It was too hot; it was too sunny, dusty, and crowded too. But there was nowhere else that thousands of Islanders and visitors wanted to be last weekend than the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair.
The 155th annual fair in West Tisbury — this year’s theme was “Sittin’ Pretty,” captured by artist Paul Karasik in his proud poster hen — ended Sunday night after four days packed with events, competitions, entertainment, carnival thrills, homespun fun, and agricultural tradition. And plenty of food!
West Tisbury Firemen grilled 4,000 burgers; fairgoers consumed 50 bushels of corn, about 800 smoothies, and gallons of icy lemonade.
Attendance statistics show a total crowd of 29,647 this year, compared with 30,041 and 30,221 in 2015 and 2014. As usual, Friday’s numbers were slightly lower due to fireworks in Oak Bluffs, although the grounds were noticeably busy. (Numbers do not include those with lifetime memberships and other passes.)
“Everything is about the same, it doesn’t change much,” fair manager Eleanor Neubert said, noting that heat hadn’t discouraged dedicated fairgoers.
Ms. Neubert and her staff heard no complaints this year. “People were appreciative,” she observed. “You come here to have a good time and forget the woes of the world while you’re here.”
Although many vendors felt business was slower than usual in the unrelenting heat, patrons gave the fair blue-ribbon marks. Visitors and longtime Islanders had rave reviews, emphasizing food, animals, variety, and the overall good-time atmosphere melding old and new.
“I always love the fair,” said Nancy Rogers of West Tisbury, a lifelong fairgoer. The quilts, horse pull, and Island draft horse show were her standouts. The family enjoyed egg rolls, smoothies, corn. Regrets? Missing Pie Chicks’ frozen Key Lime on a stick.
Michael Switzer of Newburyport urged his son, Michael Jr., 6, up the Island Cove Climbing Wall, step by step.
Watching proudly, his wife Jessica said that along with Sylvie, 4, they were visiting friend Stella Ippolito. She was excited by the food choices, especially pulled pork. Next they headed to the Dale Perkins Horse Show — “We’re here for that!”
Colleen Bisi of Oak Bluffs and Linda Gray of New Hampshire brought granddaughters Lyla and Ava Graichen, 10 and 13. The animal barn was their destination, but first Linda ducked into Leslie Gray’s booth, triumphantly emerging with a bright pink sundress.
Here from New Bedford, Sara Shaughnessy and her boyfriend Dan Perrone hit the animal barn, antique engines, women’s skillet toss, heard Rose Guerin sing, and chowed down at Local Smoke and Deon’s.
“The Hall exhibits bring it back to the roots of an agricultural fair,” said Sara. “It keeps that spirit going.”
Jonica Brito and Evandra Williams of Boston and Newton came with seven children. “We really love it; there are so many activities for kids and grownups,” Ms. Brito said.
Food choices? “Fried dough for the kids, but I go for the watermelon.”
BrIan McGroarty of Oak Bluffs was intent on a Floaters’ root beer float, having read about them on the Internet.
Alex Mendez-Diaz from Brooklyn headed for BBQ Bill’s. “You can get good ribs in Brooklyn, but these are special,” she said. “I wait all year for these ribs!”
New York writer Katie Van Syckle was ready to buy a poster and climb on some rides. Her boyfriend Greg Kantrowitz, a longtime Chilmark visitor, recalled loving rides as a youngster. Now he prefers visiting the Hall exhibits and animal barn.
Sarah Crittenden and Rusty Gordon of Ghost Island Farm feasted on Josh Aronie’s gourmet tacos, then fried dough, saw the horse pull, and watched the rides turn under the full moon.
After a loaded cheeseburger and walk through the Hall, Father Brian Murdoch of Grace Episcopal Church admired the elegant routines of the Dale Perkins Horse Show. “What’s magical about the fair is it pulls you back in a subtle and tender way into days gone by,” he remarked.
The kiddie pedal tractor pull, in its second year, was a solid hit. Youngsters aged 4 to 10 rode shiny mini-tractors to wildly enthusiastic cheers.
Serendipity’s tunes inspired Kelly Peters and dancers to do a pop-up performance on the lawn.
“You make us sound good!” laughed guitarist Merrily Fenner.
Johnny Hoy rocked the fairgrounds Friday evening; Barbara Hoy kept the beat alive later. Brazilian instrumentalists Choro das Tres gathered a crowd. Kids giggled at Lucky Bob and Toejam. Puppetoke’s political satire regaled grownups, while youngsters loved their friendly puppets.
Kayla deBettencourt, 12, proclaimed the Round Up her favorite, adding little brother Ethan Rivers, almost 2, preferred the merry-go-round. Families stepped aboard the Crazy Bus for an easygoing ride up above the carnival. The terrifying Zipper spun, fun for the fearless; the Ferris wheel turned serenely.
“Watching her on the rides is my new favorite thing at the fair,” said the mother of a 2½-year-old daughter entranced by the carousel horses. “My face was in a permanent grin!”
Morrice Florists adorned fairgoers with delicate flower crowns. Marjorie Goldman painted magical designs on little faces. Seniel Hannagan of Circuit Style applied hair feathers and iridescent extensions. Ms. Hannagan, her new baby nearby, was thrilled to receive the Best Non-Food Booth Award, an honor coveted by local vendors.
Best Food Booth award went to Orlandi’s French Fries, well-loved for serving heaps of crisp fries, chicken, gyros, and other hearty fair fare.
Crowds thronged the barn to meet animals, especially the sow with her squealing piglets. The Fiber Tent featured spinning, weaving, and cuddly alpacas. Richard Renker plied his blacksmithing art; an intrepid sheepdog happily herded.
The Ag Hall was a cool oasis hung with quilts and packed with wonders from flowers, vegetables, and artwork to baked goods, pickles, knitting, and children’s exuberant creations. At 3,197, exhibit numbers were similar to 2015’s, though 250 brand-new exhibitors took part. Exhibitors searched to discover whether their entry earned a ribbon. Winners receive cash awards, but the thrill of winning is priceless.
Two minor mishaps didn’t mar the weekend. The miniature Candy Express derailed Thursday, but was soon back on track, chugging perkily. A runaway team at the lightweight draft horse pull Friday left a broken fence, but no injuries.
“I liked the piglets and the women cutting with saws,” said a visiting New York grandmother. “It’s festive; there’s a sense of community. There are so many problems in the world. But you come here, you’re feeling good.”