While there has been plenty of attention given to the return of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield this fall, there was another festival that took place after a year’s absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In early September, Greenfield hosted the 172nd Franklin County Fair, and Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan paid a visit to bring us the sights and sounds of this perennial favorite fall attraction.
Read the full transcription:
Brian Sullivan: While there’s been plenty of attention given to the return of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield this fall, there was another festival that took place recently after a year’s absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In early September, Greenfield hosted the 172nd Franklin County Fair, and I paid a visit to bring you the sights and sounds of this perennial favorite fall attraction.
As summertime in New England draws to a close, so too does the season for the traveling county fair. And in any other year, this whole seasonal transition likely would have taken place without anyone so much as batting an eye.
Prior to 2021, the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield had hosted the event one hundred and seventy one times, so people had grown as accustomed to the fair being here as they are to the sun coming up in the morning. Then, 2020 happened and large gatherings like this one were put on hold until further notice.
Well, that until further notice date arrived on Thursday, September 9th, and ran through Sunday, the 12th. And the crowds arrived with it, along with the chance to get up close and personal with some local farm animals, or to just sit back and enjoy some live music.
Of course, the fair is always accompanied by the bells, whistles, and visuals that can only be found in this setting, but it’s also a place for some local vendors to sell their wares. Unlike some of the bigger fairs, many of them are part of a much smaller regional circuit.
For Cliff’s Smokin’ Backyard Barbeque, who traveled about 15 miles east to get here from the town of Buckland, it’s a chance to expand their already-existing fan base.
Kelly Phillips, Cliff’s Smokin’ Backyard Barbeque: We look forward to it, absolutely, and the community looks forward to it every year. We, even throughout the year, we have people come up to us, “Are you going to be there? Are you going to be there? Are you going to be in the same place?”
Brian Sullivan: And that consistency in location goes a long way, not only for the fairgoers, but for the vendors themselves.
Kerri Roy, Kerri’s Confections: This spot has been ours for twenty five years, so it was my parents before it was mine, and then now it’s mine. When I purchased the booth from my parents, it became mine.
So, a lot of these spots — as you can see, I’m right up in the front — it’s really good, but we’ve earned our our way here. And that’s how it goes with a lot of the other fairs, too.
Brian Sullivan: That earning can be done by showing consistency and a quality product, paying rent on time, showing up on time, and just following the basic rules of the carnival.
Kerri is a fourth generation vendor, and after a life of covering fairs in Maine, New Hampshir,e and Massachusetts, those years of service and dedication have resulted in some front of the house real estate. If visitors don’t stop on the way in, there’s a good chance they’ll stop on the way out.
Then, there are the structures that don’t get carted away when all is said and done. Like the old Marine Corps Burger House, that looks like it’s been here since there was dirt on the ground.
There might be new owners running the shack these days, but the fact that burgers and dogs are a very popular staple in the county fair atmosphere has never changed. It turns out that wasn’t exactly common knowledge for the new management team when they bought the place a couple of years ago.
Jim Bragdon, All Things Maple/Country Maple Farms: It’s kind of funny. The first year that we did this, we had no idea what to expect.
We went out and we bought, you know, 50 hamburgers and 50 hot dogs, and we were running around like crazy. We were going to BJ’s and everywhere to buy more, because we were selling out. We had no idea how fast it was going to sell. It was so popular.
Brian Sullivan: For countless generations, the county fair has been a major part of the American Experience, almost a rite of passage for many kids, like the thrill of finally meeting the height requirement to get on certain rides. Finding out the hard way that it’s nearly impossible to get a ring to land on one of these bottles, or learning that nearly every ride is designed to spin its participants six ways to Sunday.
Even adults find out firsthand that most of these games aren’t as easy as they made them look in the old cartoons.
Brian Sullivan: Man, 20 bucks later and I finally got to hit the bell. For the most part, this fair has everything I’d expect to find: local flavor, food, rides, games, but there is one special attraction, and I’m sticking around for it tonight.
Brian Sullivan: For anyone who’s never witnessed a demolition derby, even one heat is worth the price of admission. The ability to take out a year’s worth of frustrations by smashing junkyard jalopies into smithereens must be one of the most cathartic experiences ever.
The packed seats tell me that it’s just as much of a thrill for the fans and the stands as well. It may not be the Indy 500, but after enduring the year 2020 and all it entailed, it may as well have been.
In fact, if there’s any truth to the proverb that absence makes the heart grow fonder, it was on full display at this fair and other fairs throughout the region.
Kerri Roy: It’s been really good. I just came out of a spot, and we had our best year ever. I mean, record crowds at every spot we’ve done this year. We’re just so thankful that the people are happy to be back at the fairs, too.
Brian Sullivan: And let’s not discount the heartwarming effect of the fair’s nostalgia.
Jim Bragdon: I came here as a kid, and I came to this booth and got hamburgers as a kid. I mean, it’s always been here, you know. So, coming coming full circle around and then I see my friends and their kids and they’re coming over and it’s great, you know?
And my kids, and hopefully maybe someday my son, will be doing the same thing.