Well Met

Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture

359 pages

November, 2012

ISBN: 9780814771389



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Rachel Lee Rubin is Professor of American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is author of Immigration and American Popular Culture (with Jeffrey Melnick, NYU Press) and Jewish Gangsters of Modern Literature, and co-editor of American Popular Music: New Approaches to the Twentieth Century and Radicalism in the South since Reconstruction.

All books by Rachel Lee Rubin

The Renaissance Faire—a 50 year-long party, communal ritual, political challenge and cultural wellspring—receives its first sustained historical attention with Well Met. Beginning with the chaotic communal moment of its founding and early development in the 1960s through its incorporation as a major “family friendly” leisure site in the 2000s, Well Met tells the story of the thinkers, artists, clowns, mimes, and others performers who make the Faire.
Well Met approaches the Faire from the perspective of labor, education, aesthetics, business, the opposition it faced, and the key figures involved. Drawing upon vibrant interview material and deep archival research, Rachel Lee Rubin reveals the way the faires established themselves as a pioneering and highly visible counter cultural referendum on how we live now—our family and sexual arrangements, our relationship to consumer goods, and our corporate entertainments.
In order to understand the meaning of the faire to its devoted participants,both workers and visitors, Rubin has compiled a dazzling array of testimony, from extensive conversations with Faire founder Phyllis Patterson to interviews regarding the contemporary scene with performers, crafters, booth workers and “playtrons.” Well Met pays equal attention what came out of the faire—the transforming gifts bestowed by the faire’s innovations and experiments upon the broader American culture: the underground press of the 1960s and 1970s, experimentation with “ethnic” musical instruments and styles in popular music, the craft revival, and various forms of immersive theater are all connected back to their roots in the faire. Original, intrepid, and richly illustrated, Well Met puts the Renaissance Faire back at the historical center of the American counterculture.


  • “Anti-modernism remains one of modernity's most significant and lasting inventions, and in Rachel Rubin's Well Met the theme finally gets its due. In the odd but telling subculture of the Renaissance Faire, Rubin finds anti-modernism intertwined with some of the most important strands of twentieth-century American culture—waning traces of vaudeville, the rise of the counterculture, shifting gender arrangements and sexual practices, a hunger for usable pasts, a rising politics of theatricality, and the culture's impressive penchant for commercialized anti-commercialism.  Rubin writes with deep insight and terrific humor; and as intelligent as the book is, it also embodies a joyful appreciation for the quirky inventiveness of its protagonists. I can't wait for the movie!”

    —Matthew Frye Jacobson, Yale University

  • “In its first decade, the Renaissance Faire unleashed a multi-colored sub-culture in direct revolt against the monochrome of postwar America. It was a home-grown explosion of fancy dress, Shakespearian improv, hand-made objects both useful and ornamental, and music ancient and obscure, much of it heard for the first time in the dusty lanes of the Faire. Rachel Rubin deftly reveals the impact the Faire has had on style, craft, performance, and pop culture over the past fifty years in a one-of-a-kind study that begins in the left-wing lanes of Laurel Canyon, continues through backstage conflicts and couplings, and concludes with the corporatized, commercialized Festivals and geeky Ren-fandom of today. Well Met is a must-read to revel in the true roots of ‘Sixties’ culture. I know. I was there.”

    —David Ossman, member of the Firesign Theatre

  • "A must read for anyone interested in a nonstereotypical view of the faire, its adherents, and why it retains its appeal decades after its inception."

    Library Journal

  • "Fascinating [and] forthcoming."

    San Francisco Bay Guardian

  • "Rubin's book is a trailblazer."

    Colorado Springs Independent

  • "[C]areful, informative, and thought-provoking . . . Well Met is packed with welcome detours into fascinating historical byways."


  • "The strength of Rachel Lee Rubin's book is that she understands and celebrates this–the point of Renaissance fairs is that a lot of people find pleasure in them."


  • "Rubin wins over readers . . . she argues compellingly."

    H-Net Reviews

  • "Fascinating account of the evolution of a US institution."


  • “Academic but pleasingly readable.”

    —Ander Monson, LA Review of Books

  • "Rubin effectively probes how the [Renaissance] fairs exemplify familiar aspects of the American counterculture. She also seeks to illuminate how they are important not only as a forgotten aspect of a completed history but also as vibrant contemporary affairs . . . . They are, for Rubin, spaces of continued counter-cultural activity that, through constant renegotiations of the past, invoke visions of future potential renaissances for a United States stuck in the dark ages."

    —Michael J. Kramer, Journal of American History

  • “[T]he depth of her research, particularly from a historical perspective, is impressive, and the work will be a valuable resource for anyone doing research on Renaissance faires.  Non-scholar fans of Renaissance faires will probably find it interesting as well, and appreciate finding a scholarly work that is not overly critical.” 

    Journal of Folklore Research