Back again, the Altamont Fair — where ‘old-time fun’ meets ‘sophisticated entertainment’


Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Wearing white, 4-H kids display the animals they've raised at the Altamont Fair.

ALTAMONT — In its 126-year history, the Altamont Fair has only been canceled twice — once in the midst of World War II and last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the fair is scheduled to return on Aug. 17 for six days, with a full slate of programming that — despite safety protocols and various obstacles related to the ongoing health crisis —  organizers say will deliver as robust an experience as ever.

Over the course of an hour, Altamont Fair Director Amy Anderson and board member Pat Canaday did their best to summarize for The Enterprise what the fair will look like this year, in terms of both entertainment and safety, while, out on the grounds, a small number of laborers and volunteers were beginning some of the preparatory groundwork. 

A breadth of options will be available — including wine slushies for adults, scavenger hunts for kids, rides and animal shows for families, plus supplementary music, food, fireworks, and more. 

 “We’ve got sophisticated entertainment,” Canaday said, “and we’ve got down-to-earth, old-time fun stuff.”

Among the new entertainers is a chainsaw carver, Jennifer Black, who’s coming from the Finger Lakes region.  “She does beautiful work,” Canaday said. “She’ll be right here on the infield … and she’ll be selling the items she creates.”

From Las Vegas, there will be a hypnotist who, after witnessing the stressors of the past year-and-a-half, will deliver a daily lecture on mindfulness and staying level in turmoil, Anderson said, in addition to the usual hypnotic fare.

There will also be wine-tasting, pig-racing, craft-making, cake-decorating, and country-life edumacating.

“We’ve got a rooster-crowing contest, which is going to be fun,” Anderson said, explaining that the birds’ cocky, pre-fair morning chatter is one of the things she — a strong Type-A who described being often pulled in multiple directions at once while she goes about her management of the fair — looks forward to each day as she arrives before the crowds.

As far as music goes, Canaday and Anderson described a lineup of bands that span the genres of classic rock, celtic, country, and — from one group, Black Mountain Symphony — “baroque-classical violin, haunting folk tunes, ballads, funk-rock, and hard-hitting dance numbers.”

Black Mountain Symphony is a band that Anderson said she came across when it was performing at a small brewery in Schoharie. “They were incredible,” she said, “and I was like, ‘Hey, do you guys play other places, or just here?’ And that’s how they came to be.”

The lead singer of one band that’s played at the fair before — Mid-Life Crisis — is returning under a new moniker, Geezer. (Band slogan: “Not young, not dead — somewhere in between.”)

People 65 and older, Grange members, and military personnel will be admitted to the fair free of charge on Wednesday, Aug. 18, with activities that day geared for them. “We do an ice-cream social over in the Farmhouse Museum when we’re in the slower side of the fair,” Anderson said, “... And we have a military presentation at 2 o’clock on Wednesday, where we’ve invited guests — politicians and stuff — that come and ... celebrate the military, both active-status and veteran.”

On all other days and for all other folks (except children under 36 inches who are admitted free of charge every day), tickets can be purchased in advance online or in person for $18, or at the gate on the day of admission for $22. Tickets bought online have a $1.90 service fee tacked on, and tickets purchased with a credit card are priced up by 3.5 percent, according to the fair website. The tickets cover parking and all attractions, including the circus and midway.

Anderson said that, as of last week, advance ticket sales for this year’s fair have surpassed the number sold at that time in 2019.



All aspects of the fair will take place under enhanced health protocols, many of which were developed while the pandemic was at its near-worst earlier this year, before restrictions were loosened, Anderson said. But while the healthy and vaccinated can feel relatively safe at the fair this year, there will be no denying that the virus has left its mark, however well the fair’s organizers have bounced back. 

“COVID, unfortunately, has affected everything,” Anderson said. “We’ve kind of had to re-envision what a fair will look like — sort of.”

Anderson explained that, back in April, the state needed to approve plans for the fair, which it did approximately two days before Governor Andrew Cuomo lifted the most imposing restrictions. 

With the easing of restrictions, optimism about the summer was rising, but now, Anderson said, “as things are starting to look a little scary … two weeks out, we’re preparing as if all these restrictions are still going to have to be in place.

“So we’re going to have signs everywhere for social distancing, we built hand sanitizer stations, we’ve got masks. We went and did all of that because that’s what we were told we were going to have to do, so we’ve invested all this time and money into preparing for COVID.”

Anderson said that mask-wearing will be strongly encouraged among the unvaccinated, but not enforced, in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Because of the pandemic backdrop, some familiar events, like the Royal Hanneford Circus, will look a little different. (What would have been a closed tent will now have an open top, which will allow for trapeze artists.)

Other events, like the monster truck show, put on by JM Motorsports, won’t be present at all. 

“The company that we use is wonderful,” Anderson said, “and they contacted us and said, ‘Listen, if COVID is still real, I don’t think that you’ll get the attendance to warrant spending a lot of money to have us there for two hours, so I’m going to let you out of your contract if you want.’

“So I went to the board and they said, ‘Let’s do that,” Anderson said. “...That was huge for [JM Motorsports] to be able to do that for us.” 

Some vendors, unfortunately, couldn’t keep their business afloat during the shutdown, Anderson said, and at least one died. 

Beyond that, there have been logistical struggles, like labor and resource shortages, and some members of what might be described as a “fair family” won’t be able to attend because it would pose too great a risk to their health. 

Anderson talked about how one gentleman in his 90s, who has been at the fair every year since the 1970s, drove into the grounds not long ago and told her that he wouldn’t be coming this year. Another fair elder in his 80s will also be staying home, Anderson and Canaday said while tearing up. 

“So it’s not just a physical challenge getting ready for this fair,” Anderson said. “It’s an emotional one. People we’ve seen forever are not going to be here.”

“Our plan to make the tears go away is to deliver the best show we can with whatever resources we have,” Canaday said, “Know that we are going to share agriculture, and we are going to share history, and we are going to share the best energy that we can offer.”

“And cotton candy,” Anderson chimed in. “Don’t forget cotton candy.” 

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