MIDDLETOWN, N.Y.—A timeless summer classic has returned to Orange County as the 175th Orange County Fair opened July 22. Running through Aug. 2 at the Orange County Fairgrounds, the fair offers music, motor events, lots of chances to get up close to domestic and exotic animals, a midway, and other attractions.
Local talent is featured on the Community Concert Stage with the NY Retro Rockers Band, the Middletown Theatre, the HV Irish Club, the Port Jervis Theatre Camp, and Warwick School of Rock.
Highlights at the Grandstand include motorcycle and stock car races, and the Middletown Auto Wreckers demolition derby.
This year at the John Lusardi Music Pavilion, there will be free concerts by Will Hoppey, the Jeremy Langdale Band, and the Tex-Mex group Grupo Fuerza Real. Little Sparrow will perform folk and bluegrass, and the Brian Dougherty Band will play rock & roll.
Regulars of the fair fondly recall how through the 1980s and well into the ’90s, it hosted the “Westwood One & Pepsi Concert Series,” featuring some of the biggest names in the music industry every summer. Some of the music acts that appeared through the years included Crosby, Stills & Nash, Huey Lewis and The News, Rick Springfield, Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, and Aerosmith.
Patrick Clancy’s Jungle Habitat Indoor Safari, based in Tennessee, is an animal rescue organization. Clancy said, “[The fair is] a way that we can get out to the public and lend a hand to help animals and to have people really appreciate what we do.”
Jungle Habitat will have a petting zoo with sheep, goats, and llamas, a parakeet counter, and pony rides. This year it has the Kangaroo Experience where fairgoers can see kangaroos and “you can even get your picture taken with one.” This is its eighth year at the fair.
Kim Reed handles the desk at the fair office and loves what she does. “It’s every kid’s dream to work here and I’m doing it.” She lives just a few doors down from the fairgrounds and has been working at the fair for the past 20 years.
For much of America, county fairs are an important part of summer. “Fairs have become a stage for local talent. From daily concerts for bands and performers to talent search competitions for all ages, fairs give kids and adults alike a chance to step into the spotlight in a fun and family-friendly arena,” according to the editorial board at Denton Publications.
County fairs all over the country have become “an iconic brand that immediately brings to mind nostalgic images: fair queens and princesses, carnival rides, rodeos, magicians, home-sewn clothing, children’s petting barnyards, quilts, pies, and cakes,” said Penney Reeh, former director of the Texas Fair Association.
University of Illinois researchers said county fairs are important to the livelihood of communities across the state. A survey of fairgoers at 15 Illinois county fairs in 2014 asked how frequently they attended the fair and how much money they expected to spend. The study showed $170 million was spent in Illinois at 103 county fairs plus the state fair in 2014, according to the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs.
“The fair is one of those traditions that probably hasn’t changed too much over the years—moms pushing strollers with balloons tied on, followed by three or more little kids, and usually a husband in cowboy boots tagging further behind, just looking around nonchalantly at all the displays,” said Brigham Griffin, who ran a booth at the Bear Lake County Fair in Idaho. “The smells, sounds, and tastes of the fair are probably the same as they were 100 years ago.”
The Orange County Fair began when farmers organized an agricultural society to help promote a county fair. The fair found its permanent home in Middletown in 1897.
The fair is not affiliated with the New York State Association of Agricultural Fairs, according to Executive Secretary Norma Hamilton. Most county fairs in New York are nonprofit. The Orange County Fair is privately owned and for profit.
Some organizations that have been synonymous with country fairs around the country will not make the Orange County Fair. Lucy Joyce, executive director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County, said that the agricultural service organization 4H has not had a presence at the fair for four years. Future Farmers of America also does not take part in this fair.
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