2nd annual Arkansas Viking Festival set for this weekend

A fire performance troupe is shown at last year's inaugural Arkansas Viking Festival. This year the RAW fire performance troupe will be featured. (Submitted photo)
A fire performance troupe is shown at last year's inaugural Arkansas Viking Festival. This year the RAW fire performance troupe will be featured. (Submitted photo)

Over 3,000 people had a chance to experience Viking customs and pageantry during the inaugural Arkansas Viking Festival last year and this year's festival, set for Saturday and Sunday, is anticipated to draw thousands of revelers again.

Sponsored by the nonprofit Gates Family Entertainment, the event will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days at the Garland County Fairgrounds arena, located at 4832 Malvern Ave.

Gates Family Entertainment is operated by Travis Gates, who organized this weekend's festival with Shawn Lucio, a personal trainer who runs the 501 Viking Fitness company and Flex Fitness gym.

The nonprofit donates proceeds from events like the Arkansas Viking Festival "to give back monetarily, if not buy items for imagination and literacy in schools for individual teachers, for students," Gates said.

"We've actually given out the past five years about $60,000 so far," he said. "I mean, we do this for fun. It's fun. But it actually is a fundraiser to get money for us to be able to give out our gifts."

The event features vendors, demonstrations and storytelling, an interactive Viking village, as well as food and drinks like mead, games and entertainment. With his professional life centering on fitness, Lucio highlighted the Valhalla Games, which he compares to Strongman competitions.

"This year, we're going to have five events," Lucio said. "We're going to have anything from shot put to sandbag stone tossing, Húsafell stones, which is like a tombstone carry, an overhead keg press, and stuff like that."

Gates, dubbing the event the Arkansas Viking Festival, said there is "no other one that we know of in the state that does Viking stuff. We have scoured the land to try to find as much Viking information as possible."

"We've got merchants that do all sorts of traditional crafts," Gates said, including blacksmiths, and "actually build stuff right there in front of you. Textile weavers. Then we have farm animals -- (to) teach the husbandry side of this."

The two-person comedic troupe Ezndil will be featured, along with musical acts like the Missouri-based bands Brothers Buro and Hexxen. The Choctaw Experience will also be at the festival, and Leal Owen will narrate Viking Age traditional myths, including how the mythic Odin lost an eye to gain wisdom.

"These are not Marvel stories. That's where Marvel got their ideas," Gates said. "This is some of the original storytelling that had been there ... and a lot of us have read (the legends) in childhood, as children and never realized that."

The festival will also present the RAW performance troupe, which promises to enthrall spectators with live acts of fire juggling and fire dance.

Admission is $15 for a one-day pass for adults, or $20 for a two-day pass. Two-day family passes can be purchased for $50, while children are admitted at $5 for a one-day pass and $10 for a two-day pass. There is currently a 25% discount for advance purchases at purplepass.com/arvikingfest2. Patrons must enter the discount code LOVE25 to receive it.

"We're a nonprofit, so we're always looking for the numbers, so we can bring in more money, so that we can give out more money," Gates said. "We definitely want people to come and learn more about the heritage of the Vikings."

He said they hope attendees will "come away with more knowledge about (the Vikings), more respect for what they actually are," noting they were "real people" and all of the "things we're doing are things that were considered normal life for them."

Gates Family Entertainment also organizes the Hot Springs Renaissance Faire, last held in October 2023.

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