It’s no secret the iconic Cheshire Fair and its host association have been reeling in recent years.
What would have been the fair’s 82nd edition was canceled last summer — as was most every sizable social event in the region — by the coronavirus pandemic. It was a big blow to an organization that’s been trying to cope with the dwindling interest, and therefore revenue, in county agriculture and circus-type entertainment for decades now.
It’s become harder to draw families when children can reach all the world’s entertainment in the palm of their hands. Electronic gaming and social media have displaced a lot of traditional get-together events. And perhaps the biggest blow came with the opening of Keene Ice, since skating-time rental of “The Barn” had been a major cold-weather staple.
The fair association has carried on, slating individual events such as monster truck pulls, motorcycle swap meets, barbecue contests and horse shows. And the Drive-In Live series of concerts, in which attendees remained in their vehicles, was an ingenious offering during the pandemic’s peak (and continue this year under the Northlands name).
But losing a year of your signature spectacle means a lot, and so it was heartening to hear the news recently that the fair association plans to hold an event this August. The three-day mini-fair will focus on the agricultural exhibits that once helped the fair become a regional must-do each summer.
Horse and oxen pulls; truck and tractor pulls; and the animal shows that offer a real glimpse into the region’s rural roots. Young Granite Staters have long prepped and primped their cows, pigs and sheep to show off at the fair.
It’s not only the 4-H crowd that will benefit from the return of the animal exhibits. Much has changed hereabout over the years, as elsewhere, and those same adolescents and teens who can now game with “friends” from across the globe speaking several languages as they try to kill pixels on a screen may find that coming face to face with a well-groomed cow or seeing the raw strength of a team of oxen in action gives them a new appreciation of the life available if they want to step outside a little more.
At the very least, it will be an opportunity to get together and appreciate our agricultural history and one more chance at a return to “normalcy” following a far-too-long interruption of socialization.
Organizers say they’re seeking food and entertainment as well, but will forgo the usually popular midway, with its rides and games and sales booths.
They also say they’ll be holding attendees and participants to COVID safety guidelines. At this point, it’s unclear whether, by August, that will mean no restrictions at all or a renewed urgency to social distancing measures if the virus and its variants rebound.
Over the four score years it’s been in existence, the Cheshire Fair has lured crowds with everything from demolition derbies to country stars to peep shows to wild rides to psychics and funhouses. You do what you need to do to continue.
But a simpler return to its roots might be just what’s needed this time around, a gentle reassurance after a year of life lived on tilt.