The Renaissance has come to Kentucky. Thanks to owners Ludmilla and Mark Lowery and Ed and Linda Frederick, Eminence is the scene of the first and only permanently situated Highland Renaissance Festival in Kentucky.
Visitors will be transported to the 1300s through 1700s to the rebirth that ushered in armored knights on war horses, kings and queens with glamorous courts, and castles. The festival is a combination of craft fair, historical re-enactment, and performance art. Started in 2006, the faire was voted Best New Festival of 2006 by the Renaissance Festival Podcast.
Set on 30 acres, come stroll along Main Street, which looks like a 13th-century village where you can rent a period costume or wear your own to the faire. See a fire-eating act, jousting, period belly dancing, and the 83 craftspeople and merchants, most of whom make their products in the same manner of the Renaissance period.
Blacksmith Tony DeCaro of Iron Leaf Forge, named Merchant of the Year in 2006, makes period knives, jewelry, lanterns, belt buckles, kilt clasps, and candleholders with a hammer, anvil, and bellows-powered forge.
Merchants such as Scotland Yards make authentic kilts and accessories, and Enchanted Universe makes fairy wings, wooden swords, and costumes for children. Visitors will be able to purchase beeswax candles, handmade soaps and body creams, clothing and steel-plate armor, perfumed oils and incense, hats and hair ornaments, sculptures of fairies, dragons, and angels, leather pouches and belts, plus wooden objects carved by a local man who is blind.
Participants in the faire are all dressed in authentic period clothing and visitors can have their photos taken in period dress. Ride camels, watch sword-making demonstrations, and visit the pub with its singing milkmaids doing five-part harmony and bagpipers. During the second weekend, Robert the Bruce will be crowned king in a coronation ceremony. There are games for the children and nonmechanical rides. Re-enactment groups will be cooking period food and a farrier will be showing how horseshoes were once made and the horses shod. Two weekends of the season, the Society of Creative Anachronism will demonstrate spinning, weaving, and life in the Middle Ages.
The permanent town hall and farmers’ market buildings are expected to be complete by opening day. Also new this year is the Fairy Forest, where kids and adults can walk, see the Fairy Queen and her throne, and Alexander the Iguana as the designated dragon for the forest. The first weekend of the faire is when a Fairy Queen contest will decide who will be queen for the season, but a fairy prince and princess will be chosen each day of the faire.
Be sure and try the authentic food—Shepherd’s Pie, Scottish Eggs, Highland Beef or Vegetarian Haggis, and mash. Or you may want the fruit and cheese boat and the soup or stew of the day served in bread bowls. For children or those not so adventurous, there will be corndogs, hamburgers, and french fries.
Watch for the Celtic Festival to be held at the site September 29-30, where there will be Irish music and food, plus booths with Scottish and Welsh products.
Highland Renaissance Festival
955 Elm Street
Festival runs June 2–July 22, Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Tickets are $12 adults, $6 children ages 5–13, season passes with preferred parking are $56 for adults, weekend passes are $20 for adults and $10 for children. Online ticket sales offer discounted prices and a free drink at the Highland store in the faire village. No pets or outside food or drink allowed. Call for group tours.
In the Area
Our Best Restaurant in Smithfield not only offers delicious, homestyle food, but visitors will enjoy eating in the old Smithfield Milling Company’s storage warehouse. Diners have a wide variety of menu choices, from country ham, pinto bean soup, and fried cornbread, to fried or grilled chicken and homemade fruit and cream pies.
Next, tour the first floor of the old mill across the street before you head into the Sack Room Gift Shop, where shoppers can purchase Fenton Glass, Possible Dreams Santa Claus, Our Best Flour and Cornmeal, hand-painted personalized pottery, porcelain dolls, brass, crystal, and more. The gift shop’s Christmas Room is open all year long. Call (502) 845-7682 for more information or go online to www.ourbestrestaurant.com.
Near Shelbyville, about 15 miles from Eminence, you can spend some time at Clear Creek Park, located at 717 Burks Branch Road. Rent a rowboat, canoe, or paddleboat and relax on Lake Shelby. Golf, swim, fish, hike the trails, or shoot a few hoops. Call (502) 633-5059 for park information, (502) 633-5069 for boat rental rates, or go online to www.shelbycountyparks.com/Parks.html.
LaGrange is one of the few cities in Kentucky where a train runs down the middle of Main Street. This downtown district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has an amazing number of commercial buildings with original storefronts intact. History lovers and genealogists especially will want to tour the Oldham County History Center, (502) 222-0826, which is located in a restored Victorian house at 106 N. Second Avenue, and provides an interactive, interpretive museum of local history.
