August 19, 2021
Skagit fair sates longing for fun and ‘normalcy’ in face of COVID-19
Teya Heidenreich

A keenly felt need for “some kind of normalcy” during the COVID-19 pandemic sparked strong attendance at the Skagit County Fair, per fair manager Aric Gaither. Despite high temperatures and smoky skies, fair-goers showed up in large numbers to enjoy entertainment ranging from musical acts to a juggler and hypnotist, plus exhibitions of animals, crafts and produce — and carnival rides. While San Juan County’s 2021 fair is being held virtually (18-21 Aug.), the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden joined Skagit in holding an in-person fair and extended its run to 10 days (12-21 Aug.). (Teya Heidenreich photo © 2021)

August 19, 2021
Skagit fair sates longing for fun and ‘normalcy’ in face of COVID-19
Teya Heidenreich

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After a year’s hiatus, the Skagit County Fair resumed Aug. 11-14 with an increased attendance over past years — despite COVID-19 infections spiking in the county. Attendees chose the experience of looking at farm animals, soaring on carnival rides and watching varied entertainment shows.

Aric Gaither, fairgrounds manager at the Skagit County Fair, said organizers mostly faced logistical issues COVID had caused rather than COVID safety issues. For example, necessary items were harder to get because of supply-chain issues. He said everything mostly went to plan and, other than some staffing shortages, more went right than wrong, especially compared to other big events.

Spikes in Skagit County COVID cases coincided with the four days of the fair. The seven-day case average went from 11 on Aug. 1, with 0 new cases that day, to 31 on Aug. 10 with 30 new cases, according to data compiled by state, local and federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and reported in the New York Times. Over the four days of the fair, the numbers of new cases over the four days were 70, 119, 68 and 0. Over those four days, the seven-day averages were 37, 45, 52 and, again, 52. 

The 2021 Skagit County Fair drew large crowds for rides, shows, fair food and exhibitions. (Teya Heidenreich photo © 2021)

Gaither said the mental health piece of attending the fair was significant. 

“Some people, who knows where they’re at in life?” he said. “This could have been the one thing that made them happy, and feel normal and just get them over the hump.”

From 5 to 100 MPH — fast

Attendees of all ages poured into the fair, from families to teens, young-adult couples and the elderly. Some were masked, and many were not. The fair boasted a beer garden near the main stage for the over-21 crowd. 

Gaither attributed this year’s increased attendance to pent-up demand for events, and the cancellation of other events in the area, like the Stanwood-Camano fair just south of Skagit. He said planning for this year’s fair was pulled together quickly when Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee announced the June 30 statewide reopening date

“It went from like 5 miles an hour to 100 pretty fast,” Gaither said.

Starting in 2019, the fair has hosted a Latino Stage solely for Latino performers in addition to the main one. In Mount Vernon, where the fairgrounds are located, a third of residents are Hispanic or Latino, according to census data.

Azetatos
The Azetatos rocked the Latino Stage, a feature introduced to the fair before the COVID-19 shutdown. (Courtesy photo: Azetatos)

The Azetatos Rock Band played favorites from the Ramones and los Enanitos Verdes during their performance on the Latino Stage, performing “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “Lamento Boliviano” featuring los Hombres G and “Cordillera.” 

The Latino Stage was next to the carnival, which had rides that spun riders or flew them into the air and even included a roller coaster shaped like a giant circle. Long lines led up to the rides, as well as vendors of lemonade and fair food like funnel cakes and fried goods. Dinosaurs larger than human fairgoers wandered the grounds, greeting kids along the way.

Mutton-bustin’

Other activities included paintball, mutton-bustin’ — kids riding a sheep for as long as they could without falling off — and a kids’ pedal tractor pull, where kids pedal a tractor with weight attached.

Gina Castro attended with her husband Saturday evening as a date night, and returned with him and her kids the previous day. They got funnel cakes and visited vendors, and her kids went on rides. Booths offered everything from stickers to boutique clothing to face painting and henna. 

“My favorite part, to be honest, is seeing my culture here,” she said. “My Mexican background and heritage. It’s like, ‘Wow. That’s really nice.'”

Castro said she had lived in the area her whole life, and attended the fair most years. She said she was not worried about COVID-19 at the fair so long as she took the necessary safety precautions on her own end. Castro also mentioned the cancelation of many other events as an encouraging factor to attend the Skagit County Fair.

She said the Latino vendors at the fair were really exciting for her to see.

Sheep … and hypnosis

“It’s a wonderful crowd,” said Eileen Hordyk, an Arlington resident with a farm that mostly raises sheep, which she enters in competition at fairs. 

Baa baa, black sheep … kids with gentle hands had a chance to touch and interact close up with animals such as this pair shown by Eileen Hordyk. (Teya Heidenreich photo © 2021)

Hordyk said her favorite part was the young kids who came out to see the animals, and who get really excited to see the sheep. Kids can pet the sheep without needing to go to a petting zoo, she said, so long as they’re gentle. The sheep struggle a bit with the heat, but Hordyk and others make sure they have enough water and haven’t had any major issues.

On the main stage, performers ranged from bands to comedy juggler Matt Henry, comedy hypnotist Ron Stubbs and the Mount Vernon School District Mariachi and Folklorico players. Stubbs hypnotized volunteers 14 and older to do things such as walk like Victoria’s Secret models and dance with a wig-wearing microphone stand, and Mount Vernon High School students in traditional mariachi clothing and bright folk dresses played music, danced and sang to a large crowd.

“People are so starved for some kind of normalcy, to feel the wind on their face, [see] the animals, have a drink by the stage and just enjoy all that,” Gaither said.

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