The West Virginia Renaissance Festival kicks off the 2022 season on Saturday, June 4. Now in its fifth year, the Festival brings a month of family-friendly entertainment to the Greenbrier Valley. From theatre, live music and comedy shows – to jousting demonstrations, equestrian performances and scotch eggs – the Renaissance Festival brings the Golden Age of history and fantasy to life in the hills and hollers of West Virginia!
For owners Dawn Kenninger and Taso Stavrakis, the festival represents the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. After meeting at a Renaissance Festival in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where Dawn was making leather and Taso was performing in the joust show, the couple set out to fulfill their ambitions of owning a festival of their own.
As a founding member of the Hanlon-Lees Action Theatre, as well as serving as a Hollywood stunt performer, actor, and special effects coordinator on such projects as “Day of the Dead,” “Creepshow 2,” The Mask of Zorro,” Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Walking Dead,” Taso’s transition into the world of medieval folklore makes perfect sense. What is less obvious, however, is why he decided to build that world in the heart of the Mountain State.
“Mostly, it was luck,” Taso shared with us. “I grew up in Pittsburgh, not that far from here. I’ve traveled around the world, and I keep coming back to this – I like the mountains, I like the rivers, I like the rocks, and Pennsylvania was too expensive. So In the back of my mind, when it was time to settle down, I always thought of West Virginia.”
Taso explained that convincing Dawn, a Wiscon-native, to build a life in West Virginia was easier than he’d anticipated, saying, “I told her I had my heart set on West Virginia, and she said ‘me too!’”
Along with his partners at Hanlon-Lees, Taso participated in the first modern-era horseback joust-show at the New York Renaissance Festival in 1979. Hanlon-Lees continues to perform to this day, and joust performances have become a staple of renaissance festivals all over the world. When The West Virginia Renaissance Festival opened its gates for the first time in 2017, all surviving members of Hanlon-Lees were on-hand to celebrate the occasion.
“We were the first guys to come up with a choreographed jousting-stunt show, and we’re still going at it,” Taso said.
As far as what attendees can expect in 2022, Taso told us that all of the favorites from year’s past are coming back. “We have a great team of equestrian women called ‘Equestrian Chaos,’” Taso noted. “And they do trick-riding, and perform archery demonstrations from horseback.”
“So what can you expect – you walk in the door, and there’s immediately music playing, and the smell of food,” Taso added. There’s great food.”
In addition to great food, there is a wide variety of beverage options to wet your whistle, and quench your thirst. Vendors this year include Hawk Knob Cider, Devil’s Backbone Ale, Mountain Dragon Mazery, The Pub, Tudor Tower, Cloisters, Lakeside Tavern, Friar Tuck’s Pantry, Guy’s Dogs, The Wild Bean Coffee Shop, and many more.
And for the souvenir collector, there is no better place to browse the most authentic items available than at the Renaissance Festival. “We have armor, and swords, and everything you would expect at a medieval-themed fair,” Taso said. “We have wooden swords and shields for the kids, and we have real swords for adults, and bows and arrows.”
Artisans and souvenir vendors include Wyrd Armouries, American Highlander, Dragon Smoke, Wolfsden Forge, Blackberry Botanicals, New Pterodactyl Leather, Celestial Thyme, Starfire Swords, King Richard’s Flowers, O’Sullivan’s Fur Shack, and more from all around the world.
Select acts and performances include:
Jousting Knights and Steeds: America’s longest running theatrical jousting show! Shows thrice daily: 12:00 Act I Joust a Plaisance 3:00 Act II Joust of Combat 5:30 Act III Joust to the Death.
Equestrian Chaos: This equestrian performing stunt troupe brings laughter, delight, & entertainment to the WV Ren Fest. In all chaos we hang on & grab mane!!!
Fireflicker: Fireflicker is a curious young dragon who wanders the streets of the festival looking for shiny things to hoard, and is always excited to meet all the knights and princesses of the realm. They may even share some dragon gold with those who also have magic in their hearts!
Wheel Of Death: The world’s first and only wooden Wheel of Death is an act that is truly revolutionary! Featuring death defying feats three stories up, Ichabod Wainwright will risk his life leaping, flipping, juggling flaming hatchets, and much more for your amusement. Death-defying, daring, dangerous, and dynamic!
Boom Boom Shake: Modern music, ancient vibe, world music and dance.
Valkyrik: Valkyrik is Sam Nolte and Tegan Elliott. We write original music inspired by all things Norse & Viking, including Valkyries, Valhalla, War, the Old Gods, etc. Our sound is drums and vocals; our show is high-energy and fun, and we hope you enjoy the experience of Valkyrik.
Other activities include unicorn and warhorse rides, archery, ax, knife and star throwing, test of strength, Castle Escape Room, wooden maze, darts, Jacob’s Ladder and catapulting frogs.
The West Virginia Renaissance Festival is open every Saturday and Sunday in June, from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults, and $8 for children ages 6 – 12. Children under six are admitted free, and on-site parking is included with admission.
For more information, including a full list of performers, vendors and activities, or to purchase tickets, visit wvrenfest.com.
Matthew Young has been a resident of Lewisburg, WV since December 2019. Prior to arriving in West Virginia, Matthew resided in the Philadelphia area, where his reporting, commentary, and editorials have been featured in numerous local and regional publications. Previously, he has served as a scriptwriter and consultant for television, radio, and various other short-form digital-media platforms, both within the United States and internationally. Since moving to the Mountain State, Matthew spent eighteen months as senior writer/managing editor for the West Virginia Daily News and is currently an active journalist with the West Virginia Press Association.