By Devin Leith-Yessian
BERLIN — The whirling carnival rides, endless fried food and tents full of farm animals that characterize the Berlin Fair are just a weekend away and organizers feel confident the 71st year will be one of its best.
“We’re making a lot of progress, a lot of headway … we’re getting a lot of pieces in place,” said Berlin Fair President Dan Daigle. The fair, which is run by the Berlin Lions Club, will be opening at 11 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 13, and will run until 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 15.
This year has seen some changes to the schedule to highlight some of their more popular events by concentrating them on Sunday. The demolition derby, for example, had previously been held on the Thursday before the fair as a standalone event before the fair opened.
“I think the way we formatted it, with all these events on Sunday, we’re going to have better turnout,” Daigle said.
A less apparent undertaking, that might not be readily apparent to guests, is the removal of the overhead power lines around the fairground’s midway. The change allows for more capacity for rides to be installed in the area, both in terms of the number and size.
Daigle is also excited for this year’s music lineup, with his eye being on Cale Dodds, who will be bringing his rock and country fusion to the main concert stage at 4 p.m. on Sunday. He’ll be preceded at 2 p.m. by the Moonshine Band, a local country cover band which headlined for country stars like Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood and recently had a residency at Mohegan Sun.
The concert series will be starting off on Friday with the local classic rock band Last Licks, which will be playing on Friday at 7 p.m.
Saturday will feature the blues rock band Jake Kulak & The Low Down, voted best blues band and singer in the Hartford Advocate’s 2019 readers’ poll, playing at 5:30 p.m. alongside Braiden Sunshine, a semi-finalist on The Voice in 2015. At 7:30 p.m., Friends of the Brothers will be taking to the stage, covering the Allman Brothers Band, a southern rock band.
Online ticket sales can once again be purchased ahead of time at a discount after being introduced last year to help reduce wait times at the gates. Daigle said the explosive popularity of the fair, which attracts 60,000 to 70,000 each year, has caused some growing pains and they’re hoping advance sales can help get people inside the fair faster. Three-day passes will be sold online for $30, saving customers $5 off the price at the gate.
Wristbands for unlimited rides on Friday will also be sold by Berlin Upbeat, a service organization at Berlin High School, and will be available in the main offices of all the schools in town and will be on sale outside BHS for $20 on Sept. 3-5 and 9-11 from 2 to 8 p.m., as well as Thursday until noon.
Upbeat Director Jack Rudy said the wristband sales are one of their biggest fundraisers of the year, bringing in around $10,000 on average, helping cover the cost of sending around 300 students on training retreats every year. Rudy said the fair isn’t only a fun attraction for residents, but it also helps organizations like Upbeat across Berlin.
“The Berlin Fair does so much for the community because it is the central fundraiser for so many community organizations,” he said. “It's an event the Lions put on for the town for other groups to prosper as well.”
Many of those organizations can easily be found by the smell of the traditional treats they’ve brought to the fair for decades. Kensington Congregational Church will be offering their lobster rolls, the Kiwanis Club is returning with their butterfly potatoes and the South Kensington Fire Department will be serving hard ice cream, fried clams and fried shrimp, to name only a few.
Daigle said the community focus sets the fair apart, with every corner of the town keeping it going.
“It really is a family tradition for a lot of people. I've been going to the fair all my life, my dad was a lion for 53 years. People make a point of showing up at the fair year after year,” he said. “When you look into these booths, whether it's a lions booth or a church booth … you see generations working side by side.”