I have a love/hate thing with the Common Ground Country Fair. Mostly love. And not really hate, just a cranky curmudgeonliness that flares up from time to time.
As almost anyone can tell you, the fair is a rich smorgasbord of information, entertainment and commerce. I am at least passingly interested in almost every single thing there is to see, do and buy there: gorgeous vegetable and flower gardens, sheepdog demonstrations, fabulous and inventive Maine-produced food, shape-note singing, worm composting, Angora rabbits, Native American baskets, the Wednesday Spinners, solar energy displays, political and social action tables, gorgeous handcrafted jewelry and pottery, Morris dancers, the most beautiful livestock in New England and so much more.
I remember the fair in its early years at the Litchfield fairgrounds. I sold hummus sandwiches in pita pockets there, back when both hummus and pita were exotic newcomers to the American palate. This was long before there was a lively, gourmet farm-to-table movement, before before local foods were coveted by high-end restaurants, before the “foodie” culture existed.
When Common Ground outgrew Litchfield, I followed it to Windsor. I was excited when it found its permanent home in Unity. Although I’ve always lived a little on the periphery of the whole back-to-the-land movement, and by nature resist being too much of a political joiner or activist, the fair has always felt like a creative extension of my life. The ideas and values it embodies are ones to which I relate, and the whole ambitious, exuberant event itself was envisioned, organized and brought to life by members of my generation. My tribe.
And now, 38 years later, it’s become a tradition that each year attracts tens of thousands of enthusiastic attendees from across Maine and far beyond its borders. It appeals to all kinds of people — young and old, wealthy and scraping by, urban and rural, Republican and Democrat. (Well, okay … maybe not so many Republicans…) Many devotees come every year and would no more dream of missing the Common Ground than they would miss spring planting, the Superbowl kickoff or a loved one’s birthday.
My own attendance has been spottier, but I’ve never skipped more than a couple of years without experiencing a kind of withdrawal. Even though I am increasingly crowd-averse as I get older, and even though sometimes those Morris dancers seem just a tad silly, and even though I marvel at how much I spend on lunch, Common Ground is part of my experience of Maine, a way of checking in on the cultural issues that matter to me.
It’s good to see a new generation of younger folks coming along, too — farmers and growers, artists, entrepreneurs, crafters and spinners, social activists, musicians and dancers — sporting their own edgy outfits and ideas. They boost my confidence that the Common Ground Country Fair — and the quirky, practical, innovative, open-minded state I love — are in good hands.