BANGOR, Maine — The 160th Bangor State Fair will showcase new events, including the Maine’s Got Talent show, in which people can display their talents for two minutes; a farmers’ draft horse show and a team penning competition.
One of the biggest changes in this year’s fair is the price — $10 buys entry to the fair, as well as all the events, contests and rides.
“We felt after last year that the economy wasn’t getting any better and could be worse this year,” said the director of Bass Park, Mike Dyer. “We had to do something that would allow people to get out to the fair and not worry about spending a ton of money.”
As an example, Dyer said last year a teenager would pay $7 to get into the fair and then $20 more for endless rides on a special wristband day.
“The hope is that they will decide to do it more than once,” Dyer said. “People are thinking seriously about what things cost. We wanted to make the fair an affordable luxury.”
Dyer and his team started planning for the fair last November, picking the price and events.
“Planning the fair is a fine balance between the tradition [of] what people expect and the wow factor,” Dyer said.
One new element to help bring in the wow factor is a tiger show. Handlers will educate fairgoers daily with their eight Bengal tigers.
The fair’s cats weigh between 200 and 425 pounds and come in every type of Bengal coloring, from the classic orange-and-black or white-and-black felines to the more rare gold-and-red mix, of which there are 70 in the world. There is also the rarer snow-white tiger, which is white with gold stripes and of which there are only 40 in the world.
“It’s not like a circus act — it’s an educational act based on natural behaviors,” said Mike Inks, a handler from Tigers of India based in Ponce de Leon, Fla.
Inks wants fairgoers to be entertained but leave with a greater appreciation and education about the endangered species.
“We’re a preservation program for the Bengal tigers,” he said.
Inside the large, circular cage where the tigers play, trainers are likely to be licked, hugged and groaned at.
“He’s just being schmoozey. He’s a very lovey, schmoozey boy,” Inks said about the golden tabby tiger Bhutan when he jumped up and put his front paws on trainer Andy Spolyar and started to groan.
The crowd stays about 10 feet back from the cage during shows. Umbrellas are strongly discouraged; the star of the show, Nina, a black-and-orange tiger, simply despises them.
“They want to kill them,” said Brad Guy, a tiger keeper.
At the show, viewers will see Nina do her “tribute to Michael Jackson,” which involves a tiger-style moonwalk, while the trainers educate the crowd about tiger behavior.
“People’s perception is that they’re ferocious, snarling demons. They’re not,” Inks said. “They sleep most of the day and they’re very affectionate.”
Other events planned for the fair are new agricultural programs, including a team penning competition. For this event, horseback riders herd and pen as many heads of livestock as they can in an allotted time. This event is a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.
“I’m told it’s a huge event and people who enjoy horses will enjoy that,” Dyer said of the Aug. 8 event.
The Disc-Connected K9’s show will be back for its second year.
“It was so popular we had to bring it back,” Dyer said. “The dogs do incredible stuff. It’s a great show.”
Other animal exhibits will include the staple Old McDonald’s Farm, but this year Old McDonald got his own renovated barn to display hatching chicks, tiny piglets and other creatures.
The livestock superintendent, Rindy Fogler, said she has received requests for more horses.
“We have had draft horses, but we will now have pleasure horses in the barn all week,” Fogler said.
The agricultural parts of the fair give fairgoers a chance to get close to the animals, but Fogler said the fair also helps the farmers.
“It provides an opportunity for them to showcase their farms and animals. They do win prize money for their competitions and they gain recognition,” Fogler said.
Some of the animals are for sale. Winning a fair competition could mean a better price.
“It’s almost similar to the dog show circuit — if you can say your dog won Westminster Dog Show, your puppies are more valuable.”
The Bangor State Fair runs from 2 p.m. July 31 until 8 p.m. Aug. 9. Admission is $10 and includes rides. Children under 3 are free, without rides. On Aug. 6 seniors get in free. On-site parking is $5.
For information visit www.bangorstatefair.com.