Groveland Twp. — Inside the Michigan Renaissance Festival grounds, Celtic band Tartanic plays its brand of bagpipes and drums. While the men play, dancers Jill Jack and Tricia Belle Storie flit about the crowd with fists full of CDs.
“We travel all over the country all the time, we don’t have homes anymore,” said Jack. Both women speak in a lyrical manner, absorbed into their lifestyle. The pair would normally be dancing with the band, but the Saturday morning dew hadn’t evaporated yet, leaving the stage slippery.
Many that work the “Ren-Fest” use the word “originally” to describe where they are from. Jack is originally from Houston, and Storie is from Austin, but many don’t claim a hometown anymore.
Florida is the epicenter for the festival lifestyle and after this final weekend, many will go there, Texas or the Carolinas.
“We’re all former Michigan residents anyway. Doing work at the festivals has pushed us all around,” said Jeremy Lovell of Detroit and Florida, who performs in a band, The Bawdy Boys, on site.
At the Renaissance Festival, there is a spectrum of employees, from the committed travelers like Jack and Storie, to the seasonal workers. It becomes home for people from all over that, for whatever reason, put on their best medieval frock for at least six weeks every fall.
Many of the workers that live locally have regular day jobs. At the food court, Kristopher Green of Flushing just graduated and is looking for a job at Crossroads Village. Ross Trumbauer and Andrew Driscoll of St. Clair Shores are festival street performers on the weekends. Trumbauer works at a hardware store during the week and Driscoll is a custodian for the local school district. “Most of us are normal people,” said Driscoll.
Also in the food court was Melissa Brown, of Flint. She shouts to passer-bys with vigor, selling pasta like her life depended on it. Her life doesn’t depend on it, but her husband’s wrestling program at Kearsley High School does. She volunteers every weekend for six weeks, 10 hours a day, selling food, so that the wrestling program can get 12 percent of the profits. “I’m harassing people to buy food,” she said. “People really enjoy us.”
Brown and other volunteers will rake in up to $15,000 for the various athletic programs at the high schools when the festival is over. Until then, she is at it, 10-hours a day, every weekend. She has fun with the people. “You can’t help but be able to get into it,” she said.
When venders yell at festival attendees, they call it “Hawking,” and it is essential for sales, and is part of the Renaissance Festival experience.
Toni Kastanos of Waterford is known as “The Pickle Chick” at the festival and dresses kind of like a pirate elf. She sees everyone as a potential customer and engages everyone she can. She uses jokes and even innuendo to sell her $2 pickles. “My pickle is bigger than yours,” she’ll say to the males of a passing couple.
Kastanos only makes money from her sales, but says she makes more in one day selling pickles than two weeks at her day job at UPS.
During the week, musician Jeremy Lovell recovers from a long, grueling weekend performing. He’s trying to get his voice back to be ready to perform again. “It’s not glamorous,” he said.
During the week, many festival performers stay at local campgrounds and relax. “A lot of us get drunk,” he admitted. Lovell stays with family. On the weekends, the performers’ village is busy within the walls of the festival and strictly closed to the press.
“As a performer, it’s a mixed bag, you don’t make much money, many do it because they love it,” he said. “You don’t work for Ren-Fest unless you love it. It’s a killer, it wears you out.”
This weekend is the last for the 2012 season.