About 40 miles from the UT campus, off US-290 E, is a place where families can be transported back to the era of King Richard the Lionheart — singing songs, watching armored men joust and catching a break from modern society.
The Sherwood Forest Faire is a Renaissance festival held east of Austin during the spring that attempts to recreate the spirit of the 1100s with live music, theater performances, pubs and sports. The fair began in 2009 when co-owner Eric Todd received backing to purchase a plot of land east of Austin. Co-owner George Appling said Sherwood was a way to marry their business skills with their passion for medieval and Renaissance history.
“It’s 1196 in Nottingham, England, and you get to pretend that all of your cares are away,” said Appling. “You can be someone else, see things that you wouldn’t see or experience or taste anywhere else.”
Todd said he spent months trekking through Texas looking for a piece of property to host the fair. Appling decided to pursue his passion and join the festival to become Todd’s partner, but in doing so had to give up being CEO of a major company.
“My father asked me why I’m not going for the next CEO job, why have I given up my ambition,” said Appling. “I said, ‘Dad, I’m running a business that brings a day of joy to a hundred thousand people a year, that’s worth doing.’”
While the fair is only open for a eight weeks, Appling said he and many others do an immense amount of work all year long to bring the festival to life.
Each year the fair is open, it progresses further into the reign of Richard the Lionheart. Appling said the theater troop caters their performance to something specific each year.
“We take historical accuracy more seriously than other fairs, but not so seriously that it dampens the patron experience,” Appling said. “We have diet coke and flushing toilets, and (those were) not available in 1196.”
Apart from the Spring fair, Sherwood Forest offers summer camps for children and adults. Teach Minchew, Sherwood Forest Summer Camp Director, said there are 13 instructors at the camp that teach patrons a variety of skills such as leather work, candle work, and archery. This year, Charlie Andrews, world champion jouster, will be doing demonstrations.
“Our goal is to get as (much) one-on-one (time with) the kids as we can, and our ratio right now is six campers to an adult,” said Minchew. “Our level of learning is very high.”
Minchew said one of the first rules of the camp is that there are no modern electronics allowed. This allows for an environment where everyone can unplug from the crazy, fast-paced culture of Austin.
“Whenever you step back from (modern technology), and find what you can do with your own two hands and not what you see in a video on YouTube,” Minchew said. “It’s that finding out what you are really capable of doing (that) is an amazing thing to watch.”
The Sherwood Forest Faire has become a staple Renaissance fair in Texas, and Appling said they only plan on expanding it from here. He hopes to make it more authentic while keeping it friendly for all ages.
“If you can get out to Disney, you can get out here,” said Todd. “It’s better than Disney.”
The 2017 Sherwood Forest Faire will end this Sunday, April 23.