By Avery Yale Kamila
It's the time of year when Mainers throw on their work boots and embrace their rural pride.
August and September serve up a busy schedule of horse pulls, pig scrambles, vegetable exhibits, apple pie contests, harness races and 4-H shows at the state's many agricultural fairs. Of course, the fairs also provide plenty of cotton candy, french fries, live music and carnival rides.
In this day and age of cell phone apps and video games, you might think the homespun atmosphere of a country fair would lose its appeal. But not according to fair organizers.
Maine's largest fair takes place in Fryeburg from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7, and regularly attracts between 300,000 and 350,000 visitors.
"Those handheld devices are changing some things here, such as some of the midway games such as throwing the darts and the balls. It takes more to entertain youngsters than it used to," said Roy Andrews, president of the Fryeburg Fair, who been involved with its operation for the past 40 years. "But young families still like to come here, because it's a safe place and an educational place, and they love to see the animals. Of course, teenagers love to ride the rides, and that hasn't changed much."
According to Mel Blaisdell, a vice president of the Skowhegan State Fair, pleasing the under-18 crowd is at the heart of any successful fair.
"That's what a fair is all about -- the kids," Blaisdell said.
Here's a look at some of the season's top agricultural fairs:
This fair is known for touting its less countrified offerings, with prominent promotion of its NWA Wrestling (7 p.m. Thursday), Redneck Truck Pull (6:30 p.m. Friday) and demolition derby (7 p.m. Saturday). You'll find more traditional fair events as well, such as the pig scrambles (6 p.m. Thursday and Friday), chili contest (1 p.m. Friday), baked bean contest (1 p.m. Saturday), whoopie pie judging (1:30 p.m. Saturday) and draft horse and pony show (10 a.m. Sunday).
Other interesting events to check out include the construction rodeo (6 p.m. Thursday), Sunrise Stampede 5K (8 a.m. Saturday), fry-pan toss (noon Sunday), backseat drivers contest (1 p.m. Sunday), HeMan/SheWoman Strength Contest (2 p.m. Sunday) and, new this year, the Redneck Partner Carrying Contest (3:30 p.m. Sunday).
Entertainment includes New Relm Country & Bluegrass (6:30 p.m. Friday), The Cold Blue Steel Country Band (6:30 p.m. Saturday), Birdie Googins: The Mardens Lady Comedy Show (6 p.m. Sunday) and The Kelly Parker Country Band (7:30 p.m. Sunday).
Gates open 8 a.m. Thursday through Sunday. Topsham Fairgrounds, Route 196. Ticket prices: $10 Thursday (includes rides); $12 Friday to Sunday (includes rides); free for children under age 3. topshamfair.net
SKOWHEGAN STATE FAIR
Each year, this state fair attracts between 80,000 and 100,000 visitors and offers up a robust mix of events, entertainment, harness racing, tractor pulls, agricultural exhibits and carnival rides.
"New this year is G-Force Laser Tag," said the fair's vice president, Mel Blaisdell, who is in charge of coordinating entertainment. "It's all free, and the kids in town here are all excited about it."
Back by popular demand is the Beano tent, courtesy of the American Legion. Other events to check out include an antique car show (noon every day), demolition derby (7 p.m. Friday, Monday and Aug. 17), truck pulls (6:30 p.m. Saturday and Aug. 18), a 4-H parade (11:30 a.m. Sunday), Agriculture Olympics (7 p.m. Tuesday), men's hammer toss and women's fry-pan toss (6:30 p.m. Aug. 16), a draft horse and pony show (5 p.m. Aug. 17) and a pig scramble (10 a.m. Aug. 18).
Gates open at 7 a.m. Thursday through Aug. 18. Skowhegan Fairgrounds, 33 Constitution Ave. Ticket cost: $5 Mondays to Thursdays; $8 Fridays to Sundays; free for children under age 5; $2 for seniors on Aug. 13. skowheganstatefair.com
COMMON GROUND COUNTRY FAIR
If you crave a slice of rural Maine but could do without the carnival rides, tractor pulls, cotton candy and harness racing, this is the fair for you. Attracting about 60,000 people each year, the Common Ground Country Fair side-steps the conventional ag fair honky-tonk and instead focuses on organic food, traditional homesteading skills, folk arts, sustainable energy, livestock and vegetable exhibitions, social and political action, and Maine-made goods.
Vendors in the two food courts must meet strict guidelines for sourcing Maine-grown and organically produced food. Along with organic fried dough and organic chicken barbecue, visitors can dine on tasty treats such as fish tacos, salads, burritos, stir-fry, Indian curries, soup, smoothies, falafels, gyros, seafood rolls and wood-fired pizza. Those who prefer vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free fare will find plenty of choices.
