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Ah, the whirlwind months of late summer, when a genre fan's calendar gets stuffed with too many exciting events to take in. Last weekend a prime example. My wife Sandy and I made plans to attend the 9th annual Renaissance Night in Safety Harbor, Florida, a celebration of all things fantasy and Medieval, and similar to the popular Renaissance Festivals held throughout the country. Renaissance Night is an annual event, and part of the exciting 3rd Night activities program the city of Safety Harbor hosts.
We were informed about the event by Darlene Trieste, member of the Safety Harbor 3rd Night Committee, Realtor, performer, writer, and professional belly dancer! As you can see, Darlene's quite the multi-talented individual! I've known Darlene for a number of years, but caught her live show, The Demzarah Gypsies, just this past February at Tampa's Renaissance Festival - a delightful blend of music, comedy, theatrics and of course, belly dancing! Needless to say, it's always a rousing crowd-pleaser. But more about the troupe later.
After getting home from work on Friday (Sept. 21st) I busily readied for the festival. Had to make sure the digital camera had batteries, change my clothes, etc. Curiously, Sandy, my wife, was nowhere to be seen. I later got a phone call from her, cryptically stating that: "I can't tell you where I am."
I was bewildered, and then said: "Well, are you coming home soon?"
"Yes", she replied, but straighten up the house real quick. I'll be home in two minutes."
Like the Tasmanian Devil, I made a mad attempt to clean up the living room (which for once was actually not that bad...) and prepped for a surprise. I had an inkling of what it could be.
Sure enough, Sandy comes walking in, followed by my mom! This was awesome. I get to take both Sandy and my mom to Renaissance Night!
About 15 minutes after Sandy and my mom arrived, we left for a quick trek to downtown Safety Harbor.
I was a little worried that it would be hard to find parking, but over time we've familiarized ourselves with Safety Harbor's layout, which aided us in finding an open slot less than a block from Main Street, which during these big events is closed to vehicle traffic.
We walked to the main strip, where we encountered endless rows of vendors. The variety of goods and eats offered was impressive. Of course, there was the signature roast turkey leg, cooked to perfection by Brady's Backyard BBQ, a newcomer to the festival, but whose restaurant is located directly off Main Street. Other merchants, some of whom were dressed in colorful and elaborate Medieval costumes, sold everything from wind chimes and fresh roses to bratwurst and chicken gyros.
The epicenter of Renaissance Night is the famous Safety Harbor gazebo, where the various acts performed. There was a terrific variety of entertainment, including: Matt Edmunds' Traveling Wildlife Show, SCA Sword Combat Demonstration, Susan Boyer Haley(Psaltry), the musical duo For Love or Money, Miss Linda's Dance Studio (featuring Linda Featherstone), and of course The Demzarah Gypsies.
Unfortunately we arrived too late to experience the majority of acts, including the wildlife show and Miss Linda's Dance , but I heard later the performances were outstanding. We arrived just before For Love or Money took stage. I just happened to run into a co-worker and my old friend Ken Silkie, a Renaissance Festival veteran who performs an in-demand show featuring a hilarious puppet named "Lenny" (short for Leonardo, as in Da Vinci), who was constructed, incidentally, by Darlene Trieste! Another talent!
Ken wasn't performing that night, but was decked out in full Renaissance garb. We caught each other up on what's doing, as we are both in the TV industry. After a substantial chat, Kenny wished us well, and the three of us enjoyed the sounds of For Love or Money, a duo (Jen Shimilak & Matt Worsham) who play a merry set of Celtic music performed with guitar and mandolin.
After For Love or Money concluded their set, the comedic King Renwick and Queen Roweena took stage and entertained the crowd with jovial shire humor. Next up was the highly-anticipated Demzarah Gypsy Show. I could spot Darlene and the other dancers busily prepping for the big entrance.
The Gypsy Show began with merry music that totally set the tone, and provided a backdrop for the hilarious jokes bantered back and forth between guitarist/comedian Dennis Wilkinson and drummer Tom Trieste (Darlene's husband). Before long, loud screams and howls radiated from the audience - it's the group of belly dancers led by Darlene!
The dancers excitedly charged the stage with twisting hips and ribald catcalls. Each dancer (Victoria Boyd & Kim Connor) got a turn displaying their unique individual skills. Jennifer, Darlene's daughter, does an amazing dance balancing a curved scimitar atop her scarfed head. Another dances with fire. Darlene's specialty is dancing with a live snake!
The performance is a blend of authentic belly dancing, humor, music, elaborate set dressings, and wonderful props. It's obvious how much care goes into the show - the props are all one-of-a-kind hand constructed pieces: hand-held signs prompting the audience to say "Ooh!", "Ah!", a rustic treasure chest, miscellaneous set dressing items, and more. Setting the stage is a sweeping tapestry of curtains and drapery, making you feel like you're watching an authentic band of Gypsies that just came to town. There's even a colorful Demzarah Gypsies banner adorning the backdrop, hand-sewn by Darlene herself.
Finally, it came time to pick three unsuspecting guys from the audience to join the belly dancers on stage (yours truly was a previous victim ...) in getting a quick belly dance lesson (and a good ribbing). Three participants were selected, and when on stage really seemed to get into the groove.
The grand finale was a call to have everyone join the Demzarahs on stage for a little hip wiggling. A very large crowd did and they seemed to have a great time doing so.
After the big show, we had to leave the festival on the early side, due to the fact I had to drive my mom back to St. Pete. But we left with great memories, had a great time, and looked forward to the next 3rd Night event in Safety Harbor!
Renaissance Night was held on Main Street in Safety Harbor, Florida
Friday, Sept. 21st, 6pm-10pm and is held annually