New twists, old standbys bring crowds to Hopkinton State Fair

Demolition derby driver Brannigan McNeil of Loudon standing proudly beside the derby car that her brother affectionately named 'Pretty Kitty.'

CONTOOCOOK — Thousands of people made their way to the Hopkinton State Fair over the Labor Day weekend to indulge in a bevy of food and festivities.

The 103-year-old fair, which began in 1915 as a two-day agricultural event by the Contoocook Board of Trade, has blossomed into a Labor Day weekend-long celebration of local food, entertainment and fellowship.

Along with traditional fair mainstays like carnival rides, fried dough and expositions from local chapters of the 4-H Club, this year’s fair featured a rodeo show, musical performances by local artists and a multi-day demolition derby championship complete with a $9,000 cash prize for the winner.

One of those contestants was Brannigan McNeil of Loudon, who said she decided to try her hand as a first-time derby driver because it was something she’d never done before.

“I’ve always wanted to do it,” McNeil said as she stood proudly beside the No. 13 car that she, her father and brother spent several weeks prepping for the contest. “All my friends are doing it, so why not?”

At the lower-octane end of the fair spectrum were attendees like Sierra Jones, 22, of Manchester, who said she came for the giant turkey legs but stayed for the carnival games and an up-close encounter with monarch butterflies at the Butterfly Experience tent.

“Being up close and interactive with something so fragile was a unique experience and a great addition,” Jones said. “And I enjoyed watching the carnival barkers try and profit off fragile male masculinity.”

April Arel of Salisbury said she’s been coming to the fair since 2013, when her husband, Travis, first told her about it.

“We go to the fair to support local vendors, enjoy our favorite fair foods - fried dough and maple floats from the Maple Sugar House - and to see the barn animals. We’re both huge animal lovers,” Arel said.

April said she and her husband love to kick off the fair season at Hopkinton because of its commitment to local fare.

“Larger fairs are all about the rides and the games. This fair is about the agriculture and local talent.”