The fair/festival season has begun: The annual Tontitown (pronounced like tawny-town) Grape Festival has been going strong this week.
Italian immigrants founded this little town in the late 1800s, and they, as many of them had done in their homeland, grew a lot of grapes. Vineyards of Concord grapes have been such a fixture in the town’s history that they’ve gotten their own festival 117 years running, featuring grape-stomping competitions and community spaghetti dinners on top of the standard carnival rides and booths.
I went up there three times this week, the crowd at least doubling in size each time. Traffic lined up for probably a mile on a four-lane highway to turn into the place before sunset yesterday and it’ll probably be packed during the final run tonight.
Every time I go to a big, public event like this, I feel for a while like I’m relearning how to do photography — relearning how to relax and see the images as they come, relearning how to ask strangers if I can take their picture, relearning where to point the dang thing. I push myself to make images different from and better than the ones from all the other festivals I’ve gone to before.
Once I settled down a bit, I tried playing with the millions of lights on the rides and food stands in new ways and simply keeping my eyes open. A fair is a place of infinite moments, a churning mass of characters at once totally familiar and continuously new. Gaggles of high-schoolers, families towing little kids, straw or gravel covering the ground, a cacophony of chatter and honks and yells and whistles — you could probably imagine any fair fairly accurately without even leaving your chair, yet the people and the stories there have never been seen before. At all times, the photos I’m capturing are a sip from the firehose.
I didn’t stay so long during the third trip last night and don’t have many photos to show for it — like the crowd size, the temperature and humidity have gone up with each day, too. It’ll be around 90 tonight. Be sure to pick up some overpriced water.