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.
Thanks for looking.
A county fair is an annual melding of two worlds.
The first world is one of goats and droppings and wood chips, and it arrives with the morning. Kids and teenagers give early mornings and months of time to bring animals to full form or strength. They wash their pigs or steers or rabbits, scrub them, preen them, brush them, trim them, spray them and heave them through the crowd, no matter how cantankerous the animals get. They win ribbons and pride and thousand-dollar bids and think about things like how and whether to grow food for a living.
The second world is one of summer jobs and suburbs and supermarkets, and it arrives in the evening. The kids are less familiar with livestock and feed but still have their share of early mornings. Instead of a competition, the county fair is a blur of lights and excitement. The kids win stuffed monkeys and balloons and toys and think about things like how expensive the food is.
The county fair brings in both worlds. Inside the livestock arena, the rapid-fire rhythm of the auctioneer’s voice floats above the chatter of people and bleats of goats. Outside, the air thrums with screams and laughter and bass-heavy music. Somewhere among the funnel-cake stands and Ferris wheels, the worlds, to an extent, overlap.
I went to the Washington County Fair four times last week — twice for work, twice for fun. I hope the images turned out all right. I took a whole lot of photos this week, so I’ve got another post coming up quickly for you.
Thanks for looking!
Today started unusually steamy and reached about 90 degrees, but it took only about 20 minutes to change that in the afternoon, when temperatures fell 20 degrees, the wind picked up and the storm rolled in.
I should’ve seen it coming, really. The most humid days always seem to bring a storm — I remember one August day in Nebraska where it dropped from an oppressively humid 96 to about 62 in less than half an hour. You can bet you’re in for a good time when that happens.
This storm happened to hit right as I arrived at Tontitown’s Grape Festival, an annual carnival of food and rides named for the town’s vineyards, planted by the town’s Italian founders a century ago. I didn’t get to ride anything, but I did get to feel the excitement and energy as rides closed down and people ran for cover.
The carnival workers had the unenviable job of making sure the stands and prizes didn’t blow away, though this guy seemed to keep in good spirits.
It was a fun 20 minutes! We’ll have to try this again sometime, Tontitown.
Thanks for looking,