Today at 4 pm, the gates open at the county fairgrounds in Northampton for the annual Three County Fair. This year, the fair features a great line up of live music, performed by many favorite local bands - in addition to the usual fanfare. If you are feeling melancholy about summer coming to an end, the fair is a fun last hurrah. Read on for the Daily Hampshire Gazette's article outlining the many highlights of the historic event.
Fine tuning: This year's Three County Fair adds music festival
- JERREY ROBERTS Matt Jackewich, of Easthampton, who works in maintenance at Three-County Fairgrounds in Northampton, waters flowers near the main gate Wednesday. Purchase photo reprints
NORTHAMPTON -- Throughout the Three County Fair's 197-year history, one tradition that stands the test of time is the exhibit hall where children and adults show off food they made, flowers and produce they grew, arts and crafts they created.
Among those setting up Wednesday in preparation for the fair's opening day Friday was volunteer Janet Mollison. She was overseeing exhibitors as they set up their displays of fruits and vegetables. About 50 exhibitors from age 4 to 80 will compete this year, she said.
"The exhibit hall to me is a place where no matter your age or abilities, we can find something for you. There's a place for the kid with a bouquet of wildflowers," she gestured to where two girls were arranging vegetables on a table, centered around a giant cabbage. "These kids are setting up their vegetable displays, and they've been working on them all summer."
While old standbys like the exhibit hall are ever popular, organizers have added something new this year that they hope will appeal to young adults, said Bruce Shallcross, general manager of the fair.
A music festival called Fair Fest will be held from 2 to 10 p.m. Monday on two stages. "It's going to be awesome," Shallcross said, adding that local and regional bands will take to the stage for performances throughout the fair's four-day run, Friday through Labor Day.
In the exhibit hall Wednesday, Lou Chadwick of Second Chance Farm in Greenfield took red- and green-hued Gravenstein apples from a crate and carefully polished each one with a towel before arranging them in a diamond shape on the table.
"We've been doing this for probably 30 years at different fairs, and we've been here for a good 15 years," said Chadwick, who also shows off his antique engine at the Antique Engine and Tractor Show at the fair.
Meanwhile, outside under the hot sun, workers for Rockwell Amusements set up some of the 20 rides on the midway off Bridge Street. The circular skeleton of the Ferris wheel rotated slowly, even though there were no seats yet attached.
Shallcross said the workers rolled into Northampton Sunday and have been setting up a variety of rides, including some for young children and many for the more adventurous fairgoers who enjoy adrenaline-inducing drops or being spun until they are green.
The oldest, continually run agricultural fair in the country, according to Three-County Fair officials, is a mix of traditions such as the exhibit hall and livestock judging, and more modern entertainment, such as the roaring monster truck shows, demolition derby and wine tastings.
Add the latest versions of food -- think deep-fried Oreos and an ice cream filled doughnut called the Moo-nut -- and you've got a fair.
"Hopefully, if the weather is good, we'll have around 40,000 total attendance," Shallcross said. "Last year with the bad weather we probably had 32,000 to 33,000."
The holiday weekend forecast is for partly cloudy weather with temperatures ranging from the high 70s to the high 80s, and thunderstorms possible Sunday.
Shallcross said advance ticket sales have been good for fair entry as well as for the $5 grandstand tickets for demolition derbies scheduled for Friday and Sunday nights.
Music festival born
While busy staff and volunteers bustled around him with last minute preparations in the fair's office Wednesday, Shallcross said the impetus for organizing a music festival for Labor Day was the fact that attendance has declined over the years on the fair's last day.
"Usually school starts the next day, so people leave early," he said. "So we said, 'Who will come out on a school night?' Young adults." And young adults in the Northampton area like live music.
He hired Tom Schack, a musician who books bands at area bars, to set the lineup. On the outdoor stage, next to the Polish Kitchen booth, will be The Dire Honeys, The Sun Parade, Groove Shoes, The Mary Jane Jones, Fat Bradley and Bella's Bartok. In the arena, the bands will include Gone by Daylight, Rhythm Incorporated, Lux Deluxe, Mammal Dap, The Alchemystics, Outer Stylie, and headliner Potty Mouth. For the full lineup, visit the Three County Fair Fest Facebook page.
Fair Fest entry is free with admission to the fair: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and veterans, and free for those 11 and younger.
Live music has long had a place at the fair with the clubhouse featuring bands nightly, Shallcross said. In recent years, the fair has added "Preachin' the Blues," a series of blues performers on Sundays, and a Battle of the Bands featuring many young musicians, on Saturdays.
"Over the past eight years, one thing we've developed is music," Shallcross said. "We don't have some of the more country stuff that other fairs have, but people in Northampton like music. That's something we have that's a little different."