Time to suspend disbelief, maybe hoist a flagon or two
MONTAGUE — “You who so plod amid serious things that you feel it shame to give yourself up even for a few short moments to mirth and joyousness in the land of Fancy; you who think that life hath nought to do with innocent laughter that can harm no one; these pages are not for you.”
So author and illustrator Howard Pyle begins his introduction to “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood,” going on to warn the reader that he has picked and chosen from history and legend as he pleases, blunted the effects of the country’s weather and of the ale consumed by his characters in alarming quantity — a poetic reminder to relax and enjoy the thing for what it is.
The Mutton and Mead Medieval Festival, like all such festivals, operates on a similar theory. The Renaissance shares space with the Dark Ages, and fairies, witches and wizards are in abundant supply, and oppressed, disease-ridden serfs are scarce. And, of course, there are barbecue pulled turkey sandwiches with coleslaw and Thai food.
Returning this weekend for a third year, the Montague festival continues its mission of entertainment and charity, raising money and donations for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the Montague Common Hall, formerly known as the Montague Grange.
“What we’re organizing is a party; that’s what a festival is,” said artistic director David Agro.
The festival is loosely set in medieval times, specifically those of Robin Hood. Taking Pyle’s book as the best-known non-Disney version of the legend and his inclusion of King Richard the First, this would seem to be the second half of the 12th century.
The time period, however, isn’t particularly important.
“We choose the themes of the medieval that are attractive to us,” Agro said. “We aim for the medieval themed, not the medieval scented.”
Nor is the modern out of place. Most visitors do not dress up, Agro said, and there is no need to do so.
The costume aspect is a deterrent for prospective visitors to some medieval fairs, he said, but the option is part of the attraction for others.
“These events kind of offer people the opportunity to dress up,” Agro said. “I think people are hungry for more experiences of Halloween throughout the year.”
Robin Hood is a major feature of the festival, with a cast of volunteers dispersed throughout the festival and congregating periodically to enact a segment of a play. The play is repeated both days and there is no need to catch every act, the actors will fill in the blanks if asked.
For the younger set, there is combat with plastic foam swords and axes, siege warfare with marshmallow catapults and many things to watch.
The Higgins Armory Museum’s Academy of the Sword will demonstrate the use of medieval weapons and stage horse-mounted sword combat. Roundtable Productions will stage a joust in full armor.
The functionally extinct professions of bowyer and swordsmith will be revived, with artisans offering demonstrations in the making of weapons, leather and metal work and finished products for sale.
There will be three troupes of Morris dancers.
There will also be a profusion of food and drink, with 16 food vendors and the Millers Falls Rod and Gun Club staffing a full bar with beer and mead. For those demanding the festival’s name deliver on its promise, mutton is on the list of offerings from food vendor Bruisers BBQ, and lamb — young mutton — features in several menus.
Agro said organizers are trying to build an event that caters to the entire creative community, providing an outlet for their products and talents, an opportunity for locals to enjoy those talents and build the community.
Agro said the Mutton and Mead group is small but with more volunteers they hope to grow the festival and expand into the community. Medieval dances are incorporated into the show, and Agro said they have drawn enough interest that one possibility for expansion is periodic medieval dances throughout the year.
The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine on the grounds of the Millers Falls Rod and Gun Club, 210 Turners Falls Road, Montague.
Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for children aged 7-12 and seniors 60 and older, free for children aged 6 or younger. A portion of the ticket sales go to the Food Bank and the Montague Common, after the costs of the festival, and the event is also a can drive. Every two cans donated knock a dollar off per ticket, up to $3 off. Parking is $5.
For more information about the festival or how to get involved, and for discounted tickets, visit muttonandmead.com.
Programs, with a full schedule of performances, are available at the gate.
Partial schedule, both days:
■ Joust show: 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
■ Cu Dubh, dance music on Turkish war drums: noon, 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.
■ Ed the Wizard: 12:30 p.m. 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
■ Bonobo, Celtic-infused tunes: 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
■ Diabolis in Musica, medieval sound from modern instruments: 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
■ Oops Comedy Knife Throwing Show: 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.