Eddie Conrad doesn’t apologize for not having a casino, salon, or quaking discotheque aboard his R/B River Explorer. The former barge captain revels in the absence of the glitz and glam typically found on cruise ships, celebrating instead the quieter, local experience—the epic narrative of river to shore.
“We’re about the heritage of a region,” says the founder of New Orleans-based RiverBarge Excursion Lines. “What’s the history of this community? What makes it what it is today?”
When passengers board America’s first and only hotel barge on the inland waterways, they get the full flavor of the local experience through the food, music, history, and cultural gems of a particular burg as shaped by the river. Kentucky, Paducah, Henderson, Louisville, Augusta, and Covington/Newport (during Cincinnati calls) are sampled, as are the waterways of Lake Barkley, Kentucky Lake, the lower Mississippi in extreme western Kentucky, and the Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee rivers.
Meals, particularly “blue plate specials,” reflect the area. In some parts of the Bluegrass that means the dish synonymous with Kentucky: burgoo.
Likewise, the entertainers, storytellers, and lecturers who board at various ports are locals. Dr. James Claypool, noted historian, author, and coeditor of the forthcoming The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky (summer 2008), has spoken on topics ranging from the state’s musical heritage (including Elvis’ ties to the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe) to horse racing and “Personalities of Kentucky,” an audience favorite.
Louisvillian Charles Parrish, retired district historian for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (now working part-time in that position) and author of Triumph at the Falls, has presented programs on Ohio River navigation history and the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which began on the Ohio River. (Contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 502-315-7093 for a free copy of Triumph at the Falls.)
“Barging provides a perspective of the landscape unlike that of traveling on highways,” says Parrish. “You can see small towns pass by, get close up to passing towboats and barges, and see the economic impact of the rivers.
“One excursion can quickly turn you into a ‘river rat.’”
Louisville’s Juggernaut Jug Band, a favorite of Conrad’s, puts on an exuberant show. Musical environmentalist Debbie Tuggle brings her family’s Kentucky coal mining heritage onboard and into her original song compositions.
“Debbie’s daddy worked in the coal mines,” says Conrad. “On one excursion, she brought family quilts made by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Everyone was spellbound by the quilts and her stories.”
Comprised of two barges tricked out smartly with lobby, lounge, showroom, and staterooms with full bath, TV/VCR, and binoculars, and pushed by a historic towboat, this come-as-you-are vessel also has a library with bumper pool, board games, puzzles, and scads of books and videos for borrowing. On the Sky Deck, twin hot tubs bubble and a walking track beckons; popcorn and hot dogs are always cooking.
A favorite perch are the swivel chairs in the Guest Pilot House to watch the barge’s lazy progress, the shoreline, and wildlife. Guests can tour the working pilothouse and enjoy onboard fun and games like bingo, musical entertainment, performance pieces, history lectures, and talk to the resident parrots, including Anakin, who loves to chat up the guests.
RiverBarge Excursion Lines
The 196-guest R/B River Explorer offers 4- to 10-day voyages that traverse six geographic regions: the Upper and Lower Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland River systems, and the Intracoastal Waterway in the Gulf of Mexico.
The R/B River Explorer promises to deliver “a smooth ride; the sensation of gliding through the water is a wonderful experience that you‘ll truly appreciate.” The hotel barge is designed for adventure but at an unhurried pace, with comfort and safety in mind for the entire family.
Rates, starting at $925, include outside stateroom, all scheduled shore activities, onboard entertainment, port charges, gratuities, and taxes. Soft drinks, juice, tea, and coffee (cappuccino, too) are also included. No tipping is permitted. A child 12 or under stays free in the same room with parents/grandparents; kids 17 and under are half price in their own room.
Kentucky shore tours include the Rosemary Clooney House in Augusta, River Heritage Museum in Paducah, John J. Audubon State Park in Henderson, and Frazier International History Museum in Louisville, among many other attractions.
Several summer and fall excursions depart from Louisville and in the northern Kentucky region, Cincinnati; many voyages include Kentucky river towns on their itineraries, including the October 9-16 Fall Foliage and Fillies voyage that kicks off with a talk on horse racing with James Claypool. Two Star-Spangled Summer excursions visit Kentucky ports: July 17-24, St. Louis to Cincinnati, and August 7-14, Louisville to St. Louis. Visit the Web site for special savings and amenities on these excursions and others.
In 2007, the R/B River Explorer visits Pittsburgh for the first time on sold-out excursions: June 24-31, Cincinnati to Pittsburgh, and July 31-August 7, Pittsburgh to Louisville. The itineraries will be offered again in 2008.
Kathy Witt is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.