The 155th Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Fair: What’s new

Flower crowns, Choro das Tres, and the Crazy Bus.

Robinson's Racing Pigs are Fair favorites. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Every Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair is a rich mixture of tradition and innovation. Most regular Island fairgoers have their own lists of favorites from food, to rides, entertainment, and competitions. After all, what would fairtime be without taking a spin on the Ferris wheel, watching the draft horse pull, admiring blue-ribbon cookies and tomatoes, tossing darts to win a teddy bear, then chowing down on a loaded burger from the popular West Tisbury Fire Department booth? But even with the tried and true features, an occasional new addition always adds some pleasing spice.

This 155th annual Ag Fair, opening at the West Tisbury fairgrounds on Thursday, August 18 for a packed and fun-filled four-day weekend, is no exception. There will be a few changes and new offerings, but this year’s emphasis leans towards familiar, time-tested activities. Fair manager Eleanor Neubert and her staff say they are pleased with this “business as usual,” and Fairgoers will surely agree. But novelty seekers must not feel left out. There are some interesting changes and colorful newcomers to be found around the fairgrounds too.

Talented West Tisbury artist Paul Karasik, who employed his exceptional cartooning skills to create the plump hen “Sittin’ Pretty” on this year’s poster, will be signing his artwork at various times during the Fair near the MVAS tee shirt booth. With this happy chicken front and center, these shirts and posters are likely to sell out fast, so don’t put off your purchase too long.

Fairgoing foodies will be sorry to learn that Flatbread Pizza will not be on hand since the business has left the Island. And April Knight regrettably will no longer be serving her decadently delicious Aunt Simone’s Caramel Apple Cake.

But take heart and go healthier this year with an exotic yet local edible from Jacqueline Foster’s Mangku Food Truck. The all-organic, all-local menu features her signature rice bowls with meat, chicken and fresh, fermented, or pickled vegetables, all topped with a local egg. Some savory snacks will be available too, including delectable Kimchi Flapjacks.

For something fun and fanciful stop by the Morrice Florist booth where Emily Coulter and her crew will offer a variety of adjustable flower crowns. According to Ms. Coulter, fancy flower crowns are becoming all the rage for weddings, birthday parties, and other festivities. For a little Fair magic, there will be ribbon wands, and bright pom-pom garlands.

At Wendy Riseborough’s Pearl in Oyster booth, patrons can try to pick the most promising looking bivalve from the display. Every lucky customer who finds a glistening pearl inside will go home with a very special fair keepsake.

Native Spirit will offer unique wearables, accessories and gifts from ponchos and bags to dream catchers and jewelry with a Native American flair to tempt style conscious fairgoers on a shopping spree. Supporters of Island athletics will be sorry to see that after one year on the local midway the MV Youth Soccer booth will not return for the 155th.

After an easygoing visit to the local midway, greeting friends, browsing the booths, and enjoying taste treats, follow the crowds, music, and screams for real fair glitter and excitement. LMC Amusements, delighting Vineyard fairgoers for decades, has added a new, fun-for-all-ages ride promising giggles and thrills.

Amidst the usual tempting array of spine-tingling rides, games of chance, foot-long hotdogs and cotton candy, The Crazy Bus will carry passengers on a swooping adventure through the air.

According to owner Larry Cushing Jr., the bus ride is perfect for family fun, and probably also for those timid types who enjoy a tamer carny experience.

“It’s not scary,” Mr. Cushing assured the Times in an email. “It’s a kiddie ride and adults can ride it with their kids.”

Entertainment around the fairgrounds will include Lucky Bob, a friendly and versatile fellow with plenty of fun antics and zany interactive activities up his sleeve. Here for just the second year, Bob’s schedule has expanded to all four days thanks to his popularity. He will be entertaining young and old on the lawn near the EMT booth.

The perennial favorite Blue Hills Brass Quartet will be strolling the grounds to fill the air with their jaunty music.

Gone are last year’s high-flying Canine Stars, the cleverly trained acrobatic dogs that amazed big audiences and won hearts too. While many young fairgoers will rejoice that Robinson’s Pigs will be racing again for their favorite Oreos, another sure crowd pleaser, the Dale Perkins Horse Show, has been added to the program for performances Thursday and Friday.

