Getting back to normal: Cummington Fair offers full slate of attractions after forced absence

  • Visitors flocked to the Cummington Fair Sunday, which returned this year after being cancelled in 2020 due to Covid-19, in Cummington, MA Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • The Western Mass Lumberjack Championships returned in full force at the Cummington Fair with competitors squaring off in a variety of challenges. Brad, one of the competitors, faces off in the bow saw event, Sunday in Cummington, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • The Western Mass Lumberjack Championships returned in full force at the Cummington Fair with competitors squaring off in a variety of challenges. Jake, one of the competitors, faces off in a chopping event, Sunday in Cummington, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Canine in the Clouds showrunner Johnathan Offi tosses frisbees to his dog Ray during a performance at the Cummington Fair, Sunday in Cummington, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Canine in the Clouds owner Jonathan Offi tosses a Frisbee to Matrix, who makes an acrobatic leap, during a performance Sunday at the Cummington Fair. Sabato Visconti/FOR THE GAZETTE

  • Lisa Hollister of Shelburne, assistant to the supervisor of the Upper Hall, discusses the variety of entries for the 4-H competitions Sunday at the Cummington Fair. Sabato Visconti/FOR THE GAZETTE

  • Brian McPhee, owner of Broken Rock Farm in Ashby, waits for a judge€™’s verdict during an AOB Wool event at the sheep competitions, Sunday, at the Cummington Fair. Sabato Visconti/FOR THE GAZETTE

  • The lead singer for the band JD Project sings a classic oldies tune at the Cummington Fair, Sunday in Cummington, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Visitors at the Cummington Fair catch a thrill at one of several carnival rides Sunday. Sabato Visconti/FOR THE GAZETTE

  • Although the Cummington Fair offers a myriad distractions, there are still moments of quiet contemplation amid the commotion, Sunday in Cummington, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

Staff Writer
Published: 8/29/2021 8:53:27 PM

CUMMINGTON — This year’s Cummington Fair — the 153rd in its history — was largely a return to form after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the event in 2020 for what organizers said was the first time ever.

The four-day fair, organized by the Hillside Agricultural Society, drew thousands of visitors from all over Massachusetts and beyond. Organizers provided hand sanitizing stations and imposed an indoor mask mandate on the fairgrounds as a precaution against the coronavirus.

Hilltown Community Health Centers held vaccine clinics on Saturday and Sunday.

Albert Judd, president of the board of directors of the Hillside Agricultural Society, said it “feels great to be able to run the fair this year.”

“It feels like we’ve done two years’ work in less than three months getting ready for it, but having a great weekend makes it worth it,” Judd said. “We didn’t get the full commitment to run until mid-May, when the state started to open up, and we didn’t know what restrictions would be in place.”

He said it’s too early to tell how many people attended the fair this year, but in a “good year,” the fair sees about 20,000 visitors over the course of the weekend.

A fireworks show celebrated the return of the fair on Thursday night. Musical acts over the four-day run included tributes to Johnny Cash and Linda Ronstadt, and a cover band — The JD Project — playing the hits of Jim Croce, Jimmy Buffett and Fleetwood Mac.

There was plenty for children and families to enjoy, with midway rides and games, face painting and youth livestock judging among the attractions. Among the food offerings were apple crisp, blooming onions, baked potatoes, gyros and ice cream.

Although temperatures were “a little too hot” on Thursday and Friday evening, the weather on Saturday and Sunday, Judd said, was “perfect” for a summer fair.

“The next biggest challenge besides the pandemic is always the weather,” Judd said. “You can put in all the work and have everything just right, but the weather will decide your crowds. ... Sometimes, ‘too hot’ is just as bad as having a rainy day.”

Lisa Hollister of Shelburne, an exhibit hall volunteer, said the fair crowd seemed to have returned to about “two-thirds or three-quarters” of the pre-pandemic numbers. Wearing a mask and socially distanced from the crowd, she had been knitting a pair of socks behind a display case full of handmade clothing items that were submitted for judging.

“I was pretty pleased, actually, to see how much stuff came in,” Hollister said, gesturing to the wall of shelves behind her, lined with dozens of jarred and canned foods bearing red and blue ribbons. “Usually, there is more, but considering the year, two years we’ve had? I was pretty pleased that we had as many entries as we did.”

In prior years, she had been a judge and a contestant herself. As she spoke, she was occasionally interrupted by a loudspeaker — her husband, Kevin Hollister, was announcing upcoming events over the fairgrounds public address system.

The fair featured demolition derbies, comedy and magic acts, classic car and tractor shows, horse and oxen pulls and much more, including the Western Mass. Lumberjack Championship, but not the traditional family-style dinners that had been held in the dining hall at previous fairs. Organizers canceled the indoor dinners due to the resurgent pandemic.

Hollister said one of the highlights was the Golden Wedding Contest, when couples married for more than 50 years have a friendly game show-style competition. Categories include longest marriage, longest time living in the same house and most grandchildren.

“These couples have held it together for that long. It’s really sweet,” Hollister said.

The dog show Canines in the Clouds showcased 11 rescue dogs performing tricks and running an obstacle course. On Sunday morning, Sonic, a 3-year-old Australian cattle dog, bounded after Frisbees and leapt into the air to catch them as a crowd of dozens applauded.

“He’s had a lot of pandemic training. We were off for about 18 months,” Jonathan Offi, owner and producer of Canines in the Clouds, said. Sonic jumped into Offi’s arms, then shoved off Offi’s chest with his back legs to catch another Frisbee.

Offi said he uses rescue dogs in the act partly because “they have slightly more energy than your average dog.” He encouraged those in attendance to consider rescuing a dog “that matches your lifestyle.”

Carpentry students from Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton built two sheds for the fair’s Agricultural Education Learning Lane, an area focused on teaching fairgoers how local produce is planted and harvested.

Public service agencies like the Massachusetts Department of Conservation provided information relevant to rural communities, such as forest fire prevention techniques, and vendors offered everything from solar panel consultation to psychic readings.

“Besides the board of directors, it takes a lot of work from those that are exhibitors or vendors to get prepared,” Judd said, also offering praise to police, fire and EMS crews who help to plan and staff the fair. “It’s exciting if you can continue to bring in new interest to a time-honored tradition.”

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