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A Weekend of Mischief & Magic in Staunton

It’s a big weekend for Staunton as the third annual Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival gets underway on Friday.  Originally known as a “Potter Party” before Warner Brothers cracked down, this mega wizardry fan event has taken on a life of its own. WMRA’s Jessie Knadler has more.

[fade up walking into Baja]

Baja Bean restaurant is a Staunton institution. Its owner is Sarah Lynch.

SARAH LYNCH:  We opened in ’98 and there was really nothing going on downtown. We were the only light on downtown after 9 o’clock at night because we’ve been open until 2 a.m. since we opened.  

Sarah Lynch is also an insatiable reader and a big Harry Potter fan.

LYNCH: If I went to trivia I don’t know if I’d win but it’s so near and dear to my heart. Harry Potter came along when I was an adult. If I would have read them as a child, I’m sure they would have been like Little House on the Prairie is for me.

It eventually dawned on her … some Staunton businesses were kind of like those featured in the books. The tiny clock shop on West Beverley reminded Sarah of Grimmauld Place. Baja Bean itself had sort of a Potter vibe to it.

LYNCH: Baja the bar was very easily seen as Hogshead. It is a little seedy sometimes….you know, undercover dragon trading going on over there.

Two years ago, she contacted Pufferbellies toy store and asked if they wanted to join her in hosting a "Queen City Potter Party” to coincide with the release of the latest Potter spin-off, The Cursed Child. Before she knew it, ten Staunton shops wanted to be included.  She put the word out on Facebook and more than 5,000 wannabe wizards from across the country descended on Staunton.

[fade up You Tube video of festival]

FESTIVAL GOER: Welcome to Queen City Mischief and Magic.

The downtown transforms into a magical village. People show up as their favorite Potter characters. Kids  experiment with wand crafting and wizard dueling, Grown ups drink butter beer.

SOPHIA BERATTA: It was like, it was like this joy. You know, if like clouds could rain rainbows I feel like that’s how Staunton would have felt that day.

Sophia Beratta is an actor with the American Shakespeare Company. She volunteered last year to help “sort” kids into the various houses at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. Harry Potter was a member of Gryffindor.  Slytherin is sort of known as the villain house.

BERATTA: This one kid got sorted into Slytherin. At first he was really excited. Then his siblings started to make fun of him. And he almost started to cry. I said, ‘Don’t tease your brother for being a Slytherin. Slytherins have really ambitious people. A lot of people are really smart who come out of there.’  // So I listed a couple of good Slytherins. So he could be like, Ha, I’m a Slytherin! It was really sweet in the end and I gave him a lollipop because I had one. 

Sarah Lynch’s Potter Party became so popular with fans that Warner Brothers, which owns the film rights to the Harry Potter movie series, got wind of it and asked her to comply with their guidelines for events involving Potter.

One month before last year’s event, she changed the name to The Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival. It’s already taken on a life of its own. They expect this weekend’s attendance to hit 10,000.

[fade up music]

BERATTA: You can say we can’t be Harry Potter themed, okay. But we’re going to have owls and brooms over here. We’re going to play this game that’s kind of like Quidditch but not exactly Quidditch.

There will still be wands and spells and potions and costumes. Lynch says everyone should dress up.

SARAH LYNCH: Come in their favorite costume. We’ve had owls, phoenix, dragons, all kinds of creatures show up here. And just have your best day doing exactly what you want. Come as early as you can because there will be lines for things.

Crafting starts down in the wharf area at 10 a.m.

Jessie Knadler is the editor and co-founder of Shen Valley Magazine, a quarterly print publication that highlights the entrepreneurial energy of the Shenandoah Valley. She has been reporting off and on for WMRA, and occasionally for National Public Radio, since 2015. Her articles and reporting have appeared everywhere from The Wall Street Journal to Real Simple to The Daily Beast. She is the author of two books, including Rurally Screwed (Berkley), inspired by her popular personal blog of the same name, which she wrote for six years. In her spare time, she teaches Pilates reformer, and is the owner of the equipment-based Pilates studio Speakeasy Pilates in Lexington. She is mom to two incredible daughters, June and Katie. IG: @shenvalleymag