Written by Taven Strickert
Music, muskets, mead and memories. The Dickens Festival returned to Riverside for the 23rd year. For one weekend a year, Riverside residents are transported to the time of Dickens and his good old Oliver Twist.
The festival welcomes all whether they be an attendee, historian, costumer, Steampunk or even just a beer enthusiast. The festival is a yearly attraction that has “grown exponentially and will continue to do so,” according to festival board member Brenda Beers.
The festival is a celebration of history during the time of Dickens, but has grown from its early days of being a small group of historians and one actor portraying Dickens himself.
Now there is massive community of reenactors with vendors of all varieties as well as fourteen authors of the time Dickens engaging in environmental acting for the duration of the festival.
“It’s fun we are not just reenacting the battles, we are giving insight that these were real people just like my great grandfather… their times, music and memory should be remembered,” said Bruce Carver of the Armory Band.
Charles Dickens was portrayed by community actor Paul Jacques. Jacques is an actor with the California Theatre and will be putting on the production Spamalot later this year.
“It promotes literacy…human rights and everything forward thinking society should be striving for…it’s not just me out here and I hope that people can find a literary voice they can connect with” said Jacques in reference to why he chose the role of Dickens.
Mark Twain, who declined to give his name to remain in character, shared his classic insight on the broad implications of history as it pertains to the Inland Empire.
“Humans will always endeavor to suppress their wretcheder side and the only way to do it is to look closely back at history and its mistakes as one would personally do with themselves,” said Twain.
The actor shared his thoughts on the Twain’s impact on history. “Huck Finn dealt with more than slavery then because slavery still exists, it’s just changed its clothes. I would say this to all the readers of viewpoints, to become aware that human trafficking in the Inland Empire is of such proportion that it might as well be called the same thing.”
The festival also played host to a myriad of costumed guests such as pirates, royalty, barmaids and for the first official time, Steampunk. Steampunk has always been part of the festival, but this year the vendors were invited and Sunday was designated Steampunk day.
Dan McGrew of Rogue Privateers was making a real Zeppelin only with time sensitive technology from 1904 or Nicole Goldberg from Baubles and Steam Emporium handmade thousands of pieces of jewelry that range from authentic to Steampunk art.
Talking to those who do dress up for fun like Hayley Humberson, an anime and convention fan who attended the festival, one can see the intrigue taking the leap of creativity.
“I have never come across a mean spirited person at one of these things, even if your costume isn’t perfect people just love to see you trying and getting in the spirit” said Humberson. The community is very welcoming and even if you don’t know where to start you can always find guidance and a good time at the festival.
The guests themselves who were out of costume did not get left out, in fact they said they felt as welcomed and included as any costumer.
For attendees that are of age the festival tavern may be the highlight of their time at the event with local brews, magic shows, dancing girls and as colorful characters as one could hope to meet. The leader of the Tavern is known as Mistress Babs and she said intends on expanding the tavern as a draw for more young adults such as of age college students. Babs said that the festival was a group effort of dedicated volunteers headed by a passionate few. “We all love the festival, but Brenda Beers is the glue that holds this festival together,” Babs said.
Roy Deitrich, first time festival goer and bartender said he was astounded to see the camaraderie of the day as well as the support the festival seemed to give to local businesses. “All the beers here are locally made on Van Buren and most of the vendors are local businesses so this is more than just an event, it is a community networking opportunity,” he said.