The spectacle that was the 2019 Garrett County Agriculture fair

Last week I was really excited to be heading to the Garrett County fair with my friends. I had written a post about it, and for some reason, withheld publishing it. I am not sure what in my gut said to cancel the schedule and let it be, but something just didn’t feel right. In short, I was excited, nostalgic, and just simply looking forward to returning to something that I grew up with as a teenager and young adult. The fair has so many great memories for me, and I was simply looking forward to reliving some of that.

Ferris Wheel at the Garrett County Agricultural Fair
Ferris Wheel at the Garrett County Agricultural Fair

Well, the 2019 fair wrapped up on Saturday night, and we were left shocked, and somewhat appalled at what has come of this fair. My wife and I arrived back in Western Maryland on Thursday night, and went to the Friday fair, looking forward to either seeing one of the events at the race-track, or going to the concert.

With the rainy weather, we decided to go to the concert, which was Tyler Reese Tritt, daughter of Country Music performer Travis Tritt, and were not expecting too much to be outside of the norm for the Garrett Fair. We thought we would enjoy some live music, spend time with friends, and call it a night. My mother was hesitant to come out due to the weather, but I gave a little nudge and she decided to come out and join us. When she arrived, she was immediately greeted by one of the most rude people we have dealt with at the fair.

A ticket taker decided that she was going to berate and demean my mother who was simply looking to find a handicap parking space. The woman was being so rude, and was seemingly intoxicated, whether by “power” or literally, we have no idea. It definitely made what should have been an uneventful night come down a few notches. Any time my mother went outside for some fresh air – apparently smoking is allowed inside the building the performances occur in now – the woman made a point to step away from her post and stare her down. At one point I went out with my mother to ensure there would be no further confrontation. Once the show was done, my mother decided to just head home and call it a night, that situation left a sour taste in her mouth for sure.

Tyler Reese Tritt at the 2019 Garrett County Fair
Tyler Reese Tritt at the 2019 Garrett County Fair

Moving forward to Saturday, there were no more events with the ticket taking folks, it was all normal. Up until the Demolition Derby, everything seemed normal, outside of that obvious notice that participation has drastically dropped over the years. The animal stalls were less populated, the arts and crafts building was practically empty, and it just seemed like the fair is dying out. This is definitely unfortunate, but I cannot place what might be happening on this one. A few years ago I was entering photos in the fair and there was a point where the photo display extended halfway down the barn, and even completely filled the folding tables in front of the wall. Now, the display barely fills the display walls.

We moved over to the race track as the demolition derby was getting ready to begin and this lead back into the uncomfortable feelings surrounding the fair and where it is heading, and now extended into safety at the event.

Power Wheel Demolition Derby
Power Wheel Demolition Derby

The first thing I noticed when the derby was in its early moments was the lack of organization in the event itself. The announcer seemed completely lost, the crew on the ground seemed to not know what they were doing. The first moment I became concerned was with the border of the derby walls – the tires that are somehow expected to contain vehicles that are using as much power to destroy one another. In years past there would be excavators lining the outside of the derby wall, holding these tires in place. Usually one would act as a door on either side while another would moved to replace a tire that had been bumped. This year that was not the case.

Gaps in tires during the race at the Garrett County Fair
Example of one of the Gaps in tires during the race at the Garrett County Fair. This was not the largest of the gaps, as one car actually made it out of the area, but this was an example.

Cars would hit these tires and move them, allowing a massive gap in the perimeter surrounding the derby. There was one point that a car was forced out of the containment area and had to make a multi-point maneuver to get back into the derby – all while the derby was still going on. Once back in the containment area, the gaps to the spectators on the pit side was wide open – cars easily could have made it through. I don’t know what changed but this would have NEVER happened in years past.

In addition to the tire walls, the track was never re-wet. It was a hot day, one of the first derby’s in recent memory where it was completely dry and sunny. The track was wet down before the race, but the only water that made it on the track after that point was used to dilute some alcohol fuel that was spilled by a couple cars. When I was younger, I felt the safety crew over-did things with the water, this was the first time I was concerned about the lack of water. This, in addition to the missing walls was something I believed would be lead to issues with vehicles striking spectators. I sincerely thought I would see someone die at the demolition derby this year.

Controlled burn of Alcohol Fuel at the Garrett County Fair
Controlled burn of Alcohol Fuel at the Garrett County Fair

That moment almost happened next, but not with a spectator. A competitor that I believe went on to be a winner was hit so hard that his helmet/head got trapped under the roof of the car. He began flailing inside the car. The crowd in unison started pointing and yelling to the officials to stop the race. The car beside him noticed what was happening and began to frantically try to go help – only to realize the officials were letting the race continue. Finally, the officials put up a red flag – not waving it – just held out a red flag. Once the cars finally stopped an official slowly began walking over. The man finally freed himself by the time a race official made it to him. Luckily, he was ok, and able to continue.

Moving into the latter stages of the race, fans started to get disgruntled and rowdy. There have been some small 8.5″ x 11″ signs put up around the fence on the spectator side demanding that people not sit/stand along the fence – this is never enforced. The rule has existed as long as I can remember, but again, was never truly enforced. The fans in the stands decided to take things into their own hands on this night. After the event had been going on for a couple hours, someone in the stands threw ice down onto a woman who had been standing along the fence the whole night. She proceeded to turn around and hurl rocks up at the spectators in that section.

The last time I was at the derby in 2016 I really started noticing the need for law enforcement or at minimum security at these events. Usually the issues were contained in the pit area. Fists would be getting thrown down there, but things that year really came to a head as family and friends of competitors in the stands would get rowdy as well. That year I remember a massive brawl breaking out in the stands, and grabbing my wife and getting her out of there. I am a big guy, and can handle myself, but I will not leave my family in danger. Moving back to this year, there is definitely a need to have better security at these events. Enforce the rules, get people off of the fence – for their safety, and for the viewing enjoyment of those who are following the rules.

I sincerely hope that the fair board can get a handle on things – and fast. Between the outsourcing of help for the fair, the rude employees, and to the safety of the competitors and spectators, there is a definite issue here. The fair on the whole looks to be getting further and further from what it once was to where it is now.

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