Faring thee fair, fairly well

Well, day one of the Chenango County Fair has come and gone (and with it the traditional “first day thunderstorm” that seems to roll in every year for the occasion) and I must say I had myself a good time wandering the fairgrounds yesterday afternoon and evening, which is saying something, to tell the truth. Let me explain.

Now I’m fairly certain I’ve brought it up before – and it’s never really been something I tried to keep secret – but in the decade prior to the one year, eight months, three days and, well, about two hours I’ve spent here at The Evening Sun, I did everything within my power to avoid the fair if at all possible. It’s not that I have anything against the event, honestly. I simply found that, as I got older, I’d lost the urge gorge myself on “fair fare,” risk losing said fare while hanging upside down on the Ring of Fire (known by some as the Ring of Death, others the Ring of Here-Goes-My-Lunch) and watching copious amounts of my hard-earned cash change hands as I attempted again and again to win that super-sized teddy bear, inflatable guitar or other meaningless game of chance prize.

In fact, there have been a number of years that I – literally – “headed for the hills,” when the fair made its way into town. I would stock-up on whatever supplies I needed, lock the door and hunker down for the week, rarely venturing anywhere near the barely controlled chaos and craziness that is the Chenango County Fair.

That all changed, of course, once I began writing for our hometown daily. Nowadays, I find myself exploring every nook and cranny of the fair, searching for that elusive photo, chatting with my fellow fair-goers and doing my best to stay away from the fried dough. Last year, it was almost like culture shock, as it had been longer than I can remember since I’d visited the Midway.

This year, however, I was much more prepared for the various sights, sounds and smells that assault one upon entering the fairgrounds. That’s not to say I didn’t experience that preliminary moment of panic (I did), but I must admit it was a bit easier to handle this time around.

Regardless, they say timing is everything and – even if I do say so myself – my timing was excellent yesterday. I entered the fairgrounds shortly after 1 p.m., just as an unknown singer launched into a rousing rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” And while the crowd was thin at first – due primarily, I would guess, to the fact that the Coleman Brothers Carnival wouldn’t kick-off until 4 p.m. or so – there were still plenty of diversions spread out across the fairgrounds.

After a quick tour of the Midway, with its typical variety of rides guaranteed to make one yack, I made my way over to the Two by Two Petting Zoo, a favorite stop. What can I say, it’s not everyday you get to see kangaroos, monkeys, lemurs and alligators (not to mention the black panther) here in Norwich. The monkeys were especially entertaining, once a crowd had gathered, playing catch with their handler and – in general – just monkeying around (sorry, I just had to).

I then perused the agricultural stock (a quick visit, no more), which, as you can imagine, really doesn’t change all that much year to year. I mean really, cows are cows, chickens are chickens and – sorry to say – they smell the same every year. I guess it’s just the city-boy in me that refuses to be impressed by livestock I’d rather be prepping, grilling and eating for dinner.

Fast forward four hours, and I’m sure you can imagine that the crowd had, how shall I say, greatly expanded. To put it simply, the powers that be aren’t lying when they say thousands visit the fair every year. Even better? Following a quick little rain shower, there was an excellent rainbow to the east of the fairgrounds welcoming the 4-H and Firemen’s Parade as it made its way through the main gates. As I said, great timing.

The highlight of my night – and this should come as no surprise – was the New Riders of the Purple Sage, who took to the stage around 7:30 p.m. Not only did the band put on a great show, but it was a not-so-subtle reminder that Blues Fest is right around the corner. And while I know I should be concentrating on “fair week” and our news team’s coverage of it, it’s – how shall I say – difficult not to get excited for my all-time favorite festival here in Chenango County.

In the end, I’ll admit I’ve probably been a bit hard on the fair in the past. It will never be my favorite event of the year (it’s no Blues Fest, sorry), but even I have to say it’s not nearly as bad as some people make it out to be. In fact, I’m tempted to let go at some point this week, break down, and hop on the Ring of Fire for the first time since I was a teenager.

Just remind me not to eat (or drink) anything beforehand.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunbrian.

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