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YE Olden Times RETURN

The 15th annual Bay Area Renaissance Festival of Largo, which begins next weekend, will take fairgoers back in time several hundred years to the days of chivalry, jousting knights and Shakespeare.

The festival, staged on 40 wooded acres at Third Street SE and East Bay Drive, continues for five more weeks. Each weekend will have a theme.

King Edward, Queen Catherine and 350 other authentically costumed entertainers and artisans will perform on six stages and throughout the grounds.

The children's area has been expanded this year, with hands-on crafts, a new playground, a theater and several rides geared to youngsters.

"Our Children's Realm will be more detailed this year, and we're real excited about that," said Lynne Motejaitis, director of advertising and public relations for the fair.

"We will have an Easter bonnet contest (on Easter weekend, April 2-3), and the winner will receive diamond earrings. On Easter Sunday, we will have breakfast with the Easter bunny at 9:30 a.m."

Motejaitis said organizers hope attendance climbs to almost 100,000 this year.

Armored knights jousting on horseback is one of the fair's most popular highlights, and bouts are scheduled twice daily. Other favorites are the human chess matches and the stage shows.

A bustling marketplace is filled with artisans and craft workers and food that includes turkey drumsticks, Scotch eggs, chicken croissants, pitas and gyro sandwiches.

New this year are two stage acts. The Minstrels of Mayhem are traveling troubadours who mix music with comedy. Two actors called Double Indemnity perform magic and feats of daring with knife throwing.

All visitors to the festival are invited to help paint a giant Renaissance mural outside the grounds to benefit the Leukemia Society.

The first festival, 15 years ago, was sponsored by the Greater Largo Chamber of Commerce and was patterned after a similar festival in Minneapolis.

A Minnesota promoter helped initiate the Largo festival, and five investors together put up $250,000 to get the event going. The goal was to make Largo well-known in the area.

IF YOU GO

Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through April 17. Parking is free. No pets are admitted to the festival. Admission at the gate is $9.95 for adults and $3.95 for children. Children younger than 5 are admitted free. Call 586-5423.

Step back in time at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival of Largo, which begins next weekend.

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