The Fair marks the high point of summer

Adding the finishing touches to the bright Truckstop ride sign. Photos by Ralph Stewart
Adding the finishing touches to the bright Truckstop ride sign. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Hermine Hull - August 17, 2006

There is something other-worldly about walking on the fairgrounds before the Fair begins, sort of like looking at the filmy image through the window in Janice Haynes's Fair Poster this year. Rides and booths are being set up, people are coming by to pick up applications, the telephone rings in the office. But the crowds, the laughter and music, the smells of warm tomatoes and freshly shorn wool, those have not yet arrived.

The Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society's Fair which opens this morning for its 145th year, is the high point of the summer for most of us. Everybody we know has been baking their best chocolate cake or gathering objects for a special display, putting the last stitches into an embroidered tea cozy, framing their best painting, hoping the prize-winning dahlia bud will open to perfection just in time, or that 15 yellow beans will be the exact same size and shape by Thursday morning.

Thomas and Lonnie Phillips assemble display shelves. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Inside the exhibition hall, Thomas (left) and Lonnie Phillips assemble display shelves that will soon be filled with entries.

There is truly something for everyone. And the best part is that, as you walk through the barn or the hall or along the midway, you are likely to meet all of your friends from up-Island or down. So join your neighbors, friends, and visitors, and head to West Tisbury this weekend. "Come to the Fair."

Warm memories, new features

Part of the anticipation of the Agricultural Fair is the sameness of our memories: the Firemen's perfect hamburgers, teacup flower arrangements, the tallest sunflower, the Woodsmen's Contest, the Dog Show, the game where you won a goldfish last year. But there is excitement in the new events, and this year there are quite a few.

Jeffrey Younger will be performing a Puppet Musical on Thursday at 11 am and Friday at 1 and 3 pm. The Dale Perkins Horse Show will return to the Show Ring on Friday and Saturday mornings at 11 am. There will be lots of baby animals this year: kids, lambs, and 13 piglets, as well as alpacas, miniature donkeys, and miniature horses. An Antique Tractor Pull will be held in the grove of trees behind the Pulling Ring on Saturday morning at 10 am. A group called "Sugarbowl" will join the other musical performers in a concert Friday night. Entertainment will be scheduled throughout the weekend with an array of popular local groups and a promising though less familiar act, Li'l Anne and Hot Cayenne on Saturday night. Kelly Peters and his hip-hop crew take the stage Thursday afternoon and Sunday too.

Larry Cushing, Jr. and Nick Riccio work on assembling the High Striker game. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Larry Cushing, Jr. (left) and Nick Riccio work on assembling the High Striker game where many will test their strength this weekend.

The Martha's Vineyard Donors Collaborative will have a booth this year. Volunteers will be available to register your choices for the new Martha's Vineyard license plate, which will benefit Island charities.

Another new offering is from Island Affordable Housing (IAH) and Houses on the Move. Small ornament-sized birdhouses and acrylic paint will be provided at a nominal cost for children to paint in the IAH booth in the Fairway. It will be open between 10 am and 10 pm. Although old tee shirts will be on hand, parents are advised that this project can be messy, so kids should wear old clothes.

Across the way from the local features, the Cushing Carnival will offer a world of lights, music, thrills and chills. Of course there are games of chance for all and sweet safe rides for the littlest fairgoers.

Carnival employee Joe MacDonald gives the Ferris wheel a final, pre-Fair cleaning. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Carnival employee Joe MacDonald gives the Ferris wheel a final, pre-Fair cleaning.

Flavors of the fair

When it comes to food, many fairgoers start planning their meals weeks in advance. As the big weekend nears, appetites are whetted by visions of crisp vegetable tempura, Cozy's hefty sausage and meatball subs, mouth-watering ribs from Barbeque Bill's, lobster rolls and chowder from Martha's Vineyard Clambake Company, and of course those loaded burgers and hotdogs cooked by the West Tisbury Fire Department chefs. Dessert has to be a towering ice cream cone or Sundae from the Island Children's School booth, that is if you can pass up that delectable strawberry shortcake nearby. And many head right for the carny food, which they wait for all year - foot-long hotdogs, subs, onion rings and those perennial favorites cotton candy and fried dough, all washed down with icy lemonade. This year on the local midway, Dottie Price has a new booth where she will serve both hot and iced coffee. Another new food booth will offer corn dogs.

The MVAS Fiber Tent will showcase working spinners, weavers, knitters, and felters. There will be llamas, alpacas, sheep, goats, and working dogs on hand, and a sheep-shearing demonstration.

Of course the popular competitions will appear according to tried and true schedule - the Pet Show on Thursday, Draft Horse Pull and Oyster Shucking Contest Friday. The 30th annual Woodsmen's Contest will fill the air with sawdust and the sound of chainsaws on Saturday and the Island Draft Horse Show and Dog Show highlight the mellower Sunday schedule, along with the lively Women's Skillet Throw.

And whether you are a farmer or exhibitor, or just one of the hundreds of fair lovers who will fill the grounds this weekend, the animal judging and demonstrations, as well as the exhibition hall overflowing with the best in home-growns and hand-mades, will be a delight to visit.

The Fair doesn't happen by accident

The Fair Committee has been preparing all year. As a group, they have been working together for so many years that their efforts seem seamlessly coordinated and interchangeable. Eleanor Neubert is the Fair Manager. Kathy Lobb serves as Hall Manager. Eve Heyman is the Barn Manager and Entry Clerk, and Norma Holmes is in charge of tickets. Karen Colaneri calls herself "Chief Gofer"; the "Lieutenant Gofer" and Fair Photographer is Barbara Cotterill. Carina Khoury-Jones is in charge of all things artistic, signs, and showcases. Dianne Powers is Booth Manager and Lorrie Renker "The Queen of Security." Nola Mavro is Treasurer; Noreen Flanders and Pat Low are in charge of tee shirts and posters. The Deary men - Chas, Micah, and Shane - with Billy Rau - are the carpenters in charge, assisted by jack-of-all-trades Andrew Jacobs, while Bill Haynes takes care of any plumbing emergencies that might arise. Tim Mavro disposes of the trash, while Carolyn Downes has perhaps the most important job as "Queen of Latrines." "The Glimmerglass Girls"- Ann Howes, Susan Boass, Nancy Cabot, Judy Bryant, and their daughters and granddaughters - string tags on all the exhibits, check in and check out the entries, and judge special exhibits. Kathleen Brady keeps everyone in line. On a visit to the fairgrounds several days before the gates opened, all attending were wearing tee shirts from Fairs past, awaiting the appointed first morning of the Fair to don this year's design.

Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society 145th annual fair, Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 17-19, 10 am-11 am; Sunday, Aug. 20, 10 am-7 pm. Tickets Adults $8, Juniors (5-12) $5; Seniors $5. Parking $5 donation. Bus transportation is available. See official guide to the Ag Fair included in this newspaper. For more information call 508-693-9549.