When the Hillbilly Gypsies wrapped up a spirited rendition of “Bile ’em Cabbage Down” last weekend to the applause of a small but appreciative gathering of bluegrass die-hards, announcer Bob Veatch walked in front of the Lucketts Community Center’s gazebo stage and proclaimed, “That’s it for the Lucketts Fair forever.”
With that, its run as one of the most popular country fairs in Loudoun County ended.
Over the decades, thousands have flocked to the event every summer to soak up the family-friendly atmosphere and enjoy the fair’s hayrides, petting zoo, fruit pie contests, cakewalks, barbecues, hand-scooped ice cream, quilt raffles, juried crafts and first-rate bluegrass music.
Several organizers said the fair had fallen victim to competition, development and dwindling attendance. In recent years, the fair has attracted about one-third of the attendance of its heyday, when it drew as many as 18,000 people over the weekend, said Hilary Cooley, manager of the community center.
“Crafts fairs are a dying breed,” she said. “Sooner or later, they get smaller and smaller, and that’s true of this one, as well. People can buy crafts” online.
“They have so many other things to do,” Cooley added. “We have [dozens of] wineries in the county, and they all have events every weekend. So we decided . . . to do something different.”
The fair’s organizers offered a variety of opinions about the reasons for the event’s decline.
“It started out as a country fair, and it’s gone more commercial,” said lifelong Lucketts resident Joyce Webb, who helped launch the fair almost 45 years ago. “It should have stayed more country.”
“It’s a lot of work, and it’s hard to get volunteers,” she added. “You end up with maybe three or four doing everything.”
Teresa McKenzie, president of the Lucketts Community Center Advisory Board, which ran the fair, said that the number of vendors selling food and crafts had been declining along with the attendance and volunteers. The final straw, she said, was the county’s purchase of a grassy parcel of land next to the community center for the planned construction of a fire station.
“Losing our main parking field put us over the edge,” she said. “We’ve lost probably 80 percent of our parking.”
“It’s bittersweet, very much bittersweet,” advisory board member Kay Quitter said. “It will leave a void, because it’s been so much a part of the community and a place where the community comes together. But, as with all things where there’s a void, something somehow or another always comes in to fill it.”
McKenzie said the advisory board is making plans to replace the fair with a music festival, starting in September 2018. It may not be limited to bluegrass music, which has been a mainstay of the community center and the fair for decades, she said.
Webb, 76, and Dick Snooks, 80, were among a group of 10 Lucketts-area residents who launched the fair in 1973 as a fundraiser to save the old Lucketts schoolhouse from demolition after a new elementary school was constructed next door.
Their efforts paid off. The county eventually reclaimed the building as part of a program to convert old school buildings into community centers, and it reopened as the Lucketts Community Center in 1981.
For more than 35 years, Snooks has been barbecuing ribs at the fair and dishing them out to hungry customers at the Lucketts Ruritan Club’s tent. He was given the honor of ringing the bell in the former schoolhouse to open the fair this year.
Snooks said he was unhappy to see it come to an end.
“I hate to give it up,” he said. “I don’t like it. But there’s nothing I can do about it.” Snooks is looking for another location in Lucketts for the barbecue concession, which he said the Ruritan Club has used to raise funds to help children in the community.
“What we’re going to try to do is have four or five vendors and keep it a community thing,” he said. “If we can get some of the old crafters that still live here, fine.”
Advisory board member Mary Gustafson expressed similar thoughts.
“I just don’t feel that the fair is totally dead,” she said. “I think that it’s going to come back again in another permutation. . . . It’s up to us to dream it up. It’s up to us to make it happen.”