Even in this age of short attention spans, there’s something comforting about the predictability of county fairs. A large part of their appeal is the way in which they preserve traditions of rural life over time. The Dutchess County Fair is the second-largest of its kind in New York State, has been around since 1842 and held on the same site – what are now the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck – since 1919.
When we look forward to attending a county fair, most of us are more likely to anticipate seeing farm animals lovingly reared and beautifully groomed by 4-H kids than to wonder whether the midway features the latest 3-D theme-park-ride technology. If it didn’t feature magnificent fruit pies with blue ribbons attached, it just wouldn’t be a proper county fair, and would leave the visitor feeling a bit cheated.
But that doesn’t mean that the organizers of these events don’t constantly look for ways to refresh their offerings. County fairs have a peculiarly self-referential way of evolving that builds on their own traditions while incorporating technological change. Where teams of draft horses once competed in a tug-of-war, by the middle of the 20th century, tractor pulls had come along to acknowledge the fact that agricultural practices had changed in response to the ready availability of motorized farm vehicles. It was only a matter of decades before monster truck battles had moved into that particular fair niche.
And now, there’s something new once again, oddly melding the age-old practice of showing off the finer points of equestrian training through dressage competitions with the modern farmboy’s fascination with big machines. It’s called Dancing Diggers: a choreographed performance by a squad of souped-up excavation vehicles, using their extendable buckets like a ballet dancer’s limbs to execute “airs above the ground” in perfect synchrony. Picture the giant world-wrecking robots from the Transformers movies falling helplessly under the spell of Busby Berkeley, and you’ll get the general drift.
The JCB Dancing Diggers will take over the Grandstand from the usual country music lineup at the Dutchess County Fair on Saturday and Sunday, August 24 and 25 at 1, 4 and 7 p.m. They will share the bill with an Xpogo Stunt Team, featuring hotshot athletes exemplifying the new sport of Extreme Pogo, which is just what it sounds like: using a super-bouncy pogo stick to do aerial maneuvers similar to those used in skateboarding and snowboarding.
Admission is free to these Grandstand shows, along with Larry Marshak’s Tribute to the Marvelettes, Platters and Coasters starting at 7:30 p.m. on opening night, Tuesday, August 20, and the FMX U.S. Freestyle Motocross Championship Series performance at 2 and 6:30 p.m. on Friday, August 23. Country music fans need not fear, however: They will get their chance to hear Loverboy and Nightranger at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, August 21, with tickets going for $20 in advance and $25 on the day-of, and also the Eli Young Band at 8 p.m. on Thursday, August 22, for $29.
Admission to the Fair itself involves a separate charge of $15 for adults, $10 for seniors age 65 and over and military personnel with ID. Children under age 12 get in free. There is no extra charge for parking. Tickets, including a variety of family bargain bundles that include ride tickets and/or food coupons, can be ordered online at www.etix.com/ticket/online/venueSearch.jsp?venue_id=7052, and lots of local businesses in Dutchess County (and a few in Ulster) will also sell advance Fair admission tickets over the counter until Monday, August 19.
The Dutchess County Fair will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. from Tuesday, August 20 through Sunday, August 25. Besides the usual judged competitions in livestock, vegetables, fruits, flowers, baked goods and handcrafts, plus food and other vendors and a large midway with rides and games, there will also be plenty of exhibits, workshops, demonstrations and activities for the whole family, from racing pigs and Frisbee-playing dogs to husband-calling contests. A full schedule, map of the 144-acre Fairgrounds and lots of other information are available at http://dutchessfair.com.
Dutchess County Fair, Tuesday-Sunday, August 20-25, 10 a.m.-10 p.m., $15/$10, Dutchess County Fairgrounds, 6500 Springbrook Avenue (Route 9), Rhinebeck; (845) 876-4000, http://dutchessfair.com.