According to Ms. Neubert, the unique equestrian exhibition featuring remarkable trick-riding feats visited the Fair in past years, sponsored by the M.V.  Horse Council, but has been absent far too long.

Horseman Dale Perkins owns Mesa Farm in Rutland and emphasizes good care and top-notch training to ensure the wellbeing of his animals.  All acts are performed to music and combine humor and daredevil action to thrill every audience.

A traditional farming activity will be the focus when former West Tisbury resident Richard Renker shows off his blacksmithing skills. Demos take place near the end of the pulling ring at various times throughout the Fair. Mr. Renker will also sell his metalwork items. For those seeking more country tradition there are goat milk soap-making demos and the Fiber Tent with its knitting and spinning contests, hands-on crafts, and friendly, fleecy animals to meet. Farm-themed kids’ activities include corn husking competitions and veggie car races where zucchinis compete against yams, a hilarious sight to see!

Although in its second year, Ms. Neubert wanted to highlight the Kiddie Pedal Tractor Pull, a competition for youngsters ages 4 through 10. Last year’s event attracted a throng of little contestants, all determined to ride the shiny new pedal tractors to the finish line first. The contest takes place beside the pulling ring on Thursday, Aug. 18 at 5 pm. Contestants may sign up that afternoon from 1 to 4 pm.

When it comes to entertainment, the stage will be busy all weekend with many well-loved acts for the whole family. Topping the bill for the young and young at heart are the Thursday Pet Show where youngsters display everything from puppies to frogs and pet rocks, Toe Jam, and Puppetoke Puppet Musicale. A first this year will be a Cabaret performance by talented students of Island Theatre Workshop’s Children’s Theatre Saturday at 4 pm.

As always there will be lots of evening music by talented Islanders including Johnny Hoy and John Zeeman, as well as the more low-key Acoustic Corner with Nancy Jephcote, Paul Thurlow, Tristan Israel and others beside the pulling ring.

A new musical experience will be offered by Choro das Tres, a family of talented Brazilian instrumentalists who have gained local popularity performing at the West Tisbury Library. The three sisters and their father play nearly 10 different instruments among them performing a traditional Brazilian style of urban jazz somewhat similar to New Orleans jazz and ragtime. The group will be onstage Saturday at 4 pm, so stroll over from the Rise VPA Dance Company show and the Oyster Shucking Contest to enjoy some new sounds.

Fairgoers will miss the unmistakable mellow country/folk sound of the Stragglers who are not appearing this summer. But fortunately for those fans, the band Serendipity playing Thursday at 4:30 pm includes several Stragglers personnel, and promises some familiar guest performers too.

Hall Manager Kathy Lobb noted that some new competitions have been added. Adult vegetables now include kale, that popular and trendy green that’s healthful too.

New and challenging STEM competitions for juniors in all age categories invite young contestants to submit entries using science, technology, engineering and math. One contest asks entrants to plan and create a hydroponic plant watering system including all planning details with the entry. A second related competition calls for an exhibit utilizing all recycled materials and using STEM to solve an agricultural problem.

The STEM challenge was developed in Island schools and students worked on their projects through school programs.

Ms. Lobb reminds fairgoers that after viewing the displays of produce, flowers, baked goods, and the countless art and handicraft exhibits by the Vineyard’s unusually creative children and adults, make sure to vote for your favorite. Each day’s top vote getter will receive a special People’s Choice Award ribbon, a great honor.

And after a happy day at the fair, Ms. Lobb urges patrons to write a personal reflection, suggestion, or family memory in one of the comment journals located by both Fairground exits and near one main door of the exhibition hall.

“We do listen to what the Fairgoers tell us,” Ms. Lobb promised.

Last but not least, Ms. Neubert issued an important reminder. Dogs are not allowed to visit the fair every day. Your canine pals may attend only on Sunday, if registered to compete in the Dog Show. Fair staff made the new rule last year to ensure the safety and comfort of all, dogs included.