A Ren Fest preview; music at Franconia Sculpture Park; and Cumberbatch (as Hamlet) in HD

Photo by Jennifer Arocha
The Renaissance Festival

Hear ye, oyez and huzzah: the Renaissance Festival starts Aug. 22. Get a preview this Sunday, Aug. 16, at the Mall of America, with live entertainment, ticket giveaways, the King, Queen and Royal Court, arts-and-crafts activities for kids and photo opps with Ren Fest characters.

Now in its 45th season, this year’s festival takes place over seven weekends, each with a different theme and its own entertainers, vendors and artisans. The opening weekend theme is Highland Fling, and events include the 10th Annual World Amateur Highland Heavy Games championship (stone throws, hammer throws, caber tosses – a caber being a 19-foot pole weighing 175 pounds), keg tosses, broadsword demos, kilt competitions, and Scottish dancers. Future themes are Christmas and Canines (an early holiday, with wiener dog races), Oktoberfest, and a Wine, Chocolate & Romance weekend, with free vow renewals.

Set in a 16th-century European village, with 16 stages of live entertainment, a marketplace where more than 250 artisans sell handcrafted wares, daily armored jousts, and more food than you can shake a caber at (though we don’t quite see the Renaissance connection to Waffle Tacos), Ren Fest offers a full day of things to see and do. Wear a hat, bring sunscreen, and when you need to rest, find a bale of hay.

This may be the festival’s last year, or second-to-last, in its Shakopee location, where it has been for 41 years. A silica sand and gravel mine on the property has steadily expanded, and the owners have told the festival’s operators (who lease the site) that they need to vacate by the end of 2016. The mine has eaten the parking lots nearest the festival’s turreted entrance gates; you’ll park farther away and ride a shuttle.

The Minnesota Renaissance festival is the largest fair of its type in the U.S., with some 300,000 visitors each year.


Drummer/composer/bandleader Dave King – of The Bad Plus, Dave King’s Trucking Co., The Gang Font, Happy Apple, Buffalo Collision and Halloween, Alaska, to name a few – has his own jazz radio program, “King’s Speech,” on the Current as of Aug. 9.  On Sundays starting at 9 p.m., you can hear him play jazz recordings, talk about jazz and whatever else comes into his hyperactive mind, and be himself: deadpan, hilarious, and deeply, offhandedly knowledgeable.

There hasn’t been a weekly jazz host on MPR since January 2009, when Maryann Sullivan was let go; before then, Leigh Kamman had a good long run as host of “The Jazz Image.” King isn’t the only jazz messenger at MPR. Music reporter and Local Current blogger Andrea Swensson has had her own half-hour monthly show, “After Hours,” since May. Both  “King’s Speech” and “After Hours” are archived for listening whenever.

Benedict Cumberbatch fans, we know you’ve been following the story of his latest thing: playing the lead in “Hamlet” at London’s Barbican Theatre. Tickets to the 12-week run sold out faster than you can say “Sherlock,” people are flying in from all over, and Cumberbatch has asked audiences to stop taking his picture during performances. “It’s mortifying,” he told a crowd outside the theater doors. “There’s nothing less supportive or enjoyable as an actor being onstage and experiencing that.”

A mere 100,000 mortals will see Cumberbatch live in person as the Prince of Denmark. If you’re not one, don’t despair. Live in HD is the next best thing. On Thursday, Oct. 15, National Theatre Live will broadcast a performance of “Hamlet” to movie theaters around the world, including several locally, then follow up with an encore on Sunday, Nov. 1. The Film Society will show the film on Nov. 1, 2, 12 and 28. Go here FMI and links to buy tickets.

The picks

The 7th Annual Groundbreaker Battle
Photo by Rick A Kolodzier
The 7th Annual Groundbreaker Battle

Saturday at the Cowles: 7th Annual Groundbreaker Battle. A full day of hip-hop culture, with workshops, performances by Ill Chemistry and the House of Dance youth group, an interactive graffiti installation with Juxtaposition Arts, community vendors and crews battling for cash prizes. Here’s a short video from 2013. In the Butler Square parking lot on the north side of the Cowles. Noon – 8 p.m. FMI. Free and family-friendly.

Saturday at Franconia Sculpture Park: A Musical Tour of Europe. Live music in the Earthen Amphitheater among the sculptures. With Orkestar Bez Ime (music of Eastern Europe and the Rom people), Quartetto Rosso (Italian music by singer/guitarist/mandolinist Robert Everest), accordionist Mark Stillman with Russian vocalist Sima Shumilovsky, Francine Roche (French classics, especially Edith Piaf) and opera singer Nancy Sanchelli Guertin. 1 – 7 p.m. Family-friendly, dog-friendly. Parking $5 per vehicle. Otherwise, free.

Second Minnesota Regiment at Mission Ridge Nov. 25, 1863, by Douglas Volk
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Second Minnesota Regiment at Mission Ridge Nov. 25, 1863, by Douglas Volk

Saturday and Sunday at Historic Fort Snelling: Civil War Weekend: Coming Home. Summer’s biggest event at Fort Snelling is also the largest-ever Civil War Weekend in the fort’s history. For the 150th anniversary of the war’s end, more than 200 reenactors from around the country will show what homecoming was like for Minnesota soldiers and their loved ones. On Saturday, costumed soldiers will arrive by riverboat, march to the parade grounds, hear speeches and join in drills. On Sunday, soldiers will be greeted by their friends and loved ones as they muster out of military service. There’s more: cannon firings, infantry parades, an old-fashioned baseball game, an 1860s fashion show, walking tours, short films, and guest speakers. Here’s the full schedule. 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. both days. $11 adults, $9 seniors and college students, $6 ages 6-17, 5 and under free.

Monday at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: “A View from the Bridge.” National Theatre Live again. This time it’s the Young Vic’s production of Arthur Miller’s tragic masterpiece. The magnetic Mark Strong is longshoreman Eddie Carbone in a show one critic called “like watching a runaway train hurtle towards you.” 7 p.m. Encore Saturday, Aug. 22 at 1 p.m. FMI and tickets.

Monday at the Dakota: Eric Harland & Rude Unkal. Jazz fans know Harland as the multi-Grammy nominated drummer with Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, Joshua Redman and his own group, Voyager. Rude Unkal is his new “garage jazz” band – so new there are no recordings, no reviews. There is a mysterious video in which Harland can’t describe it, but the music – a big, brassy take on Buddy Miles’s “Them Changes” – sounds great. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($15-$20).

Monday at Loring Park: “The Adventures of Prince Achmed.” The final week of the Walker’s Summer Music and Movies in the Park pairs German animator Lotte Reiniger’s 1929 animated classic with a new live Walker-commissioned score by MAKR’s Coven. Starts at dusk (around 8:45 p.m.). Free.

Tickets, please

Single tickets go on sale Monday to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s 2015-16 season. It’s the SPCO’s first full season in their acoustically delicious, purpose-built Ordway Concert Hall. Six stellar artistic partners are in place: Jeremy Denk, Martin Fröst, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Pekka Kuusisto, Christian Zacharias and Thomas Zehetmair. (Finnish violinist Kuusisto doesn’t officially start as artistic partner until 2016, but he’ll play two concerts in April.) There’s a new Sunday afternoon series in the Concert Hall, plus performances in several more venues in the area, so if you don’t live in the Cities, the SPCO may come to you. The music includes old favorites (the Messiah, the Brandenburgs, the “Jupiter”) and brand-new, never-heard-anywhere-before commissions. In all, the SPCO will give more than 100 performances of 35 different concert programs. Go online or call 651-291-1144.

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