Saturday, September 28, 2013

Well Met: a book on Renaissance Faires

I have yet to read this book, but Jeff Sypeck's post on Quid Plura is intriguing:

What hath the Renaissance faire to do with psychedelic rock? The vogue for “world music”? The frilly shirts of Jimi Hendrix? The rise of craft breweries? The House Un-American Activities Committee? Before reading Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture, I hadn’t thought to ask—but Rachel Lee Rubin’s book is a useful reminder that pseudo-medieval pursuits are sometimes more about the present than they are about the past.
Rubin starts with the basics: how the first faire grew out of a children’s commedia dell’arte troupe organized at a California youth center by teacher Phyllis Patterson. In May 1963, Patterson and others organized the first “Renaissance Pleasure Faire and May Market” as a fundraiser for left-wing Pacifica Radio, drawing more than 3,000 revelers to a North Hollywood ranch. Associated with hippies and drugs by local detractors, the event quickly outgrew Pacifica. It spawned its first imitators in Minnesota and Texas in the early 1970s; more than 200 Ren fests of varying sizes now thrive across the United States.
So how did a countercultural crafts-and-music romp evolve into a nationwide subculture overseen, in some cases, by a large entertainment corporation? Well Met doesn’t chart the growth and commercialization of the Ren faire. Instead, Rubin has two goals: to explain “the ways in which various forms of cultural expression ‘tried out’ first at the faire became recognizable staples of American social and cultural life,” and to restore the Renaissance faire to a central place in the history of the counterculture. Once I got past my initial disappointment that the book wasn’t a history, I was won over by Rubin’s argument for the importance of the Renaissance faire to the culture of the 1960s and 1970s—and its long-overlooked ubiquity.
Her evidence is legion: how the Los Angeles Free Press began as the Ren faire newspaper; how Americans, who now consume beer from nearly 2,500 craft breweries, first sampled ale at the faire; how fashion choices and even the typefaces on psychedelic album art recall early faire fliers; how the faire anticipated renewed markets for handmade crafts and set precedents for large outdoor rock concerts; how occasional faire-goer Michael Jackson mimicked the moves and style of faire mime Robert Shields; how the Flying Karamazov Brothers, the Firesign Theater, and Penn and Teller all got their start at Ren faires; and how the faire coincided with a Middle Eastern cabaret boom in California that helped build an audience for international music. Rubin even suggests that the Ren faire helped revive interest in the klezmer. Who knew?

There's more...

1 comment:

  1. Not to mention the "Tolkein Revival" which in my opinion was driven by some of the finest artwork calendars of all time.