Gainesville will take its annual trip back in time through the festivities of the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire — only this year, it will be online.
The fair has brought together over 160 artisans and merchants for a medieval experience filled with aromatic foods, ancient arts, knights and royal courts for more than 30 years. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as a county relocation of the fairgrounds, this year’s festival will take place virtually.
Instead of a live event, City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs is hosting Hoggetowne at Home, a fully virtual medieval experience. Spanning two weekends, Jan. 30-31 and Feb. 6-7, the fair will be livestreamed at the Hoggetowne Faire’s website. The event will feature a combination of live performances, pre-recorded demonstrations and online merchant booths for free admission to the public. Vendors will have the discretion to choose how they participate in the virtual experience.
“Our goal this year was to bring Hoggetowne together even if we couldn’t be together in person,” said event coordinator Sunshine Andrei, 45.
Andrei said there have been numerous challenges to continue the 35-year-long tradition this year, including the pandemic and the county transferring Hoggetowne’s fairgrounds earlier this past summer, she said.
“We were confronted with both increased safety protocols and trying to find a new site,” Andrei said.
After considering several options, the City of Gainesville decided to hold the event online, bypassing the challenges presented by an in-person fair while maintaining the Hoggetowne tradition.
“If we can give people that love Hoggetowne the opportunity to come enjoy the day, give them a smile, help them feel that sense of community that Hoggetowne brings every year — that is an unmeasurable success,” Andrei said.
This year’s fair will welcome performers old and new, extending the tradition to fresh artists and audiences online. Gainesville Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA), for instance, will be making its Hoggetowne debut this year.
Christopher Preston, 19, is the founder of Gainesville HEMA, a passion project for the Santa Fe College student. Working with his business partner, Preston will share a sparring showcase highlighting the practice of medieval martial arts.
“I hope to bring people some knowledge of the way things were actually done — the actual historical combat,” Preston said. “Swords aren’t giant, clunky baseball bats. There’s an art to it, there’s a rich martial tradition.”
Preston said he brought HEMA, part of the nonprofit HEMA Alliance, to Gainesville about one year ago. He said he has been studying, practicing and teaching historical sword-fighting through HEMA to explore his fascination with history and medieval martial arts, though the pandemic presented several challenges to his organization. He said he now looks forward to connecting with the community through Hoggetowne and reaching people with similar interests and passions.
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From artisans and performers to patrons and organizers, those involved with the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire reveal how much it means to the Gainesville community. These stakeholders say a virtual experience cannot recreate the live sensations of the fair.
“As a performer, we’re all absolutely devastated that we couldn’t make the magic happen in person this year,” said performer Ren White, 26.
While missing the live Hoggetowne experience, patrons and performers say they are looking forward to participating in the tradition in any capacity.
“I think we’re very lucky to have such a good team behind-the-scenes working hard on virtual faire,” White said. “We’ve all filmed our small scenes separately for the most part, but there’s an entire team that’s been working to edit them into what will be Hoggetowne at Home.”
White said they have been attending the fair since childhood, and their love for the fair as a guest inspired them to join the cast. In the Hoggetowne community, White describes a family connected by love for the immersive medieval experience.
“It really is a family atmosphere on those fairgrounds,” White said. “People have fallen in love, gotten married, met their best friends, and watched their children grow up on those fairgrounds. It’s honestly quite beautiful.”
Hoggetowne Medieval Faire has already released dates for the 2022 fair. The new location is yet to be finalized, though event planners and patrons alike say they hope to bring the live Hoggetowne experience back to Gainesville in 2022.
Contact Valeriya Antonshchuk at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @VAntonshchuk.
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Valeriya Antonshchuk is a junior telecommunication-news and political science student at the University of Florida. As a news assistant for the Avenue, Valeriya covers Gainesville’s entertainment and culture news weekly. Valeriya was originally born in Ukraine and speaks fluent Russian.