The calm of Billings Shire was shattered Sunday afternoon as a fight erupted after robbers snatched wares from the Gypsy Traders’ booth. However, it wasn’t long before the would-be thieves were caught and peace was restored.
And it was nothing out of the ordinary at the 2014 Montana Renaissance Festival held at ZooMontana on Saturday and Sunday in Billings.
Men and women dressed in different renaissance-era garb sparred with foam-covered weapons intermittently, while archery events, jousting and other entertainment occurred all over the grounds.
“We didn’t expect the gypsies to have backup,” said Josh Easton, the leader of the would-be plunderers, who battles with a live-action role-playing group in town.
The group, typically drawing in 50 people or more, “fights” weekly in Pioneer Park each Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.
Easton’s faction had rotten luck for much of the day. Early on, they attempted to launch an assault on the king, but their rebellion was repelled by the loyalist faction.
“I was ready to slay the king but somebody stood in my way,” he said.
The fair is a combination of entertainment and commerce. Many vendors sold various wares including swords, leather crafts, archery supplies, hobby crafts and food.
At the other end of ZooMontana, an archery tournament held the attention of 13-year-old Alex Vraa and his mother, Sonja Short.
“Medieval weapons always seemed cool,” said Vraa. “It’s a little more honorable than shooing somebody half a mile away.”
The Minnesotan, visiting grandparents in Laurel, said his enthusiasm for medieval sports was piqued several years ago.
“I have a shield, two swords and a battle ax,” Vraa said.
He also said he makes faux weapons to fight his friends.
“They’re duct tape and PVC. They’re still pretty fun though,” he said.
The festival also featured practitioners of period crafts sharing techniques as well as their wares.
Jim Rennie, owner of Rennie Forge and Photo, and a farrier by trade, was exhibiting his hobby of blacksmithing.
As Rennie worked on a wall-mounted bottle opener, he munched on a concoction that looked like an ice cream cone, but it was filled with meat.
The opener was commissioned by a neighboring food vendor who had traded the “viking cone” and $20, he said.
It’s all part of the cooperative environment created by the people who work at the renaissance festival.
“They’re nice to work in,” Rennie said. “I’d never done anything like this until three years ago, but I’ve enjoyed it every time.”
The first year he was invited to the fair, he had not dressed up in period costume.
“It was highly suggested I dress up the year after to go with the ambiance,” he said.
After much deliberation, Rennie settled on a kilt.
“It was a big leap of faith,” he said, “but I had some friends who said I could rock it pretty well.”
Dressing up, and stepping out of normal life into a fantasy is what the renaissance festival is all about, said Phil Frank, Rennie’s apprentice.
Frank is also a renaissance fair enthusiast, wearing knightly garb as he worked a piece of steel to a fine point for a spear.
“I’ve been here since the renaissance festival started,” he said. “It’s always been a chance for people to experience something a little different in Billings.
“It gives them a chance to forget daily life for a while. It gives people a chance to be someone else.”