My kind of fair

Published July 25, 2014
Chances are slim that I’ll attend the Ohio State Fair this year. Last time I attended was at age 5, and I’ve had no burning desire to return. I have nothing against the fair, and I would likely enjoy it should I return, but three things stop me: traffic, crowds and noise. I instead prefer a most different type of fair: The Fair At New Boston.
FANB recreates a market fair of the period 1790 to 1810 with music, theatrical entertainment, a traveling medicine show, an Indian encampment, military reenactors, and first-person historical personages such as fishmongers, tavern drunks, pickpockets and fortune-tellers. You’ll needs look to the audience or perhaps food vendors, not the stage, for such characters at the state fair.
FANB is set on the grounds of George Rogers Clark Park, just west of Springfield and within sight of the former Shawnee town Piqua, where a battle named for the town occurred between Indians and whites. I first visited FANB in 2000, but I had known about it for years thanks to many gifts my sister-in-law bought for me at the fair, including a wool blanket and a handmade, leather-bound memo book, and from stories my brother Rob told me.
Rob’s dentist was a Revolutionary War re-enactor whose unit demonstrated and camped at the fair, and such were the stringent requirements about authentic wear and wares that even their bedding in their tents was to be correct for the time period. This insistence on an authentic experience was confirmed when I visited and saw that any modern goods the vendors or musicians sold, such as CDs and books, were sold at a small shop in a rustic wooden building just outside the grounds.
That first year I heard a young man playing uilleann (Irish bellows-blown) pipes. Playing bagpipes is no mean feat — simply working the bellows to produce a steady stream of air and thus a steady note requires intensive practice — and I realized that this player was a master, and then I recognized him as Timothy Britton, a world-class player and maker of uilleann pipes, originally from Philadelphia but now living in Iowa.
I saw Britton again last time I attended FANB, in 2000, at the same place, the outdoor tavern. That day I attended with nephews Brian and Andy, staying for the weekend at Rob’s house near Plain City. It was about an hour’s drive to the park, and at Andy’s recommendation I drove U.S. Route 40 to Springfield and enjoyed small, historical towns along the former National Road that were less touched by modernity than were those along the interstate. This time I bought a green-and-white checked shirt for 18th-century wear and a brass graphite holder in the style of the 17th century, and I enjoyed listening to a presentation about string instruments, especially the cittern, a pear-shaped, flat-backed instrument on which my Celtic mandolin is based.
The setting was wooded and grassy, a marked contrast to the pavement of modern fairs, and the music was unamplified, played on the quieter strings and winds of the 1700s. I spent the day at the fair not annoyed by thumping bass and electronic drum beats, and no noisy rides blasting music over loudspeakers assaulted my ears. It was my kind of fair, one to which I’ll return long before I’ll attend the festival of noise and lights in Columbus.

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