Colonial Faire highlights 18th century history

Mountain Fifes and Drums, out of Lake Arrowhead, thunder across the Publick House Green in true colonial style.

High up in the mountains of Oak Glen, folks are partying like it’s 1774.

The Colonial Faire at Riley’s Farm is an immersive Revolutionary War-era series of events in which re-enactors teach participants about the culture and history of the period and portray scenes of everyday colonial life in New England during the growing tumult between the British authorities and the American colonists.

When you enter the gate, you must make a crucial choice: do you join the ranks of His Majesty’s Army to preserve the honor of the British crown, or do you side with the scruffy rebels of Northumberland County with all their talk of liberty and self-determination and no taxation without representation?

After you’ve made your choice, you enter the world. There are colonists teaching you about the various firearms of the period, British officers displaying their collection of swords, etiquette lessons from soldiers of refinement, and other activities such as archery and tomahawk throwing.

According to James Riley, owner of Riley’s Farms, the Faire is meant to re-create the “muster day” events of the 18th century.

“In the 18th century up through the mid-19th century, every man from age 16 to 60 had to serve in the militia. They would basically drill eight times a year, in celebrations like this,” said Riley. “Some people think it was the origin of the county fair. The bakers, the bands, everyone would come to this big festival. It’s basically 18th century crafts, plus the martial life.”

For Riley, the revolutionary period of muskets and muster days carries a special significance and contemporary relevance.

“A lot of the discussion we have about human rights was forged and solidified in this period. The rights to free expression, freedom to bear arms, due process of law. America is a pretty radical experiment in world history,” he said.

In addition, Riley, who holds a degree in history from Stanford University, likes that the event offers a different way of teaching history that emphasizes the human element of the past.

“There was a period in the 60s and 70s where history was charts and graphs, and impersonal social and economic forces,” he said. “Before that, it used to be taught with hero narratives. I think that kids, and people in general, tend to respond to that human side of the story. It’s a lot more exciting drama. It fell out of vogue but I think it’s coming back.”

One of the most interesting elements of the period is the music, and there are re-enactors present to bring the sonic life of the 18th century alive. Patrice Ruane, a musician from Long Beach, brought her harpsichord to the event while in period-specific dress. The harpsichord, Ruane explained, is a precursor to the piano in which internal strings are lightly plucked to give it a tinnier sound than its more popular relative. You may have heard it in medieval or Renaissance era films in which the characters are in a tavern or other relaxed public setting.

“In this time period, they’ve already started inventing the piano, but they haven’t started bringing them over yet,” Ruane explained. “So, being a harpsichord player, doing re-enactment festivals is a perfect place to talk about the instrument and play it without it being out of place. In modern settings, it’s sort of an oddity. But if you play it in historical settings, it’s what they were listening to.”

Ruane said that she became interested in the now-obscure instrument as she developed her musical tastes and talents.

“When I was a little kid, I started learning the Bach minuets, which are really dance pieces,” Ruane said. “When you play them on a piano, they sound very heavy and they drag and they sound very stiff and formal. I said, ‘This doesn’t really sound like a dance piece.’ And my piano teacher said that they’re not really piano songs, they’re harpsichord songs. She played it on a harpsichord, and I loved the sound.”

On the more rousing end of the musical spectrum was the booming percussion, fluttering fifes, and regimented marches of Mountain Fifes and Drums. The group, based in Lake Arrowhead, was formed shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It takes students aged 10 to 18 and teaches them how to play the instruments and perform the marches of revolutionary-era marching bands while wearing the dress of the period. If you think you’ve never heard fife and drum music, you’ve definitely heard its most popular song, “Yankee Doodle.”

Joy Hatch is the director of Mountain Fifes and Drums. “We recruit kids from the mountain communities, ages 10 to 12,” Hatch explains. “They don’t have to know anything, but they pick their instrument and we start teaching them and training them. And then, we hope, they will stay in it until they graduate high school.”

As students memorize more songs, they move up from the color guard, to the junior corps, and finally the senior corps through a series of ranks. The program teaches musical skills, teamwork, and leadership.

Brenda Pairis, a native of Whittier, came to the event to enjoy the historical immersion. “It kind of takes you back into another time, and we can witness it and experience it,” she said. “It’s a great experience.”

The Colonial Faire takes place on Saturdays in July. The remaining fairs will be held on July 21 and July 28 at Riley’s Farm, located at 2261 Oak Glen Rd., Yucaipa.

For more information, call 797-7534.


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