What’s that you say? Nothing ever changes at the Dutchess County Fair? Well, in all fairness – no pun intended – that’s kind of the point: generations of families, one after another, all attending the same annual agri-tainment spectacular that is the Dutchess Fair; New York State’s second-largest, drawing half a million people over its six-day run on 162 acres. The 174th Dutchess County Fair will open on Tuesday, August 20. Fair hours are from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day through Sunday, August 25.
Opening day is “$10 Tuesday,” when visitors all day are offered $10 admission. For the remainder of the fair, admission costs $15 for adults, and kids age 11 and under get in free. And what do you know? There is something new at the fair this year, with the admission price for seniors (over age 65) and military personnel with ID (active or retired) dropping a few bucks to just $8 every day. And wristband days, on which visitors pay $25 for unlimited rides all day, have been extended to Wednesday and Thursday. The buy-one, get-one-half-price ticket promotion for Sunday has been eliminated this year, but on Thursday, the budget-conscious will get in for $7 if arriving after 5 p.m.
Advance tickets are available online for regular adult admission only, offering a $3 discount but with a convenience fee applied. Ten-ride tickets cost $20 (a 50 percent savings) if purchased by midnight August 20, available online or at select retailers (a list is available on the event website). A six-day admission pass for $50 is also available if purchased in advance by that same date.
The first four nights of the fair feature a grandstand concert at 7:30 p.m. An advance combination ticket that includes admission to the fair and the concert is available for $35, or $40 on the day of the show (slightly higher for Friday’s concert by Daughtry). Opening night on Tuesday, August 20 features LANCO, a country music band signed to a Nashville label. Wednesday, August 21 brings Dylan Scott with the Cadillac Three to the stage. LoCash, a country music duo formerly known as the LoCash Cowboys, will perform with special guest Ross Ellis on Thursday, August 22. On Friday, August 23, the performance is by Daughtry, a rock band whose frontman was a finalist on a season of American Idol. Tickets for that show cost $37 in advance, $42 on the day of the show.
The first Dutchess County Fair was held in 1842. (For those doing quick math in their heads who see a discrepancy here with this being the 174th fair, the 1916-to-1918 fairs were canceled due to finances and wartime issues.) The county fair came to Springbrook Park in Rhinebeck, the site now known as the Dutchess County Fairgrounds, for the first time in 1919.
County fairs were initially all about showcasing the talents of the farmer and bringing farmers together. But, while the entertainment and midway rides of the modern county fair have become an integral part of the picture, the Dutchess County Fair, at its heart, is still about its origins. Visitors to the current iteration will see thousands of exhibits celebrating our agricultural heritage. Twelve acres of the site will be given over to Livestock Hill, where 12 barns will house dairy cows, beef cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, rabbits and more. Three show arenas will host full daily schedules of judging, and milking demonstrations, a wool workroom and sheepshearing will be on view. The Salute to Agriculture tent includes the Dairy Birthing Center, which allows spectators to witness the live birth of a calf, along with displays of award-winning crops and produce.
Kids (children, that is, not baby goats) can visit the AgVenture Kids’ Activity Tent where youngsters aged 3 to 10 can dig up potatoes from a sandbox, shear a wooden-and-woolen sheep, pick apples from a plywood tree and “milk” Dutchess the cow before taking their products to a warehouse, where they will sell their efforts for “funny money,” their work earning them a half-pint of milk or carrot sticks. (The idea is to show them that food doesn’t just appear on grocery shelves.)
The complete list of activities is far too numerous to cover in detail here, but it’s safe to say there is something for everyone. Racing pigs, stiltwalkers, two horse show rings, equestrian events and a farrier competition, an antique tractor pull, a mentalist demonstration, strolling musicians, a scavenger hunt, Frisbee dogs, selfie spots, a petting zoo, a fiddling contest, police K-9 demonstrations and a butterfly encounter are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the entertainments available. (Consult the schedule on the website for exact times.)
The nostalgic can visit the restored one-room schoolhouse and train station, each relocated from their original sites, and the Century Museum Village displays will offer costumed interpreters demonstrating technology of the past, from early-20th-century printing press work to repairs done in a Model T-era auto shop.
Visitors can engage in a little retail therapy at the Dutchess Fair Marketplace, where hundreds of vendors will offer items ranging from house and garden items and artisanal crafts and jewelry to packaged specialty foods and spirits, with some sellers willing to hold purchases until weary fairgoers are ready to go home for the day.
And then there’s the food. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about: Every conceivable type of portable, walkable fair food and drink will be offered for purchase; and for those who like to vote on their favorites, the SporkRun 2019 competition will celebrate “The Year of the Sides.” The fair’s food concessionaires will be vying to win the coveted Spork Crown for their imaginative side dishes, with visitors invited to “like” the item using an app. (Preview a description of their entries online.)
Dutchess County Fair, Tuesday-Sunday, Aug. 20-25, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., $8-$15, Dutchess County Fairgrounds, 6550 Spring Brook Ave. (Rt. 9), Rhinebeck; (845) 876-4000, www.dutchessfair.com.