Vacaville Lord of the Rings Festival Images
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Celebriel writes: When Ringers think of places for Lord of the Rings festivals, Vacaville, CA may not be the first place that comes to mind. But Saturday, hundreds of costumed elves, hobbits, and even ringwraiths strolled through a downtown Vacaville transformed into Hobbiton, listened to a live performance of songs from The Two Towers, sampled lembas bread, and shopped for new swords.

Bette Lucke, owner of the Otter Nature Store, was the chief wizard organizer, assisted by dozens of fellow merchants and other volunteers. Why Vacaville? “Lord of the Rings and Tolkien really wouldn’t let go of me,” Bette says. “I wanted to share them with other people. As a merchant, I saw a good fit, something for everyone, our new library, churches, schools, merchants, and everybody.” She’s been working on this year’s festival for a full year, describing herself before the first events as “excited and very scared.”

Bette first read The Hobbit in college, but didn’t finish Lord of the Rings. Her husband wanted to see the film version of The Fellowship of the Ring, and that’s when she got hit hard. The couple bought copies of Lord of the Rings and spent the following year reading them to each other aloud.

Last year she started with a small event on her own block, on March 25, which she called a New Year’s celebration for the Fourth Age. It featured a few of her business neighbors, including a restaurant and a motorcycle shop which prepared a window display on Lord of the Piston Rings.

Kathie Hoglund, head of the downtown Vacaville Business Improvement District, worked all week on the festival, despite being an accountant the week before the April 15 deadline. “We’re really hoping to do it again next year,” she said. Any surprises? “We weren’t prepared for the number of people from out of the area, even from as far as Tennessee,” said Kathie.

The festival was a true family event. Among the day’s many activities were a costume contest with more than 60 entrants, a hairy foot contest in two divisions (natural and enhanced), trivia contest booths, games for kids, chain mail making demonstrations, and a Two Towers music and reading performance by the Teen Company from the Missouri Street Theatre in Fairfield.

Attendees Juliann and Jeanette from the Cotati/Rohnert Park area learned about the festival through a posting on The One and came costumed as Ithilrande (a lady of Dol Amroth) and Arwen, with Juliann’s son Lincoln clad as Legolas. Juliann first read the Trilogy in the late 1960s and even wrote to Professor Tolkien. The Trilogy books were “the first hardcover books I ever bought,” she says, and still has them. After seeing The Fellowship of the Ring, she re-read the books and started sewing again after many years, commenting on how Lord of the Rings inspires personal creativity in a range of fields. She’s now making a wardrobe for her Dol Amroth character for future events.

Craftspeople and vendors also seemed to enjoy the festival. Mark Reed of Rusty Sword Productions, a nonprofit that helps communities and schools through historical reenactment events, had nearly sold out his armoury booth in just a few hours. He would definitely come back next year, and regretted not bringing more merchandise to Vacaville, since “selling swords is such a cut throat business.”

One family of four drove six hours from Costa Mesa in Southern California to stay for the whole weekend. Father Cy has been a Ringer for 30 years, recalling that the trilogy was required reading in his Missouri high school. His wife Annie sewed costumes for the family. They got their children involved in reading the books even before the first film came out.

Saturday evening’s costume ball, celebrating the marriage of Eowyn and Faramir, drew about 150 guests, who enjoyed a buffet supper and entertainment from Celtic band Rats in the Haggis and the Prancing Pony Players (Ringers Frodo, Merry, Pippin, Dernhelm, and their Orc friend).

Already thinking about a return festival next year, Bette Lucke says her own favorite character is Aragorn, both because of the way Tolkien develops his character through the trilogy and because “The world could use a few more leaders who are healers in addition to wielding a sword.”