Two weekends was all that was manageable for the North Dakota Renaissance Festival, resulting in its season ending prematurely and prompting raised eyebrows and serious questions from would-be revelers.
The North Dakota Renaissance Festival evinced both positive and negative qualities in its first foray. The lessons learned? It takes foresight and planning to vanguard a new event.
The Enchanted Highway still holds its spark of wonder, but at the very end -- behind the Enchanted Castle -- there is only a quiet empty field where a once fantasy-filled realm roused imaginations.
The North Dakota Renaissance Festival website states that “the planning stage for the 2020 season has already begun...”
According to Randy Jones, the producer of the North Dakota Renaissance Festival, next year's season will be predicated with much deeper pre-planning.
“We learned a lot of good lessons this year, that was what I was hoping for anyways,” Jones said. “I’ve never thrown one of these together, so I knew I was gonna take a beating and learn some things.”
Despite diving headlong into the unknown, the festival featured a selection of vendors -- something Jones hopes to attract more of with future renditions. The goal is for more vendors, different types of entertainment to fill time and a more pleasant atmosphere to provide attendees.
“Vendors are huge, I think on our best day we had 12 or so,” said Jones. “I would like to have somewhere in the upper 40 or 50, next time.”
One thing that was confusing for the public was the lack of communication coming from organizers concerning the Renaissance Festival ending prematurely. Many people relied on the North Dakota Renaissance Festival Facebook page to receive updated information, but the page was abruptly shut down without any formal statement.
According to Jones, the decision to shut down the page came at the request of the Enchanted Castle, whom he claims, were concerned with visitors booking rooms specifically for the event despite its cancellation.
“They were having people coming up, looking to rent a room, wondering about the event...so [Gary Greff] said, ‘You have people reading the facebook page, can you shut that down?’ So that’s why I shut it down.”
Renaissance enthusiast must be wondering how could this have gone wrong so fast? The answer seems to come down to two main components.
A lack of attendance and poor organization.
The event that was promoted wasn't necessarily what was prepared, and even more concerning it wasn’t what was presented.
Preparations started late, due to “personal issues” Jones was dealing with. Because this was his first year putting on an event of this size, Jones claims that it was a battle finding and keeping entertainers and vendors willing to stay on board with this brand new endeavor.
“If I got a couple of years on my belt, it won't be too big of a thing because I’ll have contacts,” Jones said. “Since I didn’t, I had to find people who were interested in helping. Realistically, I probably didn't get started until January but was searching for people since October.”
According to the various entertainers and vendors who participated in the event, despite the troubles, there were many positives that came from the shaky foundation. Location was unanimously touted as “perfect” for such an event.
“I think it was a phenomenal idea and a great location,” Charlie Andrews, the founder and captain of The Knight of Mayhem, said. “I think the castle was fantastic, as was the enchanted highway leading to the whole thing.”
Despite the positivity, Andrews said there were problems that really can not be overlooked by all involved.
“I think it was the person putting it on that kind of rubbed people the wrong way… the event wasn't getting a lot of support from the town and the locals around,” Andrews said. “In the end, it kept [Jones] from generating the numbers that he needed.”
Andrews continued, “I don't know if he came with enough money on his own or didn't raise enough money to sustain it for the first few weekends, because a first time event isn't going to pop off right away.”
Knowing when to pull the plug on a failing endeavour is key in any event business, and Andrews believed that ending the event early may have been the only option.
“The Renaissance Festival did not die, but [Jones] didn't have enough ammunition to keep fighting and he knew to pull the plug on that second weekend,” Andrews said.
“Lack of Attendance hurt…I was expecting a whole lot more than I had,” Jones said. “When your doing two weekends and get less than 1000 people, you struggle a little bit. Rather than keep running, I figured to cut it right then and come back next year with a better product.”
Despite the early conclusion, some vendors did well enough with their sales to warrant their involvement in future seasons.
“We had a really good experience there, really enjoyed the people that did come in their period costumes,” Susan Ruud, of Prairie Rose Meadery, said. “It was fun. I’m sad to see them go, and hopefully it will run again next summer.”
While spirits may have floundered briefly following the early culmination of the first ever Renaissance Festival in North Dakota, entertainers are hopeful for its second-coming.
“There were a lot of awesome people that came together for this festival. I’m sad it burnt out for the year, but am excited to see it rekindle,” Queenie Heart, an acrobatic entertainer, said. “Hopefully, we can come in with a bang next year and have a bigger and better festival to present.”
Andrews and The Knight of Mayhem, overall, believe in the concept of the festival and wish for its future success.
“North Dakota can definitely use a Renaissance Festival. It would be successful, because there is enough money in the area and population to support it,” Andrews said. “I think it was a great idea, it was just poorly executed.”
Jones said that he has three years left on a contract for the property in Regent, and claims he plans to continue his dream of hosting a successful Renaissance Festival in North Dakota.
While this first attempt has proven to be full of hard lessons, Jones said he isn’t one to give up on his dreams and has high hopes for next year’s event.
“More entertainment, jugglers, town crier, etc,” Jones said. “There are other alternatives to jousters.”
For now, and even before considering next year’s event, Jones has quite a lot on his plate to handle but offers no excuses and a full apology.
“I apologize to the customer base, because we weren’t as refined as we should have been. It will be better next year,” Jones said. “I’m not going to say that it's going to be bigger, but it will be better. I was hoping for a better product.”
On the North Dakota Renaissance Festival website, Jones is offering full refunds for any advance gate purchases and “Ren-feast” tickets for the planned and cancelled weeks three through eight.