by Peter Riviere
Everything is ready for the opening of the 128th annual Lancaster Fair (nee the Coos and Essex County Agricultural Fair).
"All we need now are the people," said Fair President and Manager Paul Thurston, who is hoping this year's gate exceeds the elusive 50,000-patrons mark.
On Tuesday night only 4-H'ers from the two counties were on the grounds cleaning their exhibition hall, stalls and barns and dairy bar for what proves to be an intense learning experience for the young exhibitors.
As they left the grounds, about dusk, the entire fairgrounds looked like a peaceful, emerald greensward ringed by the Pliny and Kilkenny Ranges to the east and Mount Washington peeking its summit in the distance.
The tranquil setting belies the frenzy starting Wednesday morning when the gates swing open for the traditional end-of-summer extravaganza that closes on Labor Day.
Patrons will be excused if they feel pulled this way and that by the schedule, loaded with pulling events featuring horses, ponies, farm tractors, 4-wheel drive trucks, Big Rigs (tractors from tractor-trailer rigs) and garden tractors.
While pulling events are a staple of the fair, they are by no means the marquee events.
That honor falls to the Joie Chitwood Chevy Thunder Show on Friday, Blue Oyster Cult taking the stage Thursday night and the Bellamy Brothers featured in two Sunday shows.
Dozens of agricultural exhibits and competitions are on tap as well with all manner of livestock, farm animals, crops, floral exhibits and crafts being judged for the estimable blue ribbon.
On top of that is the midway with Sam Pino offering a packed main midway with rides, games of chance, great food and even the secondary midway is fully booked as well, reports Thurston with "more concessionaires than ever before."
Also filled to overflowing are the horse barns with 96 draft horses (the big ones - Clydesdales, Percherons, Belgians and the like) as well as pony teams.
Sure to catch the eye, and ear, of the younger set is the effort by fair directors to provide more music to their liking. Blue Oyster Cult, one of the '70s prototype heavy metal groups that led the way for '80s and '90s groups, is one effort to draw a younger crowd to the entertainment shows.
Monday night a free show featuring Michael Jack, a rock-and-roller from Maine, is another attempt to satisfy the younger set's musical taste. To accommodate the Monday night concert, the traditional Monday night closer, the popular and Demolition Derby, was rescheduled for Monday afternoon.
New, too, for this year is a change in policy where the fair directors have insured two shows against rainouts - Chitwood and Bellamy Brothers - would be covered losses if sufficient rain amounts and duration are recorded.
The way rainfall records have fallen this summer and with hurricanes buzzing the Atlantic Seaboard, that seems a wise decision.
More substantial in the new department is the tractor-pulling ring, adjacent to the horse-pulling ring.
Thurston continues to search for a financial angel to donate a covered pulling ring that would provide all-weather reliability.
A special, pay-one-price ride bracelet is offered Wednesday from 5 to 10 p.m.; Thursday from noon to 5 p.m.; and Monday 4-9 p.m., to provide bargain hunters and families with savings.
Early visitors to the fairgrounds from now to Wednesday can expect the tranquility to be broken by rides being erected, exhibitors putting booths together and enough animals to fill Noah's Ark rolling through the gates in trailers.
It's all part of the organization that goes into the North Country's biggest end- of-summer party.