The 2019 Altamont Fair: ‘Big-time attractions’ on tap but local flavor remains

The Enterprise — Sean Mulkerrin
All aboard: After years of being hidden away in boxes, the Altamont Fair’s collection of model trains were restored over the winter by James Gardner Jr., they will be on display in the 1890s building.

ALTAMONT — After the weather put a damper on last year’s Altamont Fair, this year, organizers have loaded up on new acts and brought in some “big-time attractions.” However, at its core, they say, the Altamont Fair remains dedicated to teaching the public about agriculture. 

“One of the things I hate to hear people say is: ‘Why do I need to go to the Altamont Fair, it never changes?’ We make changes every year,” said Amy Anderson, the fair’s manager. “They may not be noticeable to everybody but we make changes every year.”

After a decade away, the demolition derby makes its return to the fair on Sunday, Aug. 18, at 2 p.m. (see related story). Infrastructure improvements around the grandstands, said Pat Canaday, the fair’s treasurer, have made the derby’s return possible.

Anderson told The Enterprise last year that there used to be big motorsport events at the fairgrounds; however, a fight broke out during the demolition derby and, with only one security person at the event, “it did not go well.”

Last year, there was talk, Anderson said at the time, about whether there is enough space for a big motorsport event anymore because the grandstand had been moved to expand the midway, but a company came to the fairgrounds and said there was enough room for monster trucks. The big trucks will be back this year with a show on Tuesday, Aug. 13, at 7 p.m.

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of Fair Week, Canaday said, fair-goers will have the opportunity to ride inside a monster truck; however, the ride is an added cost, $10 per person 

Advance tickets to the fair may be purchased either online or at the fairground’s administrative office for $15. Admission on Tuesday, Aug. 13, and Wednesday, Aug. 14, will be $17. For the rest of the week, tickets will cost $19. On Wednesday, senior citizens, Grange members, and veterans as well as active duty military will be admitted for free until 6 p.m..

The Royal Hanneford Circus is back after years away, Canaday said. Performances will take place on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, at 1:30 p.m., and again at 5:30 p.m. On Saturday, there will be three shows, at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 6 p.m.

Another act returning after just a year away is the World of Wonders, Canaday said, which is made up of sideshow performers like sword swallowers and fire eaters. 

Two acts that have been featured on the television show, “America’s Got Talent,” Canaday said, will be making their Altamont Fair debuts: Magician Jay Mattioli, who had been a quarterfinalist on the show, and the Fearless Flores Family, which rides motorcycles inside a giant metal ball (see related story).

Part of the reason the fair has brought in these “big-time attractions,” Canaday said, is because it was just “time for a change.” While they “still packed the house,” she said, some of the events and attractions had been featured at the fair for a long time so organizers decided to bring in some new attractions and events.


“Local flavor”

However, Canaday makes it clear that there is a lot of “local flavor too.”

Old Songs Inc., she said, will be sending over musicians every day, and, on Tuesday night, the Schenectady Pipe Band will be thundering around the fairgrounds. 

The Sherman family will be in the 1890s building performing its lumberjack show. James Gardner Jr., the son of publisher emeritus of The Altamont Enterprise, James Gardner, has restored the fair’s collection of model trains, which had been hidden away in boxes for years, Anderson said, and, during fair week, they will be on display in the 1890s building.


Agricultural education

While many will be attending the Altamont Fair for reasons other than to see chickens and goats, Canaday said that agricultural education is at the heart of the fair. When it began, the entire point of the fair is to educate the public about agriculture.

“Our focus is ag education; that’s kind of our mission. We offer a place for domestic arts and animal competition…” she said. “It’s not just rides and food, that’s part of what we do, too. Amy [Anderson] has really made a great effort to include the ag education as well.”

To that end, the fair has partnered with the Altamont, Berne, Guilderland, Schenectady, Voorheesville, and Westerlo libraries to create a new event, Books in the Barnyard, where every day of the fair at noon, 3 p.m., and 6 p.m., someone from each of the partner libraries will be reading out loud a book about barnyard animals. 

Each day, a different book is read, and, while supplies last, children who attend a reading, will get a free copy of the book that is being read that day. 

Congressman Paul Tonko will be reading to the kids on one of the days, Anderson said, and, on Saturday, Aug. 17, at noon, television reporter John Gray will be reading from his book, “Keller’s Heart,” about a deaf girl whose best friend is the blind and deaf dog she rescued.

Young children will also get a chance to do some “hands-on farming,” said Christina Grippin, a fair intern. They will be able to milk a cow — however, it is just a diagram of the cow — and pick real apples off of a fake tree. 

There is also the Ag Awareness Trail, Grippin said, a kid-focused question-and-answer scavenger hunt, where the answers can be found in each of the fair’s agricultural buildings. Then, the kids can deposit their completed forms for a chance to win a prize. 

Last year, some teens took it upon themselves — the learn-by-doing model of education — to just start milking the goats. This year, Grippin said, there’s a little more structure, where the teens can learn the proper milking technique and then compete against each other for a prize. 


Lessons learned

After last year, Anderson said that she learned to have back-up plans for her back-up plans.

Due to record-breaking rain, the fairgrounds’ parking lots became unusable, which caused attendance to drop by a third over the previous year, Anderson said. However, she also pointed out that, on the fair’s last day, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, a single-day attendance record had been set. 

When the parking lots couldn’t be used, Anderson said, there was a scramble to come up with a plan. She said that anyone who had worked at the fair for sometime had a different opinion on how buses were used in the past and how they were procured. “Nobody was on the same page,” she said, and she had never been part of fair where buses were needed.  

Fortunately, she said, she was able to reach out to the president of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board, Matthew Tedeschi, who in turn reached out to Superintendent Timothy Mundell, and “they bailed us out.”

In addition, organizers were able to secure buses from the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District and to get use of the parking lot of Guilderland High School for visitors. The school buses ferried fair-goers from the paved high school parking lot in Guilderland Center to and from the fairgrounds, which has grass parking lots that had turned to mud.

There was some consternation about the fair using school-district buses, according to Anderson, as if the fair were getting a free ride, so to speak. But she said that wasn’t the case and that there has been an ongoing “partnership” between the fair and school districts. 

 Anderson said that she had been a judge at the BKW science fair. And, as part of BKW’s  “Golden Ticket” program, when “they caught a kid doing something good” that hadn’t been part of a student’s normal behavior, they were awarded with a ticket to the Altamont Fair. 

Canaday, who started at the fair as superintendent of the sheep barn in 1983, said that the fair had work done to improve drainage in the parking lot. Additionally, she said, this year, trams will be used to bring people from some of the fair’s far-flung parking lots to its entrance. 

“But if it rains, it rains,” she added.

The infrastructure needs for a large fairground like Altamont are “so great,” Canaday said. So, the fair’s organizers have come up with a multi-year improvement plan, she said. 

Through state grants, the fair has been able to improve parking-lot drainage, install new pony stalls, and perform a number of roof repairs, Canaday said. “If you don’t have a good roof, you are going to lose the building,” she said. Additionally, through a grant secured by state Senator George Amedore, the fair has been able to improve handicap access to its music venue. 

“You can develop programs from a strong infrastructure,” Canaday said. ​

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.