Modern folk can wander among nobles and peasants, heckle jousters or watch a falcon hunt its prey at the annual Louisiana Renaissance Festival, which has returned to the outskirts of Hammond for six weekends through Dec. 7.
Every fall, the 16-acre site is transformed into the medieval English village of Albright, where more than 600 artisans, entertainers and educational demonstrators gather along paths and around a small lake.
“It’s not every day that you get the chance to see horses jousting, learn how hawks and falcons were used to hunt in the past or see a glassblower and a blacksmith demonstrating how things were made,” said Rick Hitht, general manager and founder of the Louisiana Renaissance Festival.
More than 50 shows and demonstrations will be held every day on 12 stages. There’s a jousting and falconry area which holds up to 5,000 people.
“Two people wearing 140 pounds of armor apiece, on a Clydesdale, which are about 5 to 6 foot tall when you’re sitting on them! They go after each other at 35 mph, trying to take the other off their horse — where else in Louisiana can you go see that?” Hitht said.
The entertainment that spans the six-week period goes beyond the stage to include sword fights, comedy, jesters, jugglers, jousting, falconry, fire-eating, knighting ceremonies, animal acts, puppet shows for kids and pubs for adults.
Cast members, brought in from all over the country, create the illusion of a 1500s English village by enacting the lives of peasants and nobles. Festivalgoers can interact with them and learn the lifestyle of a bygone era.
More than 50 renaissance festivals are held in the United States throughout the year, attracting 300,000-plus visitors to the larger festivals in Arizona and Texas. Hitht explains Louisiana is a medium-sized one, attracting 60,000 visitors, but it’s growing.
Beyond the entertainment, 100 merchant booths sell unique handmade creations: weapons and armor, kilts, drinking horns, wooden swords and shields, leather masks, period clothing, copper and bronze statues, fountains and sculptures, tapestries and archery bows.
“We push the handmade products. You will not find plastic and neon here because that did not exist in the Renaissance era — although we don’t hold strictly to that in the festival’s entirety, we try to keep the illusion,” Hitht said.
“Our hidden gem is glassblower Mark Haller, who was commissioned by Disney to open up a glassblowing studio on Main Street in Disney World,” Hitht said. “During his entire show, he is talking to you. He knows his art and has a strong passion for it.”
Those looking for the full immersion experience can camp at the rustic camping facilities steps from the front gate. Spend the evening sitting around a bonfire trading tales well into the night.
For folk visiting the village of Albright for the first time, Hitht advises to plan on staying for the entire day.
“Renaissance festivals are, point-blank, a lot of fun,” Hitht said. “Make sure you walk around the entire site, see what catches your interest and then come back to it. People come in and get so caught up with what is going on at the front that they never get to see what is going on at the back end of the show.”