Before the jousts, before the elephant rides, before the human chess game, Peter Meyer picked up a hammer.
Wearing a black T-shirt and cargo shorts, Meyer, 48, worked on finishing a wooden structure Wednesday that will house Tarot card readers.
On Saturday, he will don medieval garb and become one of 165 artisans selling and demonstrating their wares at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire. The 27th annual fair opens Saturday at the Alachua County Fairgrounds and will run this weekend and next.
“The fair is truly a step back in time to the middle ages,” said Linda Piper, the fair’s producer and events coordinator with Gainesville’s parks, recreation and cultural affairs department. “I always say that Orlando has Disney and Gainesville has Hoggetowne.”
Visitors will find blacksmiths, jewelry, stone and wood carvings, weaving, hand-blown glassware, leather crafts and period fashions. On eight stages, they will see performances by jugglers and jesters, magicians and musicians.
The food court’s offerings will include bloomin’ onions, giant turkey legs, sweet potato fries, ribs, chicken-on-a-stick and funnel cakes. Guests can ride ponies, camels and elephants and can get their faces painted, hair braided and fortunes told.
About 55,000 people attended the fair last year, Piper said, breaking attendance records. She expects more in 2013.
About 6,000 school groups from 26 counties have preregistered to come to the fair for a field trip, Piper said. The fair receives no city funding, and the $250,000 it costs to produce comes from entrance and booth fees.
Guests who want to beat traffic and long lines should arrive before the gates open, Piper said. The fair’s entertainers will be ready at 9:45 a.m. on the weekends to greet visitors with a song-and-dance show. Piper said that is her favorite time of day to see all the animals and the stilt-walkers.
Meyer said he started coming to the fair 18 years ago with members of a local Tarot guild. A J.R.R. Tolkien fan and lover of fantasy themes, he said he will sell his ornamental shields and wood carvings and check out the costumes of other fair-goers.
“It’s a great place to kick back and watch the crowds go by,” he said. “You see everything.”
In another booth called Princessories, Justin Koerner set up jewelry Wednesday. Before Koerner, 26, started working Renaissance fairs year-round five years ago, he said, he got a culinary degree and worked 60 hours a week in a kitchen.
“I was always stressing and really pulling my hair out, and as soon as I started working this two days a week, I make the same amount of money as I used to, but I have a lot more time to work on my hobbies and my own personality,” he said. “If you like something, it’s not work, it’s a way of living.”
When? The fair will be open this Saturday and Sunday and February 1, 2 and 3. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday.
Where? The Alachua County Fairgrounds at 2900 NE 39th Ave. next to the Gainesville Regional Airport on SR 222.
How much? Admission is $14 for adults, $7 for children ages 5 to 17 and free for children under 5. On February 1, tickets are half price.