Beneath a tent in a field outside Stevensville, a nervous pirate, outfitted in a puffy shirt, vest and feathered tri-corner hat, rests his hand on his sword as he awaits his bride. She walks up the aisle, her strapless purple gown rustling in the wind, and takes him by the hand.
"Michelle and Ed," says ordained minister Dennis Kelvie, also sporting a pirate outfit, "do you both vow before me and my sword, the crew and all the deck hands, that this wedding may proceed?"
The couple solemnly says, "Aye."
After agreeing to protect and honor one another no matter who boards their ship, Ed and Michelle Owens celebrate their union with a long kiss and a cheer from the "crew."
Pirate-themed weddings are par for the course when it comes to the nonprofit Big Sky Renaissance Fair, which celebrated its annual fete of costumes, jousting contests and feasting June 24-26 in the Bitterroot Valley. Big Sky Ren Faire is the only major ren faire in the state besides Billings' Montana Renaissance Festival.
When not officiating pirate weddings or running businesses in Hamilton, Kelvie chairs Big Sky Charities, the organization behind the festival. He says the Owens wedding reflects the close-knit community that brings together renaissance festival fans. "This is only our fifth year doing this, but we've been becoming more and more part of the circuit, with other renaissance faires and their vendors, entertainment, things like that," he says.
Ren faires originated as Elizabethan era reenactments, but anachronistic influences from various centuries and fantasy realms all mingle together at Big Sky Ren Faire. Attendees, whether dressed in chain mail or jeans and T-shirts, imbibe local Hidden Valley mead or Blacksmith Brewing ale. The smell of roasted turkey leg, hot dogs and Thai food vendors drifts through the air. Classical guitar tinkles out of loudspeakers next to ye olde ATM. Over at the archery field, people in tunics and leggings try their hand using real longbows. Society for Creative Anachronism knights take turns battling in a small arena. A sword-swallower named Eric the Excellent pulls a blade out of his gullet.
At the end of the weekend, once the tents are packed up and the knights, ladies and pirates have departed, all the revelry leaves behind a benefit for the community. This year, Kelvie estimates the fair raised enough to donate more than $2,500 to the Stevensville Pantry Partners Food Bank.