The Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair means different things to the 40,000 or so who attend the week-long event at the Carroll County Agriculture Center each year, with supporters coming out to see kids showing and competing, to participate in the livestock and cake auctions or maybe to check out a tractor pull or, in recent years, the demolition derby.
It also had been known for its showcase concert, usually featuring talented young country performers on the way up as headliners. That changed last year.
“We’d had the concert for many years and started to see a decline in interest,” said Jim Weishaar, chairman of the Fair Board. “We didn’t do it last year and had a whole bunch of people ask what happened. So we decided to bring it back and hopefully spark some more interest.”
Weishaar & Co. are hoping country singer Riley Green can be that spark. Green will headline the concert on Thursday, Aug. 1 on the Finch Stage at the Ag Center.
The Alabama-born Green released four songs in 2018 on his debut EP called “In A Truck Right Now.” It included the single “There Was This Girl,” which rose to No. 1 on the country charts. The video for that hit song has been viewed about 10 million times online.
He was named an “Artist to Watch” by the likes of Rolling Stone Country and iHeartRadio and a CMT Listen Up Artist. He recently performed at the CMA Fest in Nashville. He has performed on the Today show and is currently touring with country superstar Brad Paisley.
Green will be hoping to get a bit of a boost from his appearance at the fair as have previous headliners. In 2016, for example, Chris Lane performed at the fair and his album reached No. 8 on the country charts not long after.
Other notables who played the fair early in their careers before going on to achieve major success include Sam Hunt, Parmalee, The Band Perry, Brantley Gilbert, Lady Antebellum and the Dixie Chicks.
Green will be preceded to the stage by local favorite Elly Cooke. Cooke has performed at each of the past four Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fairs.
Cooke opened for William Michael Morgan in 2017. She was the 2016 winner of the Westminster’s Got Talent and Gettysburg’s Got Talent competitions.
Speaking of talent, this year’s Carroll’s Got Talent competition will be held for the first time at the 4-H & FFA Fair. Sponsored by the Carroll County Arts Council, the competition will be held on Wednesday, July 31. Judges will choose a winner from each age group. The overall winner will be the pre-opening act for the concert on Aug. 1.
“We kind of threw it out to them as a bonus prize to the winner to hopefully get them some more contestants," Weishaar said, noting that it’s a pretty nice opportunity for a local performer to play on the same bill as a national act.
In addition to the big Thursday night concert, different regional music acts — such as Billy Harrison and the Haywire Band (Sunday afternoon), Cooke (Sunday night), Poison Whiskey (Monday night), Salem Bottom Boys (Tuesday night), and the Garrett Shultz Band (Friday night) — are scheduled to perform.
Of course, music is only a small part of the entertainment at the fair. In addition to the daily dose of mechanical bull rides, pony rides for kids and vendors who range from chainsaw carvers to glass blowers, there is plenty of other entertainment planned.
“We do have some events that cost money, but most are free,” Weishaar said.
The Tractor and Semi Truck Pull takes place before the fair officially opens, on Friday, July 26 at 7 p.m. at the Buck Miller Arena.
On Saturday, in addition to Michael Rosman comedy in the activities tent, the Vintage Grain Truck Races and Truck Drag Racing takes place Miller Arena starting at 5:30.
Sunday night is highlighted by the tradition parade at the fair grounds and then the Ms. Carroll County Farm Bureau contest in the Shipley Building, in addition to wheelbarrow races at Miller Arena.
Monday is Touch a Truck Night and Poison Whiskey is on Finch Stage. Tuesday is Wild West Night at Miller Arena.
In addition to Carroll’s Got Talent on Finch Stage, Wednesday also features the always popular cake auction in the activity tent.
The Horse Pull, usually a midweek evening event, is set for Friday noon this year at Miller Arena.
And on Saturday, after the fair has already officially closed, the unofficial finale — the Demolition Derby — takes place at Miller Arena. Gates open at 3 p.m and the smashing and crashing fun starts at 5.
