The Alferd Packer Memorial String Band, inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame last week, has been playing at the Vinland Fair for perhaps 35 years now, says hammer dulcimer player Matt Kirby.
“We are Lawrence’s longest running gag of a band,” Kirby says. “We love the fair, and the fair appears to love us. The feeling is mutual. We are always really happy to be there.”
The Vinland Fair, 1736 North 700 Road in Baldwin City, is a free, three-day event featuring old-fashioned activities such as scarecrow building, nail driving, hay bale throwing and tractor pulling.
Brenna Hawley-Craig has been involved with the Vinland Fair for a decade, but this will be the first year her kids are old enough to participate in its activities.
Hawley-Craig’s twins, age 3, will be taking part in the fair’s footrace, which is one of several field-day events that take place on Friday. There will also be a sack race, a softball throw, tug of war and an antique tractor pull.
The schedule for each day is filled with fun “old-timey” activities, says Hawley-Craig, one of the event’s organizers.
“You get to be around members of your community and see fun things like the tractor pull, lawn tractor pull, old-time farm skills competition and more,” she says. “The fair is a fun, old-fashioned way to wrap up the summer.”
Before the Alferd Packer Band plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, there will be a talent show, which starts at 6 p.m. Kirby, the talent show organizer, says participants have three minutes to do whatever they’d like.
The talent show is open to “anyone who wants to get up and jump around, tell a joke, do a magic trick, or play some music,” Kirby says.
“The talent show is not a contest,” he says. “It’s about entertaining your aunts and uncles after Sunday dinner by blowing on bottles in different pitches … In the past I have encouraged people to get up and tell a story. There are so many things that are … worth sitting and listening to, so many ways to be entertained.”
Through the years, the talent show has featured some of Vinland’s young talents, Kirby says. One participant went on to become a circus acrobat. Another went on to write for The Second City, a famous improv comedy theater.
Some of Kirby’s talent show highlights that have occurred over the years include a man who called himself “Galaxy” robot dancing, a group of teens performing circus acrobatics and a young girl hypnotizing a chicken.
Linda Tilton, of Lawrence, will be playing the ukulele at the talent show.
“What I like about the fair is how it captures a sense of an old-time rural community,” Tilton says. “I love the food, horticultural and needlework contests. It’s interesting to see the variety of animals. I like the variety of performances, including singing, clog dancing and poetry recitation. One year there was a girl on a trapeze.”
Occasionally, there are farm animals involved. At 11 a.m. Saturday, there will be a pet parade and a box turtle race. Participation for the latter event is often small, says Hawley-Craig — box turtles are harder to find these days. But the pet parade is a Vinland favorite, inspiring local children to dress their pets up in order to win the “Best Decorated Live Animal” contest. There is also a best-dressed doll and best-dressed stuffed animal contest at the same time.
Oh, and the pies. Hawley-Craig is making at least 10, but not any that would need refrigeration. Apple, peach, pear, pecan and cherry — there will be berry pies aplenty, says Hawley-Craig, as long as you come early enough. As the fair goes on, the variety in pie flavors dwindles, so Hawley-Craig advises attendees to come before the pies sell out.
Tilton will be buying some pie to support the 4-H Club.
“When I lived in Kansas City, my Lawrence friends always talked about the Vinland Fair, so when I moved to Lawrence (in 2011) I was really excited to go,” she says. “I’ve been there every year since then because it is absolutely charming.”
Vinland Fair highlights:
See more on the fair’s website.
Thursday, Aug. 4:
6 p.m. – Talent show
7 p.m. – Baldwin High School Band plays
7:30 p.m. – Alferd Packer Memorial String Band plays
Friday, Aug. 5:
10 a.m. – Stock bicycle races
Noon – Field day events: foot race, sack race, softball throw and tug of war
6 p.m. – Tractor pull
7:30 p.m. – Live music
Saturday, Aug. 6:
10 a.m. – Registration for box turtle race and pet parade
11 a.m. – Box turtle race and pet parade
2:30 p.m. – Pedal tractor pull
7:30 p.m. – Homemade ice cream serving
7:30 p.m. – Live music
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.