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Festival Fails and Near Disasters: 2019

Updated: Oct 28, 2019

Despite the Renaissance Faire industry’s decades-long growth trajectory, 2019 ushered in a number of setbacks and even financial failure for some festivals.

Beginning in the early 1960s with the opening of the California Pleasure Faire, today, around 200 events in the US and Canada (and many more across Europe) are visited by over 6.1 million people annually. Yet even with a staggering 60% growth rate over the past two decades, some festivals still suffer setbacks or even outright financial failure.

Festivals that have made news recently for shuttering their gates in 2019 due to financial difficulties include the Des Moines RenFest and the new ND RenFest. Although both festivals promised to refund pre-paid ticket holders, Randy Jones, owner of the NDRF, is now under investigation by the ND state Attorney General’s office for not responding to individual refund requests.

The NY RenFaire also made news this month for three whistleblowers who leaked the festival director’s discrepancy reports. The 99-page document reportedly reveals a number of incidents of sexual misconduct, as well as identifies buildings or stages that are in such need of repair that they may be a danger to performers or visitors. These allegations were made hard on the heels of a number of other harassment allegations earlier this past summer at a number of other festivals. (See #MeToo Pummels Faire Circuit), making 2019 a banner year for harassment lawsuits.

Photo: Alaina Hower

An event that suffered hardships but quickly bounced back is the WV RenFest. WVRF opened in 2018 to great fanfare. But in January 2019, tragedy struck when their barn, the centerpiece of their event, caught fire, killing a number of livestock and completely destroying the structure. Fortunately, the community rallied behind the event owners by holding a number of fundraisers throughout the first quarter of 2019, and they were able to rebuild the structure in time for a successful June opening.

Similarly, last year, tragedy struck Ye Merrie Greenwood RenFest in Washington State when a tree branch fell and killed a visitor. Since then, park authorities hired a tree expert to assess the health of all the trees in the park, trimmed the branches around the event site, and removed a number of trees that were dying or dead. Their 2019 season was held without incident.

For a blast from the past, a recently posted photo essay on one of the larger events of the 1990s showcases the now defunct VA RenFaire (but this event is not to be confused with the new VA RenFaire, which opened its gates in 2001 and continues its successful run to this day in Spotsylvania, VA). The old festival closed its doors in 1999 after a number of seasons operating at a loss. Today, the site is a ghost town of rotting medieval structures and stages, overgrown with weeds and marshland, making it a sad but poignant reminder that not all festivals are blessed with success.

Do you have a story about a past or present Renaissance Faire or other costumed event that you would like to see covered, or have updates to any of the above topics? Send blog ideas and news updates to


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