From austere pioneer beginnings, to its current incarnation as a sometimes colorful, often overwhelming and always fascinating event, the fair is a beloved Western New York institution. THE GREAT ERIE COUNTY FAIR, a WNED-TV original production, celebrates 175 years of tradition and documents all the charm, excitement, stories and competitive spirit that animate the fair.
For many, the fair is the highlight of the year. For exhibitors, it's the culmination of their hard work; a chance to showcase their efforts, and for scores of others, it's a rite of summer where vacations are planned and families gather to experience excitement and magic.
“The Erie County Fair is a big deal,” says Bryan Wittman, vice president of global special events for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and honorary chairman of the 175th Erie County Fair. “The Disney term that we’ve really come to use is the magic. It’s a feeling that you get when you come to the fair that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s a bit magical for sure.”
Today the Erie County Fair is a well-preserved piece of Americana where the entire community gathers. It offers charms reminiscent of days gone by—from the mile-long Strates Shows Midway that still rolls into town by rail; to the feat of strength exhibited in the horse pull competition, and the fine craftsmanship and old-time handiwork of beautiful quilts and woodcarvings on display.
The fair began as a way to celebrate the bounty of the land and the efforts of those who cultivate its soil. “It used to be that everybody had an aunt or an uncle or a grandpa’s farm where they could go and visit, and I think we’re further and further from that,” says Jessica Underberg, assistant manager of the Erie County Fair. “Ninety-eight percent of the public is not directly involved in agriculture. This is the place where that 98 percent can connect with the other two percent.”
THE GREAT ERIE COUNTRY FAIR offers viewers a front-row seat to all the fair has to offer from the Grandstand and food stands to the show ring. It also weaves together a patchwork of individual fair stories like the young 4-H exhibitors who work year-round in hopes of a blue ribbon. “I grew up here and I think this story is not just about me,” says Underberg. “This story is about all of Western New York.” Narrated by Tom Jolls, THE GREAT ERIE COUNTRY FAIR captures the quintessential spirit of the fair as it marks 175 years of tradition, agriculture and excitement.
If you missed the broadcast premiere, be sure to tune in to WNED-TV for an encore presentation Monday, August 11th at 10pm.
THE GREAT ERIE COUNTY FAIR is made possible by the Erie County Agricultural Society and by the members of WNED-TV.