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State fairs herald the return of summer — but without the cheese curd eating contests and grape stomping

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Giant cream puffs will be sold, but there will be no cheese curd eating contest at the Wisconsin State Fair this year.

After last year’s cancellations due to Covid restrictions, states are bringing back their annual fairs with increased attention to safety, cleaning and disinfecting — plus some changes.

“We are seeing people gravitate towards normalcy — the events, people and places they missed out on last year,” said Misty Belles, managing director of the travel agency network Virtuoso. “Local celebrations that bring together communities, from street fairs to state fairs, are returning.”

At this year’s Iowa State Fair, which runs Aug. 12-22, there will be no a farm-to-fair dinner, a family style sit-down meal for 500 during which Iowa farmers answer questions, Mindy Williamson, the fair’s marketing director, said. Nor will there be the usual on-site grape stomping. However, fairgoers will find a new park for tractor pulls.

“We are acutely aware of reduced budgets and reduced staffing in certain areas,” she said.

At the Indiana State Fair, which runs July 30-Aug. 22, Covid vaccinations will be available and fully vaccinated individuals will not be required to wear masks. Eating contests — including an ice cream eating championship — are shelved this year. And to spread out the crowds, fair organizers have added a weekend at the front of the fair schedule but are closing the fair Mondays and Tuesdays.

New England’s Eastern States Exposition, known as “The Big E,” will run Sept. 17-Oct. 3 with no restrictions, CEO Eugene Cassidy said. “Minor changes will be unrecognizable, while others may be more obvious, like a combined daily parade instead of two separate parades,” he said.

The Oregon State Fair, which runs Aug. 27-Sept. 6, is also back at full capacity, with no mask or physical distancing requirements or proof of vaccination, fair officials say. But dates for the California State Fair — Cal Expo — have not been set because the state fairgrounds are still being used as a mass vaccination center. “As a result, we have been slow to contract with event promoters,” Tom Martinez, Cal Expo’s chief deputy executive officer, said.

As cities and states open back up again, they are going all out to get visitors’ attention — and their travel dollars — beyond state fairs.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and the country music star Brad Paisley kicked off a “Tennessee on Me” campaign to promote tourism, offering 10,000 airline vouchers for Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines valued at $250 each for visitors who book a two-night trip to Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis or Chattanooga.

“Tennessee is known around the world for its music, scenic beauty and iconic attractions,” Lee said. “We’re ready for people to come back to Tennessee ‘on me,’ to enjoy live music all over the state created by our talented musicians and songwriters.”

Theme parks and attractions from Disney to Dollywood have been welcoming visitors for months, with safety protocols already in place — but with summer shifting into high gear, more attractions are reopening.

The Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood reopened June 26 after being closed for over a year. Opening hours are adjusted and there are some new post-pandemic additions to the tour, including an expanded Central Perk Café where guests can dine in re-created sets inspired by the show.

At Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, “Our guests are enjoying the Summer Celebration, which opened on June 25 and includes the new multisensory fireworks and drone show,” Pete Owens, a Dollywood Company spokesman, said.

In New York City, the interior of the Statue of Liberty up to the pedestal/interior (but not the crown) reopened to the public ahead of the July 4 weekend. “We’re seeing a homecoming to normalcy with an abundance of new and returning events and attractions across all five boroughs,” said Chris Heywood of NYC & Company marketing company, which includes NYC Restaurant Week and the U.S. Open.

After being dismantled and made over, SkyWheel Myrtle Beach in South Carolina is back spinning, with a new wheel structure, refurbished gondolas, and new state-of-the art lighting systems for light shows.

Even the Enchanted Forest theme park, near Salem, Oregon, is welcoming visitors again. The family-owned attraction had received death threats when it announced masks and proof of vaccination would be required at the entrance, so it pushed back its opening date until Covid restrictions were relaxed.

Cruises are also back — though limited this summer due to capacity restrictions.

“It’s taken 15 months to be able to say, but cruising is officially back — and for North Americans, there are a number of options to consider,” Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of Cruise Critic, said.

Ships are scheduled to depart Florida and Texas for Caribbean cruises, and Seattle for Alaskan cruises, and travelers can also fly to St. Martin or the Bahamas and leave on select ships from those port, she said.

The summer concert season has also returned to many cities, with Lollapalooza at Chicago’s Grant Park on July 29 with headliners including Miley Cyrus, Foo Fighters and Post Malone. The Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival is scheduled for Sept. 2-5 in Manchester, Tennessee.

In the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, Tanglewood is back with a full summer season of performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and concerts by Brandi Carlile, soul-gospel icon Mavis Staples and folk singer Judy Collins.

Maryland’s DelFest, founded by bluegrass pioneer Del McCoury, is also back on the books for Sept. 23-26 — and McCoury, now 82, said he is anxious for the festival’s return.

“It’s the longest I’ve ever gone without playing, and since my two sons are in the band, it was especially hard,” he said. “I think it’s going to be very emotional. Tears have come to my eyes many times when I read the notes about how excited longtime fans are to be coming back.”




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