It’s fair season! Somehow I completely missed the Upper State South Carolina Fair, but that’s probably OK. For years, though, I’ve wanted to visit the North Carolina Mountain State Fair in Asheville, but I’ve always missed it. I almost missed it this year, but I spotted that this past Sunday was the last day. Laura had work to do on Sunday, so I decided that this was the year that I’d make that trek.
First, some history and reflection…
I’ve long lamented the demise of the county fair and its ties to ancient history. Historically, fairs were events to showcase agricultural goods. These were held throughout the year, usually on holidays and feast days. The most important fairs were the ones after the harvest, in late summer or early fall.
The carnival aspect came shortly thereafter, as a way to amuse those that came to see the fair. The two go hand-in-hand. As regions lost their agricultural base, the fairs either died out, or the carnival aspect became the entirety of the fair, as is the case with the Upper South Carolina Fair.
There’s a strange dichotomy to the fair, at least as portrayed in the United States. On one side it’s thought of as wholesome and nostalgic, like something from a more innocent time. On the other side there are the creepy carnies, sideshows, and clowns, and the games designed to separate visitors from their money. The artwork is often garish and bawdy.
My parents had that same dichotomy. As stern fundamentalists, they deplored the carnival aspects of the fair, but somehow they still took us to the Laurens County Fair every year. The weird thing is that back then the schools even let kids out one day to attend the fair – it was that important to the community.
As a photographer, those garish colors and lights make for a different kind of wonderland. I love every aspect of fair photography, from freezing the motion of rides to capturing the expressions of those enjoying the fair. I keep thinking of new ways I want to take photos.
…but back to the NC Mountain State Fair…
I headed on up toward Asheville, despite it being somewhat overcast. Signs along I-26 gave directions for fair traffic. The venue itself was at the Western North Carolina Agriculture Center, right next to the Asheville Airport. The traffic was a bit quirky, but didn’t seem too bad. I found parking and headed on in.
The first impression was that this reminded me very much of the South Carolina State Fair. There were lots of rides and a chairlift over the site. The ubiquitous food vendors seemed to fill every unoccupied corner.
I started with a circuit to get a feel for the layout. There was a nice mix of rides, from kiddie rides to adrenaline junkie attractions. What I really liked was that there was also a good selection of exciting, but not death-defying rides.
I liked that some of the classics were there, like Himalaya and Tilt-a-Whirl.
The exhibition halls were at the top of a hill above the fairway. From that point there was a sweeping vista of the rides, with the mountains in the background.
I went into the first exhibition hall. There I found all of the crafts and other items submitted for competition. These included dioramas, artwork, photography, canned goods, quilts, vegetables, etc., etc.
The Western North Carolina Woodworker’s Association had a hands-on display. Kids could use wood lathes with supervision for their own creations. There were also beekeepers and horticulture displays.
There were also some VERY long barn-type buildings there were a few horses and cows, but these exhibits looked small in comparison with the size of the building. Also, I was remembering that this was the last day of the fair, and animals get tired. Many may have already gone home.
The chairlift was just too tempting. It would be a great way to get some overhead shots. However, I needed tickets first. Individual tickets were expensive compared with buying in bulk, and each ride took several. I decided to buy a batch of them and try out several rides. With tickets in hand, I headed for the chairlift.
The view did not disappoint.
Carnivals are perfect for tilt-shift effect photography. The “model” effect enhances the already garish colors. To be effective, you need an overhead view of the subject, so the chairlift was ideal.
At the other end I walked a bit, then decided I wanted to do a return trip on the lift to get shots from the other direction.
Even after two rides I got to the end of the chair lift with a pocket full of ride tickets. I was ready for an adrenaline rush. The Himalaya was my first choice. It was the very first ride of this type I’d ever ridden, first at the old Pavilion at Myrtle Beach. It seemed that nothing had changed. From my memories, this could have been the very same ride (but I know it isn’t.) Amy and I rode one at the Upper State SC Fair while Laura watched from the sidelines several years ago. Even thus prepared, I wasn’t quite ready for the speed. At least they didn’t make this one go backwards like the others I’ve ridden.
Yeah, I got video…
The ride was a bit jarring, but I still had lots of tickets. Next up was ‘Cuda, a ride that seemed like the old Octopus ride from long ago. I thought it would be safe. I thought I could take it. Afterwards I began to question my decision-making processes.
Amazingly, I got video of that, too. Actually, I kept my eyes closed for most of it thinking, “I can watch the video later.”
The problem with these sorts of rides at my age is that bones and joints don’t respond well. I had a crick in my neck and the beginnings of a headache. I needed a break. From the chairlift I had spotted more exhibition halls. First up was an antique farm equipment display. Included with that display was a 1953 International Harvester FarmAll Cub. It was identical to one we had on our farm when I was growing up. It was much smaller than I remembered.
Another building focused on mountaineering crafts and displays.
There was a very large display hall that was set up with generic vendor booths. It reminded me a bit of a flea market. Mixed in with various public service and information booths, there were home repair vendors and kitchen gadget vendors.
There was also a plethora of religious groups if just about every ilk.
I found one more agricultural display for kids, with smaller animals.
Behind that was a mechanical bull. Iwasn’t going to give that a try, but I did watch for a bit.
I figured I had suitably recovered, so one more ride. This one stayed in one plane without going up and down, but I had made another miscalculation. I had my big camera slung over my shoulder and hanging on my right side. Centrifugal force pressed me up against it very Uncomfortably. I didn’t get any videos, but I got a few photos with the Lumix.
Now I was worn out. Plus, there were a few random raindrops. It was time to go. I had just enough tickets to get me across the fair on the chairlift one last time.
The North Carolina Mountain State Fair did not disappoint, and I’m glad I finally got a chance to attend. I don’t know what it was, but this one seemed more…wholesome. I’m sure my parents would have approved. However, something was missing. This is an experience meant to be shared. I hated that Laura had to work, and couldn’t have been on the rides with me. Perhaps next time.