Saturday, Patty and I hung out with prize hogs, bulls, rabbits, geese, goats, turkeys, and chickens (my personal favorite). Baby pigs vigorously tugged on their mommie for their dinner in front of amazed city folk who had little knowledge of the origins of their bacon. Chicks hatched before our very eyes. Roosters crowed liked they were trying to outdo each other. Cows mooed what I think it was some sort of protest or complaint. We saw one poor calf at the equivalent of a bovine beauty shop being prepped for showing. I felt sorry for him as he was trimmed and sprayed (hairspray, paint?) to perfection. It must have been humiliating for a cow. The animals were usually tended by proud teenagers who enjoyed a rare way of life that used to be so common.
We walked through the exhibit halls displaying the very best produce, antiques, and handiwork in the county. In the commercial area, we could have purchased sunglasses, tie-dyed tee shirts or dresses, some kind of new fanged mop, an RV, a tractor, or an ATV.
We didn’t need to browse the row after row of carny food because we always stop at the same places, Uncle Ed’s Bar-B-Q, the Lions Club corn-on-the-cob stand, and the Knights of Columbus cream puff, eclair, and brownie stand that always has a mob of people waiting to get their hands on the Wisconsin delicacies. The cream puff is THE thing at Wisconsin fairs. We could have had gyros, deep fried Twinkies, turkey legs, or all manner of stuff you would never eat anywhere else.
The abundance of compressed humanity made it an interesting place to observe behavior, appearance, and attire. A few cowboy-hatted men, sleeveless-shirted dudes, and girls in daisy dukes and cowboy boots added to the entertainment. Speaking of which, last night was Kenny Loggins. Usually the grandstand nod goes to country up-and-comers, oldies acts, and, of course, the demolition derby. Kenny L. and his band rocked the horse racing/demo derby track as he covered multiple genres, rock, folk, and sappy numbers with flair and professionalism. Young women stood in the crowd, singing and dancing along with the music. An elderly concert “neighbor” gently and properly complained that the bass was too loud and the robotic lights that shined on the audience were too bright. A young woman swayed near the Kenny swag booth nearer the stage dancing in the night with sexy abandon (and flexibility), occasioning throwing her arms around her young man friend, kissing him in front of the sea of Wisconsinites and a few Illinoisans.
All of this for five dollars to park and nine dollars to get into the Walworth County Fair in Wisconsin. It is one of the largest and oldest in the country and we have been going for about ten years. Fair origins extend back to Roman holidays and medieval festivals and the formula still works.
As I walked away, I tuned to Patty and said, “What has changed about county and state fairs since we were kids?” We concluded, very little. It is a winning formula that celebrates local agriculture, the harvest, and industrious young people. It combines all types of commerce, politics, food, a carnival, and grandstand entertainment in a temporary village that seems like orchestrated chaos.
Fairs are basically parties and the human need for parties persists. They are convenient excuses to socialize, eat something outrageous, get some cheap entertainment, watch people, and see and smell things you would not otherwise experience; and it has remained basically unchanged for centuries.