I think that maybe I'm dreaming.
I smell cinnamon and spices.
I hear music everywhere.
All around kaleidoscope of color.
Maids pass gracefully in laughter
Wine colored flowers in their hair.
Lights call from lands I've never been to.
Sun’s flash on a soda prism.
Bright jewels on the ladies flashing.
Eyes catch on a shiny prism.
Hear ye the crying of the vendors:
Fruit for sale; wax candles for to burn.
Fires flare; soon it will be night fall.
Wikipedia reports that the song Renaissance Fair by the Byrds is a reflection on the Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California, begun in 1963 and at the time occurring in Glen Helen Regional Park, just north of San Bernardino in the Spring and Fall of each year. As this song was recorded in December 1966, it is reasonable to assume that the lyrics reflect impressions of the Fall “faire” that year. The costuming involved was beginning to be informed by hippie fashions, and of course, the impressions made on the songwriter were heightened by LSD. However, the song became more felt by popular culture when it was performed at the first Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 (after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles), and through a musical recollection of that event, the Top 40 hit Monterey by Eric Burdon & the Animals, released in December 1967, which quotes the song's refrain. At the Monterey Pop Festival, after the performance of Renaissance Fair, David Crosby quoted Paul McCartney from the stage who (in press releases related to Sgt. Pepper’s) had opined that if political leaders took LSD there would be no more wars.
Renaissance Fair is part of the growth of a fascinating meme that developed around the concept of a fair until it grew into a festival. While the Renaissance was evoked in the madrigal Scarborough Fair (Canticle) by Simon & Garfunkel, which located its events in a mythic past, Renaissance Fair brings the aesthetic into 1960s hippie culture. The theme then morphs into celebration of the Monterey Pop Festival by Eric Burdon & the Animals (December 1967), which in turn is passed to the chronicle of the greatest of 1960s festivals, Woodstock by Joni Mitchell, a song popularized by Crosby Stills Nash & Young on the Déjà vu’ album (March 1970).
The song Renaissance Fair consists of the same musical line over and over, except the B section inverts the chord progression a bit before falling back into the same pattern. It is also an exceedingly short song, one of the very few in this study that clock under two minutes. I find it slight, though a true reporting of an LSD experience. To my ear, it is a precursor of the bubble gum psychedelia of the immensely successful Incense & Peppermints by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, which reached Number one on the charts in November 1967. The rather bland musical development of Renaissance Fair is helped by harmonies and Chris Hillman’s ever-changing bass which is pushed up front, much in the manner of Paul McCartney’s bass in Revolver and Beatles records thereafter.
The lyrics capture the LSD fascination with light—kaleidoscope and prism colors—which suggest other “dimensions” (lights call from lands I’ve never been to), and with various sensual extravagances as spices and scented candles. The reference to “maids” is archaic now, but like “lady”, the term was still a fashionable way for a man to refer to a young woman in the 1960s. (This fashion would continue into the early 1970s—I recall that Neil Young on his most popular album Harvest, released in February 1972, included a song with a chorus that stated A man needs a maid, without an eyebrow being raised by his audience.) Though I’m not sure of the lyric Sun’s flash on a soda prism in the B section, this is the way the web now reports this line. I find the B section lyric disjointed rather than prismatic. Yet, I most especially like the refrain I think that maybe I’m dreaming because of the intermixture of thought and dream, which are usually conceived of as opposites, (thought being conscious, and dreaming, unconscious) but which seem to blend in the LSD experience.