Some Things Return and Others Change as Fair Gets Underway for 142nd Time

By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL

Mother Nature's presence will be the best part of this year's 142nd annual Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society Livestock Show and Fair. The four-day fair starts Thursday, August 21, and one of the most pleasing ingredients will be underfoot. The grounds are lush with thick grass. The air this week is dry, but nothing like last year's terrible drought conditions, which cultivated dust just about everywhere. Last summer was so dry flowers wilted before they got into the hall. Vegetable entries were far below expectation.

This week there will be plenty of entrants in the vegetable, fruit and flower judging section of the fair. Only the finest cucumbers and tomatoes and the tallest sunflowers will win blue ribbons. The work of gardeners, farmers and lovers of just about everything Vineyard will find stiff competition in this year's fair. The Agricultural Hall is the venue where some of the best are displayed for prizes. Everything from jelly jars to photography will be arrayed for fair visitors. The age of artists, cooks and growers is inclusive. There are children's categories and adult amateur and professional categories.

Eleanor Neubert, fair manager and secretary to the agriculture society, said yesterday: "The grounds have never looked better." The society has been at its present location since 1995. The hours of the fair this year are from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. through Saturday. On Sunday the fair grounds are open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults. Seniors and children from five to 12 years old get in for $5, and those under five have free admittance.

For those seeking a change in pace from the past, there is plenty. This year the fair features more diverse music, more rides and more people are expected.

The Martha's Vineyard Swing Orchestra is performing on Friday night, starting at 7 p.m. On Thursday night John Barleycorn and the Social Drinkers start at 6:30 p.m. The Sting Rays with Lennie Baker begin their set at 8 p.m.

On Saturday night Changeling, an Irish duo, will perform Celtic music beginning at 7 p.m.

Kelly Peters and his hip hop dancers will perform on Thursday and Sunday afternoons.

This year the third annual Fiber Tent will be a good deal bigger than last year. Ms. Neubert said Glenn Jackson is in charge of this year's demonstration of everything from sheep to shawl. Sheep shearing expert Andy Rice has come from Brattleboro to do daily shearing demonstration. He has brought his sheepherding dog Rug.

Pony rides will be offered for the first time from 3 to 5 p.m. every day, near the animal barn.

Lynn Gatchell of Oak Bluffs spent a lot of time earlier this year making sure that there would be a big turnout for the 27th annual Woodsmen's Contest on Saturday afternoon. Ms. Neubert said: "She has revitalized the event. She got on the phone early and we've got entrants from all over New England. Trina Kingsbury and Dale Robinson, Island favorites are expected to participate." Trip Barnes will be the master of ceremonies.

The Friday draft horse pull at 1 p.m. has also got a few more participants this year. To his credit, John (Chip) Mancuso of West Tisbury made similar calls around New England to find more horse lovers.

This year the midway will be busier. Though the ferris wheel will be familiar, there are three new rides that are not. "We've got the Flying Bobs. Don't ask me how it works; I've been told teenagers will thoroughly enjoy it," Ms. Neubert said. "The Octopus, which was around when I was a kid, is back. And the kids' ride called the Fire Truck Ride is here."

There will be at least 30 Island booths offering home-cooked food and collectibles. The West Tisbury volunteer fire department will be serving their delicious cheeseburgers. The Vineyard's football enthusiasts, the Touchdown Club, are cooking tempura. Ms. Neubert said at least a quarter of the booths are run by nonprofit organizations seeking to raise funds by selling food and items. The Island Children's School will be selling ice cream.

Ken Goldberg will host the clam and oyster shucking contest on Friday at 4 p.m. Alongside comes the fifth annual smoked fish contest. Rick Lee of Aquinnah said this week he is tired of getting the blue ribbon and he welcomes any and all competitors. "This is a way to bring aquaculture to agriculture," said Mr. Lee.

The women's skillet throwing contest is getting more competitive each year. The ladies have been practicing. Ms. Neubert said she knows for a fact that some entrants have been practicing, throwing frying pans for some time now.

There is an even more significant reason to believe that this year's fair will be bigger than past years. There is no conflicting event. "The fireworks have come and gone. Illumination Night has come and gone. We are hopeful that attendance will be up from last year," Ms. Neubert said. Last year the fair saw 25,000 visitors. There is plenty of reason to believe those numbers will be eclipsed this week.