Jake Gardner felt like he’d found buried treasure when he happened upon rehearsals for Tennessee Pirate Fest last summer.
“I’m here to do whatever,” the Crossville man recalled telling Barrie Paulson, who produces the annual fall extravaganza in Harriman. “She said, ‘Good.’”
For the next three weekends, Gardner can be found back in Harriman, this time as Friar Tuck in the Tennessee Medieval Faire.
“It’s fun,” said Gardner, who works for Avigen when he’s not donning his friar’s robes or other duds from Days of Yore. “It’s going to be relaxing, and it’s going to be a fun day.
“I guarantee it.”
While Gardner strolls the grounds to bring harmony to the world of Robin Hood and his merry men, girlfriend Angelina Harvey will stand her ground as Prunella Kumquat in a battle on the human chess board.
Armed with her trusty goose puppet, “Goosetav,” she’ll take on a parasol-wielding Leia Barker. The two Tennessee Medieval Faire veterans practiced their moves last week on the shores of Watts Bar Lake before a performance at The Roane Alliance, an economic development organization based in Kingston.
“This is my first fight, so I’m excited,” said Harvey, who glances at her puppet sidekick and corrects herself. “We’re excited.”
This will be Harvey’s fourth show — she and other veterans count both the Medieval Faire and its Pirate Fest spin-off when recalling their experiences — in three years.
“He followed me to rehearsal one day,” she explained of Gardner, “and he came back for more.”
Situated on 8 acres with seven stages, the Tennessee Medieval Faire grounds are part of 91 acres owned by Barrie and Lars Paulson just north of downtown Harriman.
The three-weekend event is a showcase of regional talent and that of its owners. Barrie, a professional performer, works with the cast in all facets of entertainment, while Lars’ talents in set design, prop design and fabrication shine on the festival grounds.
“We got married, and we don’t have children, so we have a baby festival,” Barrie joked.
They also complement one another in operations: Barrie oversees various aspects of entertainment, marketing and vendors, while Lars ensures the logistics for the grounds and shows go as planned for both the talent and their guests.
“We work hard to have a lot of fun,” Barrie said.
Renaissance and medieval festivals have everything Barrie loves about performing, so the festival business was a natural choice for the couple, who sought to settle in an area that was halfway between their families.
East Tennessee fit the bill.
“There wasn’t a permanent Renaissance festival in the greater Knoxville area,” Barrie said.
Work on what has evolved to become the Tennessee Medieval Faire began with site preparation and securing talent. The first show, in the fall of 2014, gave potential audiences a sneak peek at jousting, juggling, puppetry, fire whips, music, turkey legs and other attractions that have become staples on the Harriman site.
“It was a little bit sparse, but boy has it grown,” said Kent Calfee, who represents part of Roane County in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
And it shows. Last year, the three-week Faire attracted visitors from 22 states and 46 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
Nine Lakes of East Tennessee and the Middle East Tennessee Tourism Council it named Best Festival within a 16-county area.
The Paulsons continue to strive for perfection. Barrie is proud that a number of performers who trained with her at the Medieval Faire are now professionals entertainers in their own right.
“We’re giving them the skills to keep doing what they want to do,” she said.
The Tennessee Medieval Faire, with performances rated PG, takes place May 25-27, June 1-2 and June 8-9. Hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. EDT daily, rain or shine.
Tickets are $17 for ages 13 and older, $8 for ages 5-12; ages 4 and younger are admitted free.
Tickets are available at the Faire grounds during the festival or online at TMFaire.com.