LOCKPORT -- For almost 60 years, the Niagara County Fair has been a summertime tradition.
It might not be on the cutting edge of, well, anything, but a lot of people seem to like it that way.
Last year's attendance of 28,000 people over the five-day event was an increase of 4,000 from the 2005 total.
Organizers hope that figure will grow again during this year's event, which starts Wednesday and runs through Sunday.
"There are festivals all over every weekend with free parking," said Cornell Cooperative Extension educator Paul E. Lehman. "We'd like to think that what's special about the County Fair is the nostalgia aspect. I think a person has to be satisfied with less excitement. There are still people out there who will sit in the bleachers and watch a program of livestock judging."
Although the number of farms and farmers in the county has been declining for years, the fair continues to provide what Niagara County Cooperative Extension Executive Director Paul W. Westfall called "a down-home atmosphere."
Westfall, who is in his 10th year in charge of the fair, said there are frequent discussions about jazzing it up, but organizers have found they need to tread carefully.
"The young farmers of [the] Niagara County Farm Bureau said, 'We've got to spice this up a little bit,' " Lehman said.
For example, Lehman said there has been talk of setting up a beer tent, but there's a bit of reluctance to the idea because of the risk of rowdiness.
So this year, there has been a compromise.
The young farmers are sponsoring wine tasting from 4 to 10 p.m. daily, except Sunday, when the tent will be open from noon to 5 p.m.
Niagara Landing Wine Cellars, Schulze Vineyards and Winery, Vizcarra Vineyards, and Spring Lake Winery will participate, charging $1 for three samples. Welch's Grape Juice, made from Niagara County-grown Concord grapes, also will be available.
"It's still a dry fair, except for agricultural products from Niagara County, such as wine grapes," Lehman said. "We don't grow hops here, so no beer tent."
Last year, in an attempt to give the fair a more modern feel, organizers booked some harder-edged rock groups as entertainment, but the feedback from fairgoers was negative.
Westfall said he received complaints that the music was too loud, the lyrics were objectionable and the style of music was all wrong.
This year's entertainment offerings are firmly in the family-friendly groove.
The Bar-room Buzzards, a Dixieland band, will perform at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the main stage.
During the annual chicken barbecue Thursday, Buffalo and Brandy will performg at 3 p.m.
Local country band 90 West will be on stage Friday from 6 to 10 p.m., and on Saturday, the oldies rock band Rock-It will play from 6 to 10 p.m.
>Spicing up favorites
"We don't have a grandstand," Lehman said. "It was torn down years ago and wouldn't meet safety standards today anyway. How can you get big-name entertainers without a grandstand?"
But that good old chicken barbecue, which starts at 12:30 p.m. Thursday and continues until the last chicken is charred, will offer something new.
This year, for the first time, takeout orders will be taken without requiring fairgoers to pay full admission -- but the offer is available only from 4 to 6 p.m. Dinners cost $7.50 each.
Last year's new addition, the greased pole climb, will be back and gooier than ever.
"People like that," Westfall said.
Teams will try to climb the pole Wednesday through Friday at 8 p.m., with the championship finals at 8 p.m. Saturday.
The speaker at this year's Farm-City Breakfast will be Linda McCandless, communications director for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. She will discuss the 125th anniversary of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva.
4-H activities start at 9 a.m. every day of the fair, except for Sunday, when they start at 8 a.m.
Extension educator Kim Mansfield, who's in charge of many of the 4-H programs, said there are about 400 children participating in the program, a number that has held fairly steady in recent years.
Other than the livestock exhibits, there will be about 1,000 nonperishable exhibits in the auditorium of the 4-H Training Center. Crafts are the most popular item, but woodworking, clothing and even rock collections also are exhibited.
Food, flowers and vegetables also will be exhibited, with about 200 items expected to be put on display. Judges are "volunteers selected for knowledge in that area and their ability to talk to children," Mansfield said.
The fair is on firm financial ground, Westfall said.
"It does generate more than the expenses are," he said.
Lehman said he expects the County Legislature would like the fair to make a profit. The county does not subsidize the fair directly, but it did send Cooperative Extension $352,000 this year as one of the county's "partner agencies."
"We can't put taxpayers' money at risk," Lehman said.
He said the fair went bankrupt twice in the past, and that's how Cooperative Extension acquired the Niagara County Fairgrounds in 1955, reputedly for $1.
"We have a good facility here, although [it's] a little rough around the edges," Lehman said.
But for a classic car show, an antique tractor exhibition, a bubble gum blowing contest, mannequin modeling, daily honeybee demonstrations by Geri Hens of Pendleton and the 33rd annual livestock auction Friday night, there's no place finer.
>Niagara County Fair
Where: The fairgrounds, on Lake Avenue (Route 78), just north of the City of Lockport border.
Hours: Opens at 8 a.m. Wednesday for the annual Farm-City Breakfast; 4-H activities start at 9 a.m., except for next Sunday, when they start at 8 a.m. The fair will be open until 10 p.m. except next Sunday, when it closes at 6 p.m.
Admission: $3 for adults, $2 for senior citizens and children ages 6 to 12, and, next Sunday only, $5 per carload, regardless of size. There is no additional charge to park. Five-day passes: $8 for adults, $5 for children and seniors.
Rides: There will be about 20 rides and 20 games on the midway, supplied by Amusements of Utica. A wristband for unlimited rides costs $15 a day. Individual rides can cost as much as $5.
Calendar: Listing of the major events can be found on Page NC2.