TOPSFIELD — When America’s oldest agricultural fair gets underway Friday night, it will look a little different than it did two years ago.
The Topsfield Fair was canceled last year due to the pandemic — just the third time in its more than 200-year history that it hadn’t run — and just last week, the Topsfield Board of Health ordered that all fairgoers and staff members mask up while indoors at the fairgrounds.
The decision comes as COVID-19 cases in Essex County and Massachusetts have continued to tick upward with the highly infectious delta variant and more communities reimpose indoor mask mandates.
In terms of the fairgrounds, indoors is defined as “a location with a roof and walls covering 50% or more of the perimeter and is a location that is open to or accessible to members of the public.”
Topsfield Fair General Manager James O’Brien said the mask mandate will be advertised on the fair’s website as well as on signs posted outside and inside the fairgrounds. Additionally, there will be hundreds of hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations set up. Anyone who isn’t feeling well should stay home, he said.
“Our goal is to always provide a safe and enjoyable atmosphere at the Topsfield Fair,” O’Brien said.
The traditional Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off, which is in its 37th year, will kick things off Friday evening, followed over the rest of the fair’s run by the return of the Nerveless Nocks Thrill Show, Morrisville Equine College 6-Horse Hitch, Swifty Swine Racing & Swimming Pigs, Figure 8 Race, Demolition Derby and other favorites.
And there’s a few new events, such as a Touch-a-Truck on Oct. 8, a Myopia Polo Match on Oct. 9, and a bike stunt show that runs all week.
The hot dog eating contest is also back for its third year. The showdown takes place Oct. 2 at 3 p.m. on the Trianon Stage.
Contestants must be over 16 and will have seven minutes to consume as many quarter-pound Hebrew National Hot Dogs (including the buns) as they can. The first 15 people to register, starting at 2:30 p.m. the day of the contest, will participate. The winner will receive $203 from the B’nai B’rith booth, the event’s sponsor.
In terms of live entertainment, the lineup features concerts from 38 Special and music icons such as Phil Vassar, Frankie Avalon and Tony Orlando, as well as local rising stars Andrew Marshall from “The Voice” and Colin Jamieson from “American Idol.”
“It’s been five years since Frankie Avalon performed at the fair and I’ve been looking forward to having him back ever since,” O’Brien said. Avalon takes the stage Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. and Orlando, who last performed at the fair in 2015, is on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m., while Vassar is up Oct. 8 at 7 p.m.
Marshall and Jamieson are both Boxford residents who recently appeared on the popular TV singing competitions. Marshall will perform at the fair Oct. 10, at 2 and 7 p.m., while Jamieson goes on Oct. 11, at noon and 5 p.m. Concerts take place on the Grandstand stage.
This is also the 50th anniversary of the Mrs. Essex County Pageant, which is set for Oct. 10. Senior Citizen Day is Oct. 4; Military Day is Oct. 5.
Another local highlight in the run-up to the fair was a big thank-you extended to Salem resident Curtis White. He was recently presented with a lifetime achievement award by the fair for his year-round efforts organizing the museum in the Grange Building, which he has been doing since 1983.
White spent 32 years with the National Park Service at both Saugus Iron Works and Salem Maritime before retiring 1½ years ago.
The Topsfield Fair runs Oct. 1-11; regular ticket prices are $15 on Oct. 1 and 4-7, and then $20 on Oct. 8, weekends and Columbus Day (Oct. 11). Discount tickets are available online through Sept. 27. Children under age 8 are free with an adult.
For more information on these and other events, or to buy tickets, go to www.topsfieldfair.org.