BERLIN — Launching shrieking children into the air on amusement rides or wowing them with daring circus feats, the Berlin Fair returned for its 71st year.
With all sorts of vendors sold sweets, crafts and face paintings, alongside carnival games like axe throwing, darts and water guns, the fair had something for children and adults with all interests.
Of all the rides his kids went on, Berlin resident Kurt LaVoie said the winner was probably the Alien Invasion, an improved Gravitron. Having grown up coming to the fair himself, he was excited to share those experiences with his kids.
“(It’s) a fun time for the kids, they got to go on all the rides,” he said. “It just brings everyone together.”
While Saturday, the fair’s biggest day, was hit by scattered showers and overcast weather, attendance was bolstered by an unusually busy Friday and a schedule that added attractions to the Sunday lineup. While it will be some time before the Berlin Lions Club, which organizes the fair, has an accurate accounting of how many attended, Fair President Dan Daigle said it appears at least 50,000 people visited the fair over the weekend.
“We’re very happy with the turnout,” he said. “I think this will be as good of a fair as we’ve had … this may be one of our best fairs.”
The strong showing Friday was surprising as turnout tends to be lower with many parents working that day, Daigle said. Since local schoolchildren are given the day off for the occasion and some residents prefer the day for its thinner crowds, it’s become the fair’s unofficial “Berlin Day.”
The fair launched with an opening ceremony Friday morning, with an honor guard presenting the flag and the McGee Middle School band performing the national anthem. Mayor Mark Kaczynski said his favorite part of the fair is seeing all the friends and family that he doesn’t get to see regularly, particularly those who may have moved out-of-town and returned for the occasion.
“It’s good to bring the community together. A lot of people are still surprised we close school for a day,” he said. “Unlike most fairs, we’ve stayed the hometown fair.”
The Lions doubled down on Sunday’s country theme by moving the demolition derby from Thursday to Sunday, remodeling it from a standalone event the night before the fair’s opening ceremony to an integrated attraction on its last day. The change nestled the show into a day of rodeos and the country performers the Moonshine Band, a local country cover-band, and Cale Dodds, known for his blending of rock and roll with country.
The Painted Pony Rodeo proved to be a hit all three days, with the bleachers around the ring packed with spectators eager to see how long riders could last and cheering on bulls who proved especially difficult to corral back into their pens.
Daigle said if he had the time to relax and enjoy one of the fair’s attractions, he’d go to one of the five headline bands performing on the concert stage.
“I've heard so much about the headline music acts we have coming in … it would be nice to sit back and take that in,” he said.
Friday’s big show was the local classic rock band Last Licks, known for playing well-known songs that don’t get enough airtime. Saturday continued the rock trend with a blues twist starting with Jake Kulak & The Low Down, playing alongside Braiden Sunshine, followed by Friends of the Brothers, an Allman Brothers cover band.
Neighbors could also compete against each other in the Berlin’s Got Talent show or the nail-driving contest; show off their best arts and crafts, needlework or vegetables; or see the best-in-show cattle, rabbits and goats. Pets even got to show off in the turtle race or the long jump for frogs.
Berlin resident Kate Liegeot said she’s been coming to the fair for as long as she can remember, first with her parents and now bringing her own 2-year-old daughter, Grace Liegeot.
It took a bit of warming up, but Grace Liegot was just as excited as her mother was to see the animals on Sunday, their second day at the fair. After a few attempts, she held a chick with the help of students from the Southington FFA club and the chicken and rabbit building was declared her favorite.
“It’s just been a long tradition to spend time as a family and showing the kids the animals,” she said. “What’s not to love about the fair? It’s great.”