Southern Maryland – Before you take your kids to see the chickens and ducks at this year’s county fairs, there’s something you need to know. There won’t be any.
It’s sad but true.
Due to the potential for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), poultry and waterfowl exhibitions across the state have been canceled this year. The ban remains in effect until June 2016.
Yet, even without the ducks and clucks, there will be cows, pigs and sheep, along with many other reminders that agriculture is still a vital part of county fairs, some of which have been going on for a long time.
There will be rides, food, games, chainsaw carving, horse pulls and everything—except chickens—that makes going to the county fair worthwhile entertainment for the whole family.
Charles County Fair
What organizers pray for when September rolls around is that the weather will cooperate.
“If the weather is good, we’ve had as many as 60,000 people,” said Joe Gardiner, program and entertainment coordinator for the Charles County Fair.
Gardiner is excited that the first Americans will be represented by the Piscataway-Canoy Indians, giving cultural demonstrations, drumming and dancing on Friday at the fair.
“Charles County schools are closed on Friday, that’s what we call Children’s Day,” he noted. “The Piscataway are new to us. They haven’t been here for many years.”
Thursday night highlights one of the major events of the fair, the crowning of Queen Nicotina. Gardiner said it is an event with a lot of drama.
“The queen is actually chosen by a panel of out of county judges, so they know none of the girls and the girls don’t know them,” he said. “They are actually chosen on the Friday night before the fair. Louise Stine is a former queen. She coordinates the pageant. Until I open the envelope on the Thursday of the pageant, the only person who knows whose name is in those envelopes is her. It’s very suspenseful,” he added.
The winner will have “There she goes” sung to them, based on the Miss America theme song, by St. Mary’s County’s Herb Redmond.
“He has sung that song every year for as long as I can remember,” Gardiner said.
Other events include Bucky and Blondie who do two shows on Friday during Children’s Day which includes clowning and magic with audience involvement.
“They’ve been with us 10 or 15 years,” Gardiner noted. “They do a fantastic show. You can be 5 or 105. Everybody enjoys them.”
Another Friday favorite is Reptile World with Mike Shwedick.
This show holds audiences captive. Shwedick brings a slew of friends: Rattlesnake, cobra, python, gila monster and an iguana named Spike.
“I always allocate three hours for his presentation,” Gardiner said.
Friday’s fare also features Ray Owen, a troubadour-songwriter who does three theme-based shows, one on farms; Casey Jones, with American railroad songs and stories; and a beach show called Splash—all water-oriented songs about sunshine and sand.
Other entertainment includes first-time appearances by country-rock band The Hall Brothers on Saturday night; Stone Pleasure, an African-American rhythm and blues band; Franklin Square, performing classic rock and modern rock; and Saturday morning, Longman Joseph Norris will be performing originals and traditional favorites.
There’s plenty more, including the ever-popular pig races all four days, K-9 demonstrations by the Charles County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday, and a robotic demonstration by members from the ordnance team at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head.
“They put the robots through their paces,” Gardiner stated. “It brings home what is being done in Charles County that helps protect our troops all over the world.”
One event Gardiner fairly gushed about was world champion chain saw carver Dennis Beach.
“Dennis carves 12 carvings in the course of our event,” he noted, “some on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and two more on Sunday. We auction his carvings on Sunday at 4 p.m.
“We couldn’t get him a couple of years ago because he had to go to Europe for a competition with wood carvers from all over the world,” Gardiner said. “He won that championship.
“He’s very personable,” he added. “When you buy his creations, he’ll tell you how to care for them. He’s a tremendous talent.”
“What we’d really like to push this year is the shuttle bus service,” Charles County Fair President Charlie Gardiner stated. “Busses will be picking up patrons at the Charles County Courthouse parking lot and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office has created a bus lane for us this year on Route 301, so traffic will go right from the courthouse parking lot to the front gate. And if you use the shuttle bus, you get $1 off the admission price of $5. Papa Johns is also featuring coupons attached to that coupon for the $1 which gives incentives to ride the bus.”
Calvert County Fair
The Calvert County Fair is “shaping up just fine,” said Fair Board President Carol Lee.
“It’s coming together,” she said. “We’ve got the entertainment schedule done, so now we’re just working on odds and ends.”
Among the highlights of this year’s event will be the Flying Pages, a trapeze act with white tigers.
“They’re beautiful,” Lee said.
Magician Reggie Rice will be part of the festivities at the Calvert County Fair, bringing a unique brand of magic acts to the stage several times throughout the four-day event.
This year the fair also features a corn-hole tournament.
“We tried it last year,” she said. “It seems like it’s gotten big everywhere.”
Former Washington Redskin Darryl Grant will be signing autographs Saturday at 4 p.m.
Despite not having poultry and ducks at this year’s event, agriculture remains a major area of focus in Calvert.
“It’s something we believe in,” Lee said. “We do a lot with the agricultural community.”
She added that an area which has seen the most decline in recent years has been baked and canned goods.
“All fairs need these items,” she stressed. “People don’t know how to do those things anymore. I used to can tomatoes all the time. If you make chili or tomato sauce, it just doesn’t taste the same.”
Lee said it takes a lot of effort from a lot of volunteers to make the fair go smoothly, from the 18-member fair board and 18 associate members.
“They’re just as important as the board members,” she said of the associates. “It takes all of us to pull it together. We get in there and work together and help each other. The help is cheap,” she admitted. “No one gets paid. The money goes right back into helping keep the fairgrounds running. We’re very fortunate.
“I’m originally from Baltimore,” she concluded. “I have to admit, I hate the state fair. Give me the little old county fairs.”
St. Mary’s County Fair
still trying to get John Richards to call
Contact Joseph Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org