We are back a little over two weeks from our 3.5 month road trip, which took us to nine states and British Columbia. It was disorienting to get ‘back to normal’ on the island after being in so many places, using public restrooms, and living lean.
What brought me home was writing four stories covering the Whidbey Island Fair July 28-31 for the Whidbey News Times/South Whidbey Record.
I met Carol Coble, the fair manager for the Island County Fair Association, which puts the fair on each year. With the fair less than a week away, I found Carol in her office in the Island County Fair Building, one of the original buildings built by the Works Progress Administration during the post-Depression years of the 1930s. Carol asked that I approach her next year at least a month ahead of time so that she wouldn’t feel so rushed.
In my time spent with Carol, I gained an appreciation for what it takes to put the fair together. 4H exhibits. Entries to be judged for adults and youth: Arts, Crafts & Hobbies, Quilts, Fiber Arts, Sewing, Herbs, Honey, Needlework, Pottery, Fine Arts, Photographs, Baked Goods, Preserves, Beer and Wine, Flower and Vegetable arrangements, Textiles. Then there are commercial vendors, entertainment, the parade, rides, games, food and beer booths, security, Emergency Medical Technicians, ticket takers, sound men, teen clean up volunteers, special volunteers for the Fiddle Faddle Farm, exhibit superintendents and judges. And it all came together so that thousands could enjoy old-timey fun.
Carol, a charming force of nature woman, took the time to connect me with half a dozen band members to complete my research on writing something about each of the performers. I found it enjoyable to research and speak with the 24 different entertainers who performed on the Eva Mae Gabelein stage over the four days of the fair,
Last year, more than 22,000 attended the fair to sample baskets of curly fries, be entertained, visit the bunnies, cavies, cows, sheep, pigs, goats, horses, dogs, cats and poultry raised by 4H young people. This year, due to the Avian flu spread, there were no live poultry at the exhibits
While Carol has managed putting the fair on each year since 2015, she has a long history of getting to know its community through her former volunteer work with her children in 4H. Another longtime fair organizer, Eva Mae Gabelein, Carol noted, was the Grande Dame of the fair’s entertainment for years, knocking on local’s doors, inviting them to perform. Carol was joined by beloved conductor of fun Jim Freeman, who emceed from the main stage for years. Jim passed away June 19. We hope he is emceeing with Eva Mae on the great stage in the sky.
This year, Carol and her team booked a dozen cover bands, such as Stormrider, a Santana Tribute band: Chris Ward, doing Eagles covers, and the ever popular Danny Vernon doing Elvis impressions.
Among our island’s local talent performing were: Danny Ward, Island Jazz Collective, the Shifty Sailors, the Porch Brothers, Dr. Chef’s Electric Band, the Western Heroes, Fell from the Sky, Pete the Band, Deja Blooze, and the Original Tripp’n Gypsy’s. It was fun to talk with Lee Jensen of Dr. Chef’s Electric band. He went to elementary school with our son Raymond, is a mobile mechanic, and is the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist.
Our friend Rob Harris is a singer/songwriter with The Porch Brothers, and his Blue Grass/Americana harmonies with Russell Clepper, another singer songwriter, accompanied by the bass tunes of Ron Rossel, were terrific to watch live in the 1pm Saturday heat. From the shade of the stands, we commented that musicians could use fans on stage to cool them off.
Rob’s wife Leslie Boies volunteered in the Fiddle Faddle barn Saturday. We walked in to say hello where she was overseeing the creative genius of future designers who built Lego sculptures. Commenting via Facebook on the hard work involved putting the fair on, she wrote: “An awesome effort by a huge number of volunteers— such a wonderful outpouring of love!”
Meredith Cannon, an artist who moved with her family to Whidbey in 2021, echoed Leslie’s sentiments: “Last year was my first fair,” Meredith noted. “My first in all the things here. This is only my second summer on the island. The fair was the single best thing I did on Whidbey Island. The connections I made there really propelled me into my art career. I met people through the fair. You wouldn’t expect it, that kind of networking. I’m entering pieces for this year’s exhibit.”
Her paintings this year won blue ribbons and best of show. Stopping by to say hello at the Fine Arts Building, Meredith was in her element as the Fine Arts Superintendent.
Meredith’s paintings in 2021 won the People’s Choice Award, the Superintendent’s Award and a lot of blue ribbons. This is Whidbey’s photographer David Welton was the fair’s photographer and judged the 2022 photography submissions. He served as the fine arts superintendent in years past.
What I like about the fair is its equanimity. While sitting in the shaded risers across from the Main Stage, we watched a parade of families, teenagers, goths, skins ranging from pale to brown to dark brown, performers on stilts, people large and small. They ate curly fries, falafels, and strawberry shortcakes. They drank root beer floats, ate ice cream on a stick and cotton candy. The fair can be loud and crowded and hot. Yet underneath that is a coming together that is heartening in the challenging times we live in.