I’m a native of Felton, Delaware, which is seven miles from Harrington, home to the Delaware State Fair. As a teenager and young adult in farm country, you look forward to a ten-day summer event that brings all the other young people together in one place, where you can hang out for HOURS, and do so on just about any budget.
I kind of live that same life now—multi-day festivals, hanging out as long and as late as possible—but as an adult in Wilmington. Thankfully, now my budget is a little more generous than when I was a teen.
2018 marks the 99thyear of the fair, which evolved from a county fair to the “Delaware State Fair” in 1962 (and was never actually named the “Harrington Fair,” despite the colloquial usage). I feel like I’ve been going to it for a hundred years, so here are my suggestions for how city folk can spend a nice long day or evening at rural Delaware’s greatest festival:
- Attend an event in the grandstand. The concert lineups have changed quite a bit since the days when I saw New Kids on the Block, Color Me Badd, Tiffany, Milli Vanilli (yikes!), Joan Jett, Gloria Estefan and Young MC. Country music rules the calendar, but you can also catch comedy and other special events like rodeos and harness racing. My pick would be Monster Truck Meltdown on Friday, July 27that 7 pm.
2. Splurge on a helicopter ride: $40 for five minutes. This is a newer addition to the Fair, and my teenage self would have saved up all my babysitting money for an in-chopper selfie. (Instead, I have a VHS tape of myself singing “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Karaoke was fairly high-tech back then.)</span>
3. Visit the fancy bunnies and chickens. My memory tells me there are HUNDREDS of varieties of these birds and hoppers. The best part? There is a heat lamp-warmed cradle of baby chicks that you can not only coo over and pet, but even pick up! You’ll want to have your hand sanitizer ready. Aside from a freshly-squeezed lemonade (really, a cup of crunchy sugar with some water and a lemon) and a bag of hot, roasted peanuts, this is my very favorite part of the Fair.
4. Sit in on a cooking demonstration. These are held 5 pm daily in the Dover building. If I had a time machine, I’d tell my teenage self to attend these religiously.
5. Nightly at 7:30 pm, enjoy a parade and marching band showcase. Featured bands include Smyrna Citizens Hose Marching Band, Lake Forest High School and the Delaware Army National Guard Marching Band.
6. Hold your breath and visit the pigs and cows and horses in the pens. You think you know how big a pig is until you see a blue ribbon-winner up close and personal. Many of the people showing animals at the Fair are teenagers in the Future Farmers of America and 4-H clubs. Be sure to share a kind word about their hard work in this field, which is as academically meaningful to them as any robotics club or debate team, and requires early and long hours on the hottest and coldest days of the year.
7. Catch a culinary contest. They’re held at different times every day, and highlights include a Fifer Orchards’ Peach Dessert Contest, a Grand Bar Cookie Contest and Blueberry Blowout Contest. Some contests, such as the pie contest, already happened before the Fair opened. If you check the results in the pie room, you’ll notice Wilmington’s Amy Watson Bish’s name on six of the ten winning ribbons. Other contests that don’t involve food include tractor driving, Lego building and pig kissin’.
8. Get out of the elements by visiting the exhibit hall and trade booths underneath the bandstand. My favorite memory is of Herr’s Potato Chips ALWAYS being on site, and the best years were when I was working a table right next to theirs.
9. Ask direct questions from people involved in Delaware’s political parties – the parties always have a table under the bandstand, and the people who staff it are usually volunteers. You’ll get straight talk on topics that are on your mind and maybe make a new friend.
10. Don’t skip the midway, which has been paved with asphalt in modern times. You don’t even have to ride the rides for that to be fun. If you have a teenager, be sure to regularly circle past any ride that plays top 40 music. There’s always a Himalaya / Avalanche / Mountain ride of some sort, and it is usually one of two or three spots with loud jams that draw the teenage hormones like a moth to a flame. Or…let them roam, and make that your meetup spot, giving them a few extra minutes to chat up some of the myriad teens hanging around the same spot for the same reasons.
Honestly, you could just spend the day eating and drinking. Wine and beer are features that didn’t really exist back in my day, and I’m sure they are a welcome sight for veterans and newcomers. And there’s always a fried Oreo to be had somewhere.
The Fair offers a rundown of 99 things they recommend you add to your itinerary. Admission is $9 and $4 for kids ages six to twelve, and if you reach down into your true country roots, you’ll grab a Mountain Dew on the way, and present the coupon on the can for $2 off.