“This year, we have a new committee running Demo Derby,” Weishaar said. “It has a lot of interest, a lot of people come out. They have to put on a show.”
Not all the entertainment fair-goers have come to enjoy will be on hand, however. There will be no pigs racing each other this year as the person who ran the Southern Barnyard Pig Racing retired and, Weishaar said, they were unable to find replacement swine in time.
“They will be missed,” he said.
History of the fair
Weishaar, who participated in the fair for 12 years through 4-H and has volunteered for the past 15, estimates that 35-45,000 people attend the fair each year. It’s a tradition for many of them. And that tradition goes back a long way.
According to the Historical Society of Carroll County, residents have enjoyed local agricultural fairs since just after the Civil War. From Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, 1869, the Carroll County Agricultural Society held its first exhibition at newly erected fairgrounds on the eastern edge of Westminster. The 30-acre site included sheds to house animals, an exhibition building, a grandstand, and a half-mile race course. The Agricultural Society invited “the exhibition of any and everything that may be useful or convenient in the business of Agriculture or Horticulture. …” There was judging and prizes were awarded.
According to “The Carroll County Fair 1897-1997: Celebrating 100 Years,” published by the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair Board in 1997, a local agricultural fair began with efforts by the Copperville Farmers Club and Taneytown Grange No. 184 to hold a picnic, other festivities, and an “educational day for farmers” at Goulden’s Grove outside Taneytown between 1897 and 1903. The single-day event once attracted 4,000 people. In 1904, the fair was moved to Ohler’s Grove, immediately south of Taneytown between Md. 194 and Crouse Mill Road. Between 1904 and 1922, the fair expanded in that location from one day to four and the organizers erected permanent buildings. By 1911 the event was billed as the Maryland State Grange Fair, promising not only educational lectures for farmers but also entertainment, food, political speeches, and opportunities to win prizes for what was exhibited. Attendance one day in 1914 reached 14,000.
By 1922, that location proved too small, so a 141-acre tract on the eastern edge of Taneytown near the present-day traffic circle became the next home of the Carroll County Fair. Like the 1869 fairgrounds in Westminster, the Taneytown site included exhibition buildings, livestock barns, and a racetrack. Fairgoers also enjoyed plenty of elaborate entertainment.
On Aug. 12, 1954, the fair moved to the new Carroll County Agriculture Center. According to an article in the Carroll County Times: “What is now the beginning of a fine Agriculture Center was just a few weeks ago a field. The young people of Carroll County can view the Agriculture Center with pride knowing that it was youth that labored to construct the pole type buildings and helped in getting the grounds ready for the fair.”
As more and more young people involved with 4-H and FFA began participating, the multi-day event became known as the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair. Today, the fair allows participants in the 4-H and FFA programs to showcase their skills and projects and go on to state events.
According to the fair website, the fair is a showcase of Carroll County 4-H and FFA members exhibiting 62 project areas ranging from livestock, crafts, gardening to technology and fine arts. The fair has greatly expanded over the past 65 years. In 1968, the first Mr. and Miss 4-H were named, the 1st annual 4-H FFA Baby Beef Sale was on July 28, 1966. The raffle began in 1970, vendors were welcomed in 1971. Since then, many new events and departments have been added including a llama show in 1995.
In 1959, the first cake auction raised $39. Last year, Margaret Smith, a Manchester Valley High School student, took home first place grand champion for her Apple Pi Pie. It sold for $12,000.
The fair officially runs from Saturday, July 27 through Friday, Aug. 2 although there are some events before and after. It’s marked well ahead of time on many a Carroll countian’s calendar, but Weishaar also encourages those who’ve never been the fair to come check it out.
“If they’ve never experienced agriculture in the area they should come out and dive into it. It’s put on full display,” he said. “You get to interact with very information-guided youth who have a lot to tell you about their projects and what they learned and it gives you a good feel about what Carroll County was rooted around.”