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Sonora Celtic Faire off to a soggy start, but dry days ahead

SONORA — Brian Stephenson had to make an extra effort to bend down for a photo with two of his young admirers Friday.

He was, after all, wearing more than 100 pounds of armor shortly after jousting at the Sonora Celtic Faire.

"Help me up — pull, pull, pull," he said to the boys after the photo shoot.

It's all worth it, said Stephenson, a Michigan resident who travels the nation to joust at Renaissance fairs and other events.

"I like the horses," he said. "I like the cheering crowds, to be able to perform for people."

The 24th annual event got under way Friday at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds. It will continue today and Sunday with more jousting, plus music, dance, food and craft vendors, living history, storytellers and more.

Opening day had plenty of authentic Celtic weather — rain, then more rain — but most of the activities took place indoors. The forecast for the weekend is dry.

The fair celebrates all things Celtic, which includes Ireland, Scotland and few other places. The emphasis is on life roughly half a millennium ago, which explains the many people in kilts and tunics and capes.

Friday, which was Family Day, drew several school groups from the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

"I like the time period," said Matt Linton, a history teacher at St. Peter's Lutheran School in Modesto. "It's nice to see the weapons and things like that."

St. Peter's fourth-grader Dylan Lahti liked the jousting, which had a comic touch.

"They put a cabbage on the guy's head," he said. "The guy in the blue hit it."

Fair patrons could find such Celtic food as cottage pie — beef, vegetables and gravy in a crust. Or, they could stick with the usual fairground fare, including fried rice, crepes and Polish sausages.

True bravehearts can take a bite of haggis, a Scottish dish made with sheep organs, oats and seasonings. A batch simmered in a crock pot in the booth run by Marlene Haggard of Santa Maria.

"If a Scottish person sees it, they'll love it," she said.

For Stephenson, the knight in stainless steel armor, the fair means braving rival jousters trying to knock him off his mount. "I've had lots of bruises," he said. "I've had a mild concussion."

Stephenson fits in the fairs with his job at Detroit's electrical utility.

"My job, doing substation maintenance, is actually more dangerous than this," he said.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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