and up, and they don’t really offer anything new. They just keep charging you more for the same thing, and I want to keep a faire that’s fairly reasonable," she added. "I'm going to do my best to keep prices as fair as possible. I'm not in this to rake people and just take all their money. I want to have a good time. I want everybody, all the vendors and the food people, to make money, and a family to come and not have to spend half of their life savings just to go to the faire."
Creating the Upstate Renaissance Faire from scratch has been no easy feat. Baker said she's learned a lot about what it takes to create a festival, from forming an LLC, obtaining the right insurance, networking, and obtaining vendors, volunteers, performers, and “playtrons” — attendees at the faire in full costume that both enjoy the festivities and play the part of a renaissance-era character.
Plans for the faire actually began around three years ago, but was unfortunately put on hold at the beginning of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to large gatherings. But now, plans are back in full swing, and Baker is working on building up a team of vendors and volunteers to make the first ever Upstate Renaissance Faire the best it can be.
The various wares attendees can expect to find at the faire include locally-made soap, fairy houses, and chainmaille creations, among others. There will also be multiple fortune tellers and tarot card readers, theatrical music group Merry Mischief, combat shows, and more.
"We’re kind of looking for everything and expanding and seeing what we can get," said Baker. "The more the better. The more variety at the faire, the more people enjoy it."
Those interested in being a vendor or volunteering at the Upstate Renaissance Faire can contact Baker through the Upstate Renaissance Festival Facebook group.
Although Baker anticipates the first faire to be on the smaller side, she hopes in the coming years to make the event even bigger and better. Her long-term goal is to obtain her own property to hold the faire, which would open the door to several weekends of renaissance festivities per year.
Additionally, she said she wants the renaissance faire to be good for the entire Norwich community, both through a family-friendly event as well as economic support.
"I'm looking to make this a thing that benefits the whole community. I'm going to have fundraisers and stuff. I'm going to donate a portion of our proceeds to various charities every year," said Baker. "I'm hoping through our faire we can build this area up, bring a lot more money into it, provide more jobs. You might only be there in the summer, but some people make a living just doing the faire for seven weekends."
She said she also sees the faire being an educational opportunities for local youth in the future.
"I also want to have some educational aspects of it as well. Not just entertainment, but something for the kids to do, people to learn about, because most people don’t understand the differences in the renaissance and medieval eras. I want to teach them a little bit of stuff, too," Baker explained. "My hope is once we get permanent grounds to open it even further, have educational opportunities for schools to come in and do some educational activities, the Boy Scouts, things like that, to come in and do some history learning and see some hands-on experience and see what that was like."
Baker hopes the Upstate Renaissance Faire will be a fun new addition to the festival season in Norwich. She encourages area residents to check it out this Labor Day weekend, and don't be shy to get involved by dressing in costume or interacting with playtrons as they stroll the fairgrounds.
More information on the Upstate Renaissance Faire can be found on the Upstate NY Renaissance Faire Facebook page and the Upstate Renaissance Festival Facebook group.