by Laura Rodley
Crowds were taken back in time to 1717, the days of jousting, sword fighting and the drinking of mead as a familiar drink at the Annual Mutton and Mead Medieval Festival.
Organizer David Agro, resident of Brattleboro, VT, has been with the event for seven years. Now a tradition, the festival occurred at the Millers Falls Rod and Gun Club in Montague, MA on June 24-25.
In October 2016, organizers formed a 501C nonprofit, Knighten Guild and Company, and now, The Mutton and Mead Festival is one of their projects. Agro is president of the Knighten Guild and Company. He said, “Our mission is to serve two edges of the sword — one, to bring interesting educational and inspirational events to areas, and provide opportunities for citizens to be part of it. It’s a medieval themed festival, where people enjoy the arts. In Gypsy Land, there are dancers from all over the region. It’s so hard for performers to find venues where they can dance to live music. It’s a first person interactive theater, where the 4th wall is broken down between the performer and the audience, weaving off the narrative of the day.”
The audience became part of the story as they wandered through an area called Gypsy Land, and watched belly dancers, or glimpsed fairies with large ears dressed in chiffon walking among them, listened to several bands, drank mead or ate legs of mutton without fork or knife as they might have done at the round table, or cheered during the vigorous jousting. They could also dance with performers dressed in medieval costumes in spontaneous period dances that occurred on the grounds, as seen in productions of the classic romance, Romeo and Juliet. However, the dances were all carefully planned days in advance.
“We were pushing hard for people to bring non-perishable food items,” said Agro, for which each person received a wooden coin or token of a dollar value. Representatives of The Food Bank of Western Mass were on hand to pick up the food that would be distributed to needy people in Western Massachusetts. The Food Bank distributes more than 6 million pounds of food annually to meal sites, food pantries, homeless shelters, elder programs and childcare centers.
“We gave out thousands of dollars (in tokens) at our front gate, encouraging and thanking people for giving,” said Agro. If people hadn’t used up their tokens during the festival, they had four choices to donate their coins to either the Florence, MA, Cancer Connection, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Montague Common Hall, or the Dakin Humane Society in Leverett as they departed. The full value of their coins would be given to each charity. “It’s all about collaboration,” said Agro, and helping their community.
Caleb Jordan was one of the jousters performing in DeBracey Productions that had traveled north from their home base in Georgia. The company, owned by Bill Burch, brought nine horses with them for the weekend’s performance. Jordan recently performed at the Georgia Renaissance Fair where the company brought 18 horses. Jordan rode a brown horse named Barossa at the Mutton and Mead joust. He has been jousting for four months, but looks like he was born to it. What does he like best about performing in the joust? “Being able to interact with the horses. They’re magnificent beasts. They know their jobs.”
As each joust is part of a skit, it’s the first time he has played the bad guy. “It’s a little bit more fun,” he said.
The performers attacked each other with swords on horseback and on the ground, and on foot. “Oh no, she’s fallen,” said one of the crowd, as one of the woman jousters fell off her horse, wounded. But it was all part of the act, as riders wheeled their horses in the arena with only a thin rope tape and two feet separating the crowd sitting on straw bales all around them.
Taryn Rizopoulos was one of the female riders. She has ridden her white horse named Eli only for the past few weeks, but has already bonded with him. “Not only is he an amazing horse, he can trick ride, and do chariot rides,” she said, holding her horse after the joust so that the crowd could have a chance to pet him.
Bill Burch also performed, wheeling his black horse from one end to the other of the makeshift arena, falling off it while sword fighting, sustaining mortal wounds. “He’s fearless,” said Rizopoulos.
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