Recently my friend Joan asked me, "Norma, how much bigger would you say the New York Sheep & Wool Festival is than Vermont's?"
My original answer was "five times." Then I realized that my knee-jerk answer was geared more towards my estimate of the relative acreages of the two fairgrounds, though even that is now a question in my mind. As I was driving down to the festival on Friday, I was thinking more about the question and revised my estimate to 10 times larger. And all day yesterday I was thinking and thinking and walking around and revising my estimate. Perhaps 15. No, maybe 20 times the size.
I tried to capture in images the size of this madness as well as I could yesterday, but it's very hard to do.
This year, the crowds seemed smaller to me than last year. It was crowded enough, mind you, but the bathroom lines were not as long and the crowds maybe not quite as crushing. Last year's weather was stupendously gorgeous, and this year was nice enough, but very cold. Perhaps that means that the locals didn't come out in such huge numbers? I did notice that there seemed to be fewer tour buses parked on the far side of the field -- is it a function of the bad economy, or is that just my faulty memory?
Also, Leigh and I decided to tackle the grounds in a different order than we have in previous years, and maybe by doing that, we avoided some of the unpleasantly huge crowds. I don't know, but I do know that despite the cold (thankfully I was dressed "just right" for the cold, whereas I know that a lot of people were suffering from it) yesterday was thoroughly enjoyable -- no question about it!
I've attended NY S & W for several years running, I've attended Maryland Sheep & Wool a few times, and the Vermont and New Hampshire festivals. Each one has its charms. They have some similarities, and some very substantial differences. New York's festival remains one of my favorites. It's big -- very big. The grounds are charming and extremely well appointed, the festival seems very well run, the town of Rhinebeck is beautiful, and though the crowds in the barns and vendors' booths can feel crushing at times, there is room outside to breathe and walk comfortably.
There's an almost staggering variety of things to do and see -- quirky little oddments of entertainment such as the circus-style guy in black tights walking around on two big horses last year (I didn't see him this year) and the Bolivian musicians, to dog shows and various and sundry fiber demonstrations, and on and on.
And though it is big, it is still possible to run into several groups of friends all throughout the day and have comfy chats. And the food -- ohmygod, the food. There is everything from regular old fair food to gourmet lamb chops with sauteed spinach, artisan cheeses, gourmet coffees, wines and desserts.
If you've never been to this festival, you really are missing out on something special.