Herds of cuddly, captive farm animals, locally-grown produce the size of your head, famous 4-H milkshakes, fresh-squeezed lemonade, vendors selling everything from airbrushed T-shirts to hot tubs… it’s time once again for the Ulster County Fair, happening this August 1st through 6th.
A whopping 136 years after its debut, the fair is still going strong. Yes, the original 25 cent admission is up to $18 in 2023, a 7100% increase. But in our economic era defined by inflation, $18 for a day of fun ($20 on fair days) sounds like a steal. Deal-seekers can cram up to eight folks in their car and get in Tuesday after 4pm for $50 per vehicle. You can also ride the free UCAT bus all the way to the entrance.
Access to the rides and shows is included in the admission price in an act of great benevolence. Yes, your children will clamor for a $10 chance to win a $1 stuffed animal, but in our everyone-gets-a-prize, nobody-is-a-loser culture, carnival games are now designed to reward you after spending enough money, and carnie-speak has become less aggressive over the years. Just remember you’re going to need a tank for that goldfish you won.
And though the fair’s generous admission policy means you’ll only pay for games, items and food, many of us leave the fair with the same vibes as leaving the casino. “How did I just spend $200 in a few hours?”
Therefore, we’re going to use this event preview not to regurgitate the long list of events, exhibits and performers at the fair (go to ulstercountyfair.com for all of that) – rather, here are our top five suggestions to experience the best of what the Ulster County Fair has to offer without breaking the bank (from someone who’s been there practically every year out of the last decade):
Give it back to the animals
It’s always been free to pet a bunny, and we hope it stays that way. Seasoned fairgoers know not to miss a stroll through the many animal exhibits. It might not be the greatest-smelling experience, but adults and children of modernity rarely get this close to the animals they eat (and the ones that are spared and adored – I’m looking at you, horses). But seriously, being around this many prize farm animals is inspiring, if not for sheer cuteness, than as a connection to the farm world that underlies all of society, yet is rarely encountered by most of us.
Share everything edible
It’s a sad truth of modern consumerism that sharing has gone out of style. You’ll see the evidence of “I want my own” piled up in garbage cans all around you. The number one tip for spending less on the often-exorbitant food prices is to get chow to share with your fellow fairgoers – even if that means striking up a conversation with a stranger on line. Lots of carnival food is served in portions too big for one person to consume (often in blistering heat). Many of us would like to sample more than one dish. Be like the Japanese and pretend you’re responsible for carrying all your food waste out, then reconsider if you need to have a half-order of french fries sloshing around in your purse on the ferris wheel.
Two words: racing pigs
If you only have time to do one thing at the Ulster County Fair, catch Robinson’s Racing Pigs. These are no ordinary pigs – this porker production has appeared on all major TV networks, sharing the screen with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno. The free races typically take less than a minute, and they go off every few hours, so it’s easy to align your schedule to be present. It’s the closest you’re going to get to watching pigs fly.
Burst and bloom
Because they traditionally happen on less-crowded Wednesday nights, many folks don’t even realize this fair has fireworks. Stay until dusk (perhaps catching the last racing pigs of the day at 8:30pm), and you’ll be treated to a free fireworks display. In our age of screen-captured reality, there’s no better selfie situation than standing in front of lit-up carnival rides at night while the sky is filled with colorful explosions.
Catch a show
There’s something unique about live music at a fair. It typically leans country/rock, the crowds are usually a mix of super-enthusiastic party atmosphere and zoned-out from being in the sun all day, and the bands are typically consummate professionals punching down for a solid paycheck. Considering the shows are included with the price of admission, the value is undeniable.
Get tickets, details and a full schedule at ulstercountyfair.com.