Keynote speakers include Shannon Hayes, author of "Radical Homemaking," who will speak about "Unraveling Consumerism" (11 a.m. Sept. 21); Jay Feldman from Beyond Pesticides, who will talk about "50 Years Since Silent Spring: 30 Years of Organizing for a World Free of Toxic Pesticides" (1 p.m. Sept. 22); and organic farmer Sarah Smith of Grassland Farm, who will deliver a talk titled "The Family Farm" (11 a.m. Sept. 23).
This year's full schedule, which will include hundreds of talks, demonstrations and musical acts, will be finalized and posted to the website within the next few weeks.
Gates open at 9 a.m. Sept. 21-23. Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Fairground, 294 Crosby Brook Road, Unity. Tickets: $10; $8 for seniors; free for children under age 12; $2 off admission price if you bike or take the train. mofga.org
CUMBERLAND COUNTY FAIR
The local fair for folks in Cumberland County, this event attracts about 40,000 people each year for a week-long showcase of agricultural achievements and a diverse mix of entertainment. Always popular events include midway rides, tractor pulls, harness racing and 4-H animal shows.
This year, the Colby College Woodman's Team will be at the fair on opening day, with competitions taking place at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Other events to check out include the Maine Miniature Horse Show (9 a.m. Sept. 23), giant pumpkin contest judging (10 a.m. Sept. 23), a 4-H auction of baby beef, market hogs and market lambs (4 p.m. Sept. 26), an apple pie contest (11 a.m. Sept. 27), the Fourth Annual Classic Car Show (6 p.m. Sept. 27), lawnmower races (6:30 p.m. Sept. 27), a draft horse and pony show (9 a.m. Sept. 28), a pig scramble (9 a.m. Sept. 29), a 4-H horse show (9 a.m. Sept. 29), a calf scramble (9:30 a.m. Sept. 29), the grand parade (10 a.m. Sept. 29) and the World of Horses show (7 p.m. Sept. 29).
This year's entertainers include comedian Bob Marley (6:30 p.m. Sept. 23), The Bob Charest Band (6 p.m. Sept. 24), The Tony Boffa Show (7 p.m. Sept. 25) and The Don Campbell Band (7:30 p.m. Sept. 26).
Gate times vary, Sept. 23-29. Cumberland Fairgrounds, 197 Blanchard Road, Cumberland. Tickets: $9; $3 for seniors on Tuesdays and Thursdays; free for children ages 12 and under. cumberlandfair.com
As the state's largest agricultural fair, Fryeburg attracts more than 300,000 visitors each year with a huge midway, more than 3,000 farm animals, six commercial expos, hundreds of food booths and 120 different entertainers.
New this year is a Specialty Foods Pavilion featuring more than 30 Maine vendors.
"It's 4-H's 100th year in Maine this year," said Fryeburg Fair president Roy Andrews. "We'll have a special category in the parade for 4-H, and we'll have more educational activities to educate the public about 4-H. 4-H is growing is the state of Maine."
In response to the resurgence in interest in backyard gardening, the fair added a Garden Center a few years ago. This year's featured vendor in the center will be Johnny's Selected Seeds. On Oct. 1, the fair will welcome international competitors to the Woodman's Field Day.
Other events to see include pig scrambles (11:30 a.m. Sept. 30; 1 p.m. Oct. 3; 11 a.m. Oct. 5 and 10:30 a.m. Oct. 7), a parent-child baking contest (1 p.m. Sept. 30), a whoopie pie contest (1 p.m. Oct. 1), a blueberry dessert contest (1 p.m. Oct. 2), a two-crusted pie contest (1 p.m. Oct. 3), a calf scramble (10 a.m. Oct. 5), a decorated cake contest (1 p.m. Oct. 5), the grand parade (10 a.m. Oct. 6) and a scooting contest (12:30 p.m. Oct. 7).
Entertainers include The Jonathan Sarty Band (8 p.m. Oct. 1), The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (8 p.m. Oct. 2), Asleep at the Wheel (8 p.m. Oct. 3), Jo Dee Messina (8 p.m. Oct. 4), Craig Campbell (8 p.m. Oct. 5) and Lexi James (8 p.m. Oct. 6).
Gate times vary, Sept. 30 to Oct. 7. Fryeburg Fairgrounds, 1154 Main St. Tickets: $10; free for seniors on Oct. 2; free for children under age 12. fryeburgfair.com
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:
Bright lights illuminate fairgoers at the Cumberland County Fair.
A youngster enjoys the swings at the Topsham Fair, which opens Thursday.
A contestant lets it rip in the Frying Pan Toss at the Topsham Fair.