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Fryeburg Fair: Attendance Jump for Agricultural Extravaganza

12/22/2017

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of Marshall Media

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Although no record days were set, according to Damon,  paid attendance reached 170,614, up 3,776 from 2016.With our fairgoers, exhibitors, employees and more we estimate the week's crowd to be in excess of 250,000," she said.

A truly rural agricultural  fair, some of the crowd-drawing events this year included free Senior Citizen Day on Tuesday - children under 12 are always admired free - the 40th Firemen's Muster and 50th Woodsmen's Field Day, which "opened with West Point's Black Knights Parachute Team jumping in and log-rolling performances by the Axe Women Loggers of Maine," she said.

In addition, the fair held its largest assembly of yoked animals - 159 pair - for a photoshoot. "We gathered what we believe to be the world's largest assembly of yoked animals, our steer Photo By Marshall Mediaand oxen, for a group photo," said Roy Andrews, President, Fryeburg Far. "This will be quite a feat with over 500 animals in one view."  
This unusual livestock photo-op is well in keeping with this Maine tradition. "A day at Fryeburg Fair means horse, oxen, tractor & truck pulls, pig scrambles, livestock competitions, row upon row of large animals to visit, baking contests, horse racing, flower shows, entertainment, and a phenomenal selection of food, games & rides," said Damon. "It was truly a great year."
  
Autumn outdoor events can be a risky in Northern New England but Damon described the weather as "...outstanding.  It doesn't get much better," with only one rainy morning. "We have over 3,000 campsites so we have an audience that is prepared for inclement weather and eager to get out and take advantage of all," said Damon. "We understand bad weather and deal with it accordingly."

When it comes to fairgoer support for this annual Harvest celebration, Damon declared. "We are hearty lovers of the Fair!" 
Social Media Marketing 

The fair utilizes two taglines for the fair: "Maine's Blue Ribbon Classic" and "Agriculture Since 1851" and worked with an advertising budget of about $80,000, which was allocated in terms of media with: Print: 35 percent, Radio: 45 percent and Online: 20 percent.

Facebook play a larger role this year, although Damon explains that it wasn't that the fair used the social media platform in new ways, but just was more mindful and consistent in term of interactivity. "We post often and keep it fresh," she said. "We answer every message by posters.  I study what works best and try to capitalize on that process." 

She added the fair has more than 55,000 Facebook followers - a remarkable figure for a fair of this size. "We rely heavily on great photography and information to match," she said. The most popular posts are apparently equestrian in nature. "Any post with draft horses is effective."

Damon also implemented an extended Facebook promotion that tied directly into fairgoer nostalgia. "I posted a countdown of "What We Offer at Fryeburg Fair," during the 30 days prior to opening with each day posting a category of photos from years past."
   
The fair's midway was provided by Smokey's Greater Shows. The fair also offers music, free with admission, "We are almost exclusively country western.  The most hits on our website went to Cassadee Pope," adding the country star was the most popular act at the fair. More than 150 daily entertainers performed in six different parts of the fairgrounds. The Fair's signature Night Shows - the venue Cassadee Pope performed at - also included Tom Dixon (Country); Eliminator K.C. (ZZ Top Tribute Band); High Valley (Country); Motor Booty Affair (retro 70's Disco & Dance) and Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper (Bluegrass).  

Fair Food
While food revenue figures were unavailable, the fair features a Specialty Foods Pavilion, with an emphasis on innovative food products made with local farm ingredients. In addition, it wouldn't be the Fryeburg Fair without that famous Maine produce - spuds. "The Fair is known for the best French fries made with just harvested Maine potatoes, along with an incredible variety of food choices for every palate," stated a fair press release.

Other fair cuisine highlights, according to Damon, were Tom's Jumbo Donut, Road Hawg BBQ & Mack's Lobster ("which were featured last year on Carnival Eats," she added), and Sunflower Farms Pizza.

It was a good year for fair food of all varieties at Fryeburg. "Every vendor had a line during our busiest days," said Damon. "Our non-profit church booths, VFW, Rotary Baked Potato Booth, Lions Club, etc. have perfected their specialties over the years and are exceptionally good. Always popular."

She joked "It's hard to get around to eat everything you want.  A good plan is to come all eight days, keep walking (the Fair is huge) and try everything.  A Fairgoer can easily walk off the calories."

A potentially threatening challenge for the fair was an increase in fair admission, a jump from $10 to $12. Amazingly, the fair received "no complaints," concerning the increase and considering that there was an attendance increase compared to 2016, the conclusion is that the jump was accommodated by the fairgoers. A generally improving economy and consumer confidence also added to what was a very strong outing for this Agricultural fair. "The general sentiment at the Fair was very positive. People were happy and upbeat"

She pointed out that the fair's success was the fact it provided much needed respite from the current clamor of today's society. "Personally, I think they needed the break from the news and politics."

More significantly has been an uptick in fairgoers from across the nation - and even globe - who are finding out about this New England, late-season, celebration of everything agricultural. "We're getting more people from afar," she said. "Our History Hall which tracks some fairgoers who visit their building reports that we had people from all 50 states and 17 countries.  Our commitment to agriculture is the big draw.  We are very proud to do it exceptionally well thanks to lifelong relationships with the farmers of Maine, New England & Canada."

Exceeding Expectations
Damon unabashedly declared that the 2017 fair exceed her expectations, but that is not surprising. 

"It always exceeds my expectations, every year," she said. "Our farmers are great people, doing very hard and expensive work raising and showcasing their animals.  The food vendors work hard at maintaining a high level of quality - after all no one will buy if it's not good.  We have the most loyal and dedicated employees - some who work the fair year-round and then the very rigorous eight days.  Bottom line - we do it for the love of it." 

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