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Machines aplenty, but agriculture’s still king

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Robinson's Racing Pigs paddle at the 2013 Franklin County Fair.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Robinson's Racing Pigs paddle at the 2013 Franklin County Fair.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Robinson's Racing Pigs paddle at the 2013 Franklin County Fair.

GREENFIELD — About halfway through ventriloquist Sylvia Fletcher’s show Friday afternoon, a flying robot whizzed high into the air over the Franklin County Fairgrounds.

The spider-like device, a remote control helicopter built and flown by Sylvia’s husband Chris Fletcher, stunned the crowd of onlookers. They looked upwards as the ventriloquist had a conversation with the alien “Godfried,” whose metal frame lit up with small yellow and green lights whenever she made it talk.

It wasn’t the only machine in the fair. When visitors walk through the doors of the Youth Hall, they immediately come face to face with a steel black Dalek, an extraterrestrial cyborg from the television show “Dr. Who.” Gianni Passiglia of Greenfield welded it and won “Best of Show” in metalwork.

And then there was the Midway — run by company Reithoffer Shows this year for the first time — with rides that thrust brave souls up in the air, all around and upside down.

What’s going on here? Have machines taken over the 165th annual Franklin County Fair?

One step inside the Roundhouse and these fears subside. Vegetables and flowers flood one’s vision. Giant quilts hang from above.

Right outside, Bernardston resident Russell Deane sat enjoying a fried dough snack with his wife, Lillian. He began attending the fair as 10-year-old boy and has kept coming back for nearly 75 years.

When he was young, schools closed for a day to let students attend, he said. There were some rides back then, but not as many, and “they weren’t so fast.”

He enjoys the agricultural aspects of the fair the most: the exhibits in the Roundhouse and the cattle draws.

His wife likes those things, too, but there’s another reason she’ll be coming back on Sunday.

“She loves the Demolition (Derby). Can you believe it?” he said.

“I love it,” she said, with a grin.

Agriculture has certainly changed since the mid-19th century, but at its heart the event has always been, and still is, an agricultural fair, said President Linda Fisher.

There’s a baby barnyard where people can feed farm animals. Today and Sunday will feature cattle and sheep shows, oxen pulls and pig racing.

Fisher, a lifelong Greenfield resident, said that she’s always considered Friday night to be the first big night of the fair.

The parade on Thursday kicked off festivities and there was an average number of attendees that night, said Fisher. But many families don’t want to get their kids into fair mode too early on a school night, she said.

“I’m thinking we might be a little above our average (in attendance),” she said. “Because of the weather, I think the weekend will be great.”

That’s an improvement from last year, she said, when a large rainstorm brought an early end to Saturday festivities.

Throughout the afternoon and early evening, folks packed into the Midway. They’d escape the frenzy of its rides and carnival games to see daily shows like Robinson’s Racing Pigs and the Indian River Olde Time Lumberjack Show.

Fletcher, the ventriloquist, is a newcomer to the fair this year. The wife-husband duo — Sylvia performs on stage with the puppets, Chris handles sound and special effects behind the scenes and they write dialogue together — will perform about 400 shows this year.

They said that fairs, with multiple shows in one location, provide a great opportunity to try out new material.

Godfried, the flying robot, is fairly new to their set. Fletcher challenged her husband to build an alien and was obsessed.

“You don’t think of that as a ventriloquist puppet,” she said. “But ventriloquists, if they’re good, can make anything talk.”

Fletcher has performed professionally for 17 years but began practicing as a 6-year-old with a plastic cup. She demonstrated in front of the crowd Friday by talking into the cup, then sat there smiling as the cup repeated back her words.

She also pulls more traditional puppets out of her giant “magic trunk,” like the dragon Smoulder and the diva singer Portia.

There were real singers hoping to become stars at the fair Friday with a Texaco Country Music Showdown taking place at night at the Grandstand Stage. The winners moved on to the New England/Upper New York State Regional Competition, which will be held this afternoon, at 4:30 p.m.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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