The annual Dutchess County Fair, due to arrive in Rhinebeck on August 23 and hang around through the 28th, is, as the late Douglas Adams once famously wrote about outer space, “big. Really big.” It’s the second-largest County Fair in New York State. The Dutchess County Fairgrounds site itself covers more than 160 acres, and the hundreds of scheduled attractions fill that sprawling acreage with noise and flash and fun. But the site also boasts dozens of themed gardens, waterfalls and ponds for those seeking a peaceful moment.
Although the Fair’s historic mission is “to showcase, promote and sustain agriculture through education, display, competition and community involvement,” that farmy stuff like endless tentfuls of glossy livestock and perfect pickles represents just the tip of the iceberg. The huge midway of thrill rides alone will keep your pack of teens busy for days. The Fair boasts “Turn-of-the-Century Treasures” including an Antiques Museum Village, a One-Room Schoolhouse, a Working Blacksmith Shop & Gas-Powered Engine Show and a Working Sugarhouse and Cider Mill. Special buildings and areas are dedicated to arts and crafts, a live wildlife exhibit, specialty food items and cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs and even a Green Tent promoting techniques for environmental sustainability.
There are lots of shows tailored for kids, including a Talent Tent dedicated to the Fair’s famous annual Talent Search competition. There are separate equestrian shows for draft, English and Western horses. There are diving dogs, a dairy goat milking competition, live elephants, a chicken-clucking and rooster-crowing contest, a butterfly habitat, a chopstick knitting contest, a circus, a husband-calling contest and a stick pony rodeo. You can learn to spin or felt wool, build a stone wall or make a pig costume. And of course, it wouldn’t be a County Fair without a tractor pull.
As if all this weren’t enough to do for six long days, there’s also an impressive evening entertainment lineup scheduled for the Grandstand – and not all of it country music. Nashville star Travis Tritt kicks off the proceedings on Tuesday, August 23. Seventies rock stars REO Speedwagon follow on Wednesday, August 24, then American Idol discovery Kellie Pickler on Thursday, August 25 and Uncle Kracker on Friday, August 26. All of these shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Then, for two shows at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 27, get up and twist again (if your aging sacroiliac can take it) with the one and only Chubby Checker. Finally, Sunday, August 28 brings a change of pace: two shows of Championship Bull Riding at 2 and 6 p.m.
There’s a separate ticket price to all of these evening concerts, in addition to the daily general admission fee of $15. Seniors and members of the military get in for $10 and kids under age 12 for free. Visit www.dutchessfair.com/tickets.php for concert pricing information and to prepurchase tickets. If you arrive between 10 and 11 a.m., you can take advantage of an Early Bird Special $2 discount coupon in the Fair brochure, which also contains the entire schedule; you can download it at www.dutchessfair.com/downloads/2011-fair-brochure.pdf.
Most of the attractions at the Dutchess County Fair are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with rides and food vendors staying open until 11 p.m. or 12 midnight. Regular parking is free, although space in “preferred parking” areas can be obtained for an extra fee. For folks with mobility issues or toddlers in tow, scooters, wheelchairs, wagons and strollers can be rented at the gate. The Dutchess County Fairgrounds are located at 6550 Springbrook Avenue, a/k/a Route 9, in Rhinebeck. Oh, and if your Fido isn’t part of the official Fair canine show, kindly leave him at home.