The first time that the Dutchess County Fair came to town, the Civil War was still nearly two decades away. Florida would not become our 27th state for another three years, and our state governor was in the Whig Party. It took place on October 5 and 6, 1842.
But if those fairgoers back then were magically transported to 2015, as shocked as they’d be by our everyday lives, they’d find the Dutchess County Fair of today remarkably similar to the one that they knew. The first fair, created by the Dutchess County Agricultural Society and held at a hotel in Washington Hollow, featured livestock kept in pens behind the hotel, displays of farming tools and competitions for best fruit and vegetables, best seed samples of crops and best homespun wool and flannel cloth.
Wartime or financial problems canceled a few of the events over the years, but for the most part the fair has prevailed, and the 170th annual Dutchess County Fair will be held from Tuesday, August 25 through Sunday, August 30 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck. General admission costs $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and those in the military and is free for kids under age 12. Adults can get in for $7 after 5 p.m. on opening day, Tuesday, August 25, and on Thursday, August 27.
More than 300,000 visitors are expected to converge on the Fairgrounds to enjoy the slice of Americana that is a county fair. For those who want to partake of a particular event, a full schedule is posted online at www.dutchessfair.com. But perhaps the best way to see the fair is simply to arrive expecting to be entertained by the unexpected. No doubt there is something for everyone, from the return of the racing pigs to the famous 4-H club milkshakes to a flower and garden show, an antique tractor pull, livestock competitions and plenty of fair food, midway fun and live entertainment.
Country music will lead the way when it comes to onstage entertainment, with live performances by A Thousand Horses and Dan & Shay on Tuesday, August 25 and singer/songwriter Cole Swindell on Thursday, August 27. Fans of the original Doobie Brothers will welcome co-founders of the group, Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons, along with longtime Doobie Brother John McFee and a lineup of five additional musicians who make up the touring lineup these days on Wednesday, August 26. Grammy nominees the Spin Doctors perform on Friday, and basketball slam-dunk specialists Aerodunk will entertain the crowd with high-flying moves on Saturday. Additional charges apply for concert tickets.
Attractions and free shows at the fair include a petting zoo, dock-diving dogs, a Mad Science show, cooking demonstrations, woodcarving and rug-hooking demos, quilting, Oscar the Roving Robot and the lederhosen-wearing, unicycle-riding Hilby the Skinny German Juggler, whose act includes midair maneuvering while maintaining a fast-paced comic banter with his audience.
And while the enjoyment of county fair entertainment can feel like a guilty pleasure on par with downing corndogs and deep-fried pickles at the fair (oh, yeah!), never underestimate the possibilities of populist pursuits. Back in 1964, a talent contest was initiated at the Dutchess County Fair, and the first winner was singer/songwriter Don McLean, who later went on to fame with “American Pie” and “Vincent (Starry Starry Night).”
You just never know what will happen at the fair.
Dutchess County Fair, Tuesday-Sunday, August 25-30, 10 a.m.-10 p.m., $15/$10, Dutchess County Fairgrounds, 6500 Springbrook Avenue (Route 9), Rhinebeck; (845) 876-4000, www.dutchessfair.com.