By Adam Scott
The 33rd annual Medieval Fair of Norman opens 10 a.m. today at Reaves Park after months of preparation and about a week of cleaning up, marking, assembling, tethering, reinforcing and otherwise setting up.
"It's like setting up a city, it really is," Medieval Fair of Norman event coordinator Linda Linn of the setup for the fair said Wednesday.
Linn said the setup was "going great -- very, very, very busy, but that's the way it's supposed to work."
Among the many things the fair staff has to keep in mind to help get the event off the ground is making sure it stays pretty much on the ground, despite the blustery threat inherent in any Oklahoma April sky.
"We're always watching the weather, as you have to do for any outdoor event," Linn said.
In an example of informed weather-related management, Linn explained that since rain was in the forecast for late Wednesday into Thursday morning, "for the really heavy things that would require vehicles to drive onto the park grounds, I have called those people and they've come in early. "
The truck deliveries of straw bales and the positioning of food vendors' trailers around the park are precisely the kinds of heavy-vehicle activities that fair staff rushed to get done before rain softens the ground to avoid damaging the park's grounds.
"We've had to change our plan, and then, that's the name of the game -- always flow with changes that need to be made," Linn said.
"They're all in, so if it rains tonight, we're still OK," she said of the heavy equipment.
Winds gusting over 30 miles per hour Wednesday created more immediate problems for Medieval Fair setup crews as well.
"I especially feel sorry for the folks that are trying to set up a tent. We've already had one tent that literally blew over and they had some bent poles and they ripped the top of the tent. They're people that do outdoor events and they have a sense of humor about it. They're fixing it and it'll be ready by Friday morning."
Since about 90 percent of the vendors at the fair come from out of state, "they are not used to Oklahoma wind," Linn said.
"But I remind them several times in my letters to them that we cannot predict the weather in April in Oklahoma. It can be hot, it can be snowing like it did last weekend ... but the one thing you can bet on is that we will have wind."
Although to a casual observer, it would seem likely that the current lean economic times and high travel costs would keep many out-of-state vendors away from the fair, Linn said the opposite is true in fact.
"We mailed applications out in November and they were due back at the end of January. Normally, a couple of weeks before the fair I've still got a few spaces left and this year we filled up about a month and a half ago."
Linn said there will be 248 individual artists and craftspeople at the fair, some with more than one booth.
"I find that with the economy being the way it is, first of all, businesses are eager for business," Linn said, noting the tent rental company and the ice company serving the event are "more appreciative of the opportunity to serve the fair in that capacity."
While Linn was concerned the artists and craftspeople might not be able to afford the fee to participate in the fair or the gasoline to make the trip, market pressures have forced vendors from as far and wide as California and New York to make the journey.
"I was surprised when the applications came in so fast and I talked to several about it and they said because the economy is so bad, they have to come. They have no choice. They have to come here and hopefully earn some money this weekend. Our fair has a reputation of being one of the better fairs, economically, for the artists. And the food vendors."
Along with the return of old favorites from past years, some new entertainment at this year's fair includes a falconry demonstration and lecture.
"His main purpose is to educate people about the birds of prey," Linn said of the modest man behind Royal Gauntlet Birds of Prey, who rehabilitates injured birds of prey.
In the line of more terrestrial entertainment, Heirloom, a musical duo from the Fort Worth area who are both national dulcimer champions, are scheduled to play at this year's fair, as is the Austin-based guitar and fiddle duo Gypsy Rox.
For the first Norman Medieval Fair in 1976, English graduate students and teachers at the University of Oklahoma "wanted to have an event where they could kind of show some things that they were doing in class."
The first fair was held on the South Oval of the OU campus and was scheduled in the spring to coincide roughly with the anniversary of William Shakespeare's birthday.
"So that's why we are still doing it 33 years later even though we have thunderstorms that come through Oklahoma at this time of the year," Linn said.
From its initial form showcasing recitations of medieval literature and demonstrations of stage combat, the fair grew and in time moved to Brandt Park next to the Duck Pond on Lindsey Street, "and then five years ago we moved to Reaves (Park)," Linn said.
Linn said the move was a very positive one for the fair as it allowed more room for the fair, a significantly easier-to-navigate layout for wheelchair users and other disabled patrons and a great deal more nearby parking space at the Lloyd Noble Center lot.
Much of that parking space will be put to use this year; Linn said she expects "about 350,000" people to attend this year, based on rough daily estimates provided by Norman police and OUPD, who combine to do crowd control and security each year.
"Last year we had 125,000 just on Saturday alone."
Due to new federal regulations, shuttle service is suspended again this year as it was last year, although Linn says she has received no complaints so far concerning the change. Linn emphasized cars with handicapped placards may park in the lot at Reaves Park.
Linn especially encouraged those who haven't checked the fair out yet to attend.
"It's just fun. If you've never been, it's probably one of the most unusual, unique things that you'll ever attend. It's different than any other arts and crafts festival in the state. It's very family-friendly. Everything here is planned and scheduled for families ... We have entertainment for all ages."
Linn said there are many entertainment options that allow attendees to come to the fair "and not spend a penny, if that's what they want to do. We have six stages with continuous entertainment, all kinds of street performers that are walking around entertaining people. You can watch craft demonstrations, fighting demos, jousting tournaments with knights on horseback, human chess, and not spend a penny, if that's what you want to do. Now certainly, if you want to bring money, there's food, there are arts and crafts and there's some games."
To find out more about the Medieval Fair, visit www.medievalfair.org.
By Adam Scott
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