According to Wikipedia, "the first known agricultural show was held by Salford Agricultural Society, Lancashire, in 1768." Lancashire is a county in a far northern section of England. Agricultural shows evolved to country fairs and in America, they are mostly state and county fairs. These fairs usually include a livestock show and auction, a trade fair, competitions among local residents, and entertainment, including live music by local artists and headliners, a carnival and what is now called "fair food." Often a rodeo is held in conjunction with the fair, and we've even seen auto racing, monster truck shows and demolition derbies get in on the event calendars.
We usually avoid state fairs because they are usually quite a bit more crowded than their county cousins. It is especially fun to visit rural, small-town fairs. The entertainment is not normally national headlining acts, but I have seen Roger Miller, the Smothers and Righteous Brothers (awesome combination), Little River Band, Anne Murray and other previously big-time artists in the smaller venues.
Otherwise, my favorite sections in the fair are the animals being shown and the collections of all kinds, including the most random things you can think of. Besides the usual (rocks, gems, quilts, stamps and coins), we've seen Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind memorabilia, antique camping gear, and even dryer lint. You just never know what you're going to see. The locals yearning to win a ribbon is not just a cliché. Many spend all year to compete in their chosen hobby, be it baking, sewing, pickling, floral arrangement or other skill, and it usually shows.
Fair food has created its own genre, and many fairs compete with the craziest things they could batter and deep fry. The last one we attended had just begun to serve deep-fried beer and deep-fried butter. Often, though, fair favorites are fresh corn-on-the-cob, funnel cakes, corn dogs and the always popular barbecued turkey legs. Some people attend fairs just for the food.
When my kids were young, the carnival at the county fair was in the front of their minds from the time it first showed on TV commercials during summer until we took them in September when it was finally open. These traveling shows were a bit scary to adults, especially the carneys working the rides and booths, but the kids always had a blast, getting on as many amusement park rides that we could afford.
If you don't mind neighbors, animals, walking or high-calorie food, there isn't much that is more enjoyable than a day at the fair. I highly recommend it!
As usual, I received some great input about country fairs by my friends and followers. Here are some of those comments, though I have edited or paraphrased some of them:
Carolynne S.- I have always liked fairs they are great to see.
Jennifer C.- Fair food!!!!! Going to the fair as a kid was always fun but as an adult I only go for the food and to see the animals
Karen E.- My favorite a few years ago was the Sterling Fair in Massachusetts watching an ox-pulling contest where additional cement weights were added to carts strapped to oxen.
Rod G.- Music! My wife and I attend 2-4 country music concerts at the Washington State Fair every year. The fair is large enough that there are interesting exhibits and the concert-goers usually arrive early to walk the grounds and eat interesting foods that they might otherwise not even try. Also the concert-goers are a large enough percentage of the total crowd that they create an air of excitement and electricity to make the experience very enjoyable. The fair always books some of the biggest names in country music.
BLSMSS- Visiting county fairs bring back many memories as when I was younger and taking my children to them and watching them have fun. My fondest memories are seeing old friends from school and near towns and their families. It’s a time to catch up on old friends.
Sonny and Linda- When I was a kid, my parents would go to the county fair. Our county was a farming county and I actually liked the smells of the livestock barns. The canning displays with the ribbons was a sight to see. I liked the horse-pulls and the tractor-pulls. At some point, my dad would buy me a corn dog and hot chocolate. Yum, yum!
Kay G.- My fondest memory was watching my younger brother and his friend playing dueling drums (instead of dueling banjos of popularity). They both set up their drum sets and they won. My favorite was the barns with the animals and the exhibits and the fairway with the food.
Ray & Ann- When we had a fiber farm we did the county fairs. It always amazed us when teachers brought the kids through, they didn't know what they were talking about, and I guess they didn't want to ask questions in front of the kids. My wife was spinning and the teacher told the students she was weaving, but the best was a male teacher who pointed out the size of a Billy goats "udder" :(
C Farmer- We have gone to fairs since I was a baby. My son now shows pigs and will do pigs and beef next year. Hopefully the fair in August is still going to happen.
RandDtouring- Growing up you had to go to the fair. L.A. County Fair was mine. I loved all the smells of ALL the foods, drinking the over-priced beer and getting crazy with friends. Of course, it was always fun working there, too.
Steviegcampingmachine- Visited one in Great Falls 7 years ago, just happened to be there at the right time. I absolutely loved the livestock show and the deep fried ... everything! lol
Rick & Christine B.- Oh, I loved the fairs -- the smells, the sights, the animals, the exhibits. I hope to visit more this year.
It just so happens that Roger Miller wrote a song or two about country fairs. My ending quote is from one such song, The Tom Green County Fair: "Well, a Sunday at the fair can make a memory more valuable than gold, especially when you're ten years old."