Huzzah Valley!

An Ulster County celebration takes spring by the horns

Surely you’ve heard of the many Renaissance fairs that storm the Valley each year, featuring hair-raising medieval jousts, beer-slugging wenches, and steaks-on-a-stick. Unfortunately, fair-goers have to hold their horses until August before they can journey to the Middle Ages — most festivals usually don’t open their gates until the end of the summer season.Thankfully, there’s a unique celebration that delivers the Ren World to the region much sooner. Held in Ulster County each May for the past five years, the Hudson Valley Mayfaire and Farmers Market appears to be identical to the other Renaissance fairs in the area — but there’s a twist.“A Mayfaire actually celebrates the renewal of spring,” says Cheryl Olsen, the festival’s general manager and costume designer. “At the average Renaissance fair, you won’t see any satyrs or unicorns running around. Here, you’re in Arcadia. It’s more fantasy — think Lord of the Rings meets Midsummer Night’s Dream.”The differences are only slight, however. The fair still incorporates performances and roaming actors (“Pester the Jester is such a perv when he’s not onstage,” Olsen jokes); local merchants peddling real leather goods and handmade hair garlands; games of skill; and a petting zoo for kids. However, since it’s a peaceful (and Earth-friendly) celebration, no smoking is allowed on the grounds. Unsheathed weaponry is banned, too. Instead of jousts, swordsmen participate in a boffer tournament (using foam swords) organized by the Order of the Roc, Kingston’s own modern chivalric group. And as a dry site, the fair doesn’t allow the quaffing of alcohol — but does permit tastings. “Guests over 21 can sample mead and purchase a bottle — that stuff is unbelievable.” Olsen says. Fair-goers can also taste brews produced by Kingston’s own Keegan Ales, one of dozens of local businesses supported by the festival.The Mayfaire also hosts a farmers market to promote sustainable agriculture. Admission is by donation, and all funds received help support Forsyth Park (where the fair is being held) and the Queen’s Galley, a nonprofit which battles hunger in the Valley.“This is a day totally dedicated to fantasy without violence,” says Olsen. “We encourage everyone to leave their world and come play in ours.”Hudson Valley Mayfaire and Farmers Market. May 1-2, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Forsyth Park & Nature Center. 125 Lucas Ave., Kingston. 845-514-2824 or

hudson valley mayfaireMerry maids Renaissance life meets “green” practices at the Hudson Valley Mayfaire

Photograph by Andrea Woessner

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