Next year will likely be the Bangor State Fair’s first return to an extended schedule since before the COVID-19 pandemic after rain hindered the fair’s attendance and revenue this summer.
The 2024 fair is scheduled to begin on Thursday, July 25, next year and will offer agriculture, food and rides through Sunday, July 28. The fair’s midway will likely close for three days, but the agriculture offerings can continue, before the entire fair opens again on Thursday, Aug. 1, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 3, Bangor State Fair General Manager Chris McGrail said.
The two-weekend format is designed to maximize the fair’s visitorship and earnings if rain dampens part of the event. An extended schedule and expanded offerings will also help the fair recover some of the money it lost in the years following the pandemic.
“The ability for us to be successful comes with our ability to have multiple weekends, doing multiple demolition derbies, multiple concerts,” McGrail said in a presentation to Bangor city councilors on Monday. “Having the ability to have multiple weekends is important for our growth.”
Between 2017 and 2019, the 10-day fair saw an average of 28,290 visitors and garnered $407,220 in revenue on average.
Attendance and revenue have been slowly recovering since the pandemic, but the fair schedule was shortened to four days between 2021 and 2023, reducing the amount the event could earn. Those years’ fairs saw an average of 14,520 patrons and earned $312,244 on average.
The Bangor State Fair, which dates back to 1849, was canceled altogether in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While this year’s fair saw more visitors and higher earnings than 2021 and 2022, and the agriculture portion returned after being noticeably absent for the past three years, McGrail said there are plenty of improvements to be made.
This year, Smokey’s Greater Shows, which provides the fair’s carnival midway, promised fair organizers 22 rides, but delivered only 19, McGrail said. Some of the fair’s most popular rides also required frequent maintenance throughout the weekend.
“Thankfully they were able to get the rides back up and running, unlike prior years,” McGrail said. “It’s certainly never a good thing when one of the adult rides out of the small selection they bring is broken for the entire weekend and folks are demanding refunds.”
Food vendors also experienced a few hiccups this year, compared with prior years.
Though popular food options returned, including doughboys and french fries, the fair’s concessions lacked variety, McGrail said. Some stands were also too close together, which caused lines to bottleneck.
“We’re out in the cold when it comes to the food that’s offered during the fair,” McGrail said. “We have no say in who comes or how many options they have. If Smokey’s wants to have one doughboy stand, they’re going to have one doughboy stand.”
Many of the fair’s food vendors also didn’t accept credit cards, which forced attendees to use nearby ATMs that eventually ran out of cash and weren’t refilled over the weekend.
Looking ahead to next year, McGrail said fair organizers want to partner with a new provider that will commit to bringing the amount and variety of rides and food patrons want.
Future fairs may feature more day and night events in the grandstand venue, from monster truck exhibitions to antique car shows.
Next year may also have a smaller stage to feature local and regional artists from a variety of genres.
After the fair’s agriculture portion returned this year for the first time since the pandemic, McGrail said he’d like to bring in more livestock and add “grange style exhibits,” like baked goods competitions and quilt making.
There’s also interest in adding new, smaller attractions such as ax throwing and wood carving, and ultimately to expand the fair’s footprint and reach in the community.
Councilor Jonathan Sprague said he feels the event has degraded in recent years from a fair to a carnival, and he’d be “disinclined to continue the fair” if organizers weren’t considering ways to improve and expand the event.
“I think it has gotten to be a poor representation of the community,” Sprague said Monday. “I think you’re on track to make it better, and you have some time to do that, but if we don’t achieve some of those things, it’s not worthwhile to hold a glorified carnival.”