Renaissance Festival offers an escape

Larkspur event that stretches back 43 years draws 200,000 people during annual run

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When Christopher Baker wanted to propose to his wife, Rosie, he knew exactly where to buy the ring.

Both he and Rosie attended the Colorado Renaissance Festival in their childhood and teenage years. They’ve continued the tradition into adulthood and now share it with their 3-year-old daughter, Athena — while wearing the engagement ring and wedding bands they bought from a festival craftsman.

The event is a special place to them, the Central City couple said, and buying their rings there added to the sentiment behind them. They also love the culture of fantasy and escapism created by the event.

On an early July afternoon, the couple sat at the festival wearing head-to-toe costumes with clothes they’ve acquired from event vendors over the years, looking back on their time within the village walls.

“It’s the only place in the state where you can walk around and see knights rubbing shoulders with storm troopers,” Baker said.

Sarah Periat of Commerce City agreed. The festival creates a place for people to get away from their daily lives and enter what feels like another world. She and her family spend weeks creating costumes. She personally sewed the dress she wore to the festival on July 7, when she dressed as an elf.

“We come every year. We like to dress up,” she said. “I think it’s the fantasy. People like to get out of their element.”

The family-owned-and-operated event has been running for 43 years, mostly at its location outside Larkspur. Jim Paradise is vice president and director of marketing while his father, Jim Paradise Sr., is the owner.

Paradise said it’s festival-goers like Periat and Baker who help add to the event’s allure, People aren’t required to come in costume, and in fact just a small percentage do, Paradise estimated. But they blend in with hired entertainers and make the fantasy more authentic.

There’s much more that goes into making the festival a long-standing success, he said.

“I think what makes it so appealing and gives us the opportunity to have it running for 43 years is the uniqueness of the event itself,” Paradise said.

Entertainers don’t merely perform from one of the grounds’ 10 stages but walk among the crowds in full costume and character to engage attendees. The royal court, including the festival’s king and queen, parade through the streets while families sip drinks and snack on turkey legs.

The permanent structures meant to resemble a 16th-century magical village are routinely remodeled, and the village as a whole was roughly one-third its current size at the event’s start years ago, Paradise said.

He believes the village in particular sets the festival apart from nearby, smaller Renaissance festivals.

“The difference and the advantage we have is we have created a very nice village for people to come out and really get away. We don’t have just tents in a parking lot or tables set up in a field,” he said.

The event, which this year runs on Saturdays and Sundays from June 15 to Aug. 4, draws an average of 200,000 people annually and employs approximately 500 people.

For the Town of Larkspur, a community of slightly more than 200 people, that’s a big deal, said Mayor Marvin Cardenas.

“It brings us almost half a million dollars alone in sales tax revenue,” he said. “For years the town has been supported by the Colorado Renaissance Festival. They’re a huge economic impact to our community.”

Other revenue generators are limited in Larkspur, Cardenas said, although he expects pending projects like a campground and a travel center will boost the sales tax once the developments open.

In the meantime, Cardenas said, the renaissance festival continues to support the town financially, provides jobs for residents and nearby entertainment.

“It’s a huge benefit to the community. We’re so lucky to have them and I hope they never go away,” Cardenas said.

The festival shop where Baker bought his wife’s engagement ring more than five years ago is still there. Owner Da-oud Thompson, while standing under a sign reading “Wedding Bands,” said the Bakers are not the only couple to buy engagement rings there. He’s known families that came to him for two or three generations.

“That really feels good,” he said.

Thompson travels the country to sell at various festivals and has come to the Colorado Renaissance Festival for 35 years. It’s one of his favorite shows, he said.

“The people are interesting. They come dressed in crazy outfits,” he said. “I think we’re all devoted to making people smile and having fun.”

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