LEAD — T’was a sultry summer day in the year of our lord, two thousand and twenty one, when the renaissance officially came to the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The actual European Renaissance is described by historians as a period of cultural, artistic, political, and economic rebirth, which emerged in the 14th century after the devastation of the dark ages and the deadly black plague. Sound familiar?
“I think everybody, overall – after the year that was 2020 – needed just a little bit of ‘huzzah,’” said Shareece Tatum, event coordinator for the festival.
Lead has been undergoing a “rebirth” of its own for years with the Sanford Lab, bustling artisan community, and the return of a thriving small business district.
“Lead has magic, and we’ve emerged as a little bit of a haven for some of this stuff, we’ve got three shops in town that kind of are towards this area,” said Christine Allen, outreach and membership director for the Lead Area Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve magic and gold in the hills and a long, long history so we’re excited to have this,”
The event was not only the first of its kind, but also the first ticketed event held by Visit Lead, a new branch of the chamber which focuses on promoting events and tourism to the mile high city.
“I talked to quite a few people who go, ‘oh I don’t think about Lead for events,’ but here we are and they’re like, ‘so… you’re coming back next year?’” Tatum, who also works full time as a marketing assistant for Fat Boys Inc., and Firehouse Brewing Co., said.
Tatum was contracted to coordinate the event because of her success with other similar events.
“I founded a ran SoDak Con, South Dakota’s largest anime con for 10 years so that’s a good chunk of where my experience comes from,” she said. “But the ren faire has always been this dream sort of sitting out there for a while and this was the perfect year to do it.”
That dream culminated in just three short months after Tatum was introduced to Allen by Sarah Larson, owner/operator of Aspire Boutique, as a way to get more unique activities in town.
“I was like, ‘well I have a half-baked ren fair that was that was supposed to happen last year that I can try to pull in three months, let’s try this,’” Tatum said. “I just started contacting people and it started getting that momentum and then people started contacting me.”
The festival featured 22 vendors and five paid performers including demonstrations by the Society of Creative Anachronism, a performance from Sultry Shimmy Belly Dance, and a Dungeons and Dragons inspired comedy improve quest show by players from Seraphim Theatrical Entertainment and the Black Hills Improv Collective.
Conservatively, Allen estimated around 600 people attended the event, but Tatum pegs that number much higher.
“From my (experience) event planning, I would not be surprised if we hit 1,000,” she said.
Allen said it was difficult to find food vendors to come in for the festival because there were so many other events taking place this weekend.
“But what that really did was it allowed the Boys and Girls Club to sell (food), huge fundraiser for them; the fire department (also sold food), huge fundraiser for them, Handley Center, huge fundraiser for them, and two local businesses came down here and vended too,” she explained. “So the money’s going to stay in Lead and go to all these nonprofits. It gave them the opportunity to, as Kathy Dolan said, ‘make hay while the sun shines.’”
The event was so well attended the vendors that did show up had to pack up early because they ran out of food.
“Our food trucks were out of here a couple hours ago because they were just like, ‘we have no more, there’s no more food,’” Tatum said.
Allen didn’t have any approximation as to how much money was raised by the festival, but even after paying all the bills and accounting for overhead, there should be quite a bit of capital left in the pot to build upon this year’s success.
“A lot of (that money) will go into being able to budget this for next year, proving that it works, and talking to the city about building the infrastructure we need to have more of these events,” Allen said. “The chamber’s not necessarily here to make money, we’re here to help other people make money, for Shareece it was the ren faire, (but it could be anything) downtown, that’s what we’re here for so I was glad to see that happen.”
Being in the events industry, Tatum said she was confident that the renaissance festival would draw the crowd it did.
“This area has been desperately wanting a ren faire forever and a half,” she said.
Allen, on the other hand was pleasantly surprised by how many folks turned out.
“I thought if we do 500, we’ll do really well for an event in Lead,” she added.
With activities like axe-throwing, pickle jousting, face-painting, and coin pressing, it was difficult for both Tatum and Allen to nail down exactly what their favorite part of the day was.
“The costumes were my favorite part, I love a little bit “extra” and that’s what I think sometimes the Chamber can help bring; is a little bit “extra” to your event,” Allen said.
Although, she said it’s a bit self-serving, Tatum (who agreed to accept payment for her services only if the event made a profit) said the success of the event was a major boost she needed after closing down her previous convention three years ago.
“Just seeing it do well, and pulled off well,” she said. “This was my first foray back into events like that and I think I needed to see this.”
By all accounts the event was a resounding success, and two hope to see this be the beginning of a new renaissance for Lead moving into the future.
“I just see it getting bigger, there’s so much I’m already planning,” Tatum said.
“Same thing, an amazing success and look for more festivals in Lead, we’re gonna try to make it happen,” Allen added.
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