HIAWASSEE — The pace is generally a little slower up here in the North Georgia mountains, but not in the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds front office as the annual Georgia Mountain Fair approached.
“We’ve got so much going on it’s unbelievable,” said general manager Hilda Thomason, who rushed in after scurrying around town to run a few errands. A chorus of ringing phones welcomed her back.
The upcoming event, planned for July 21-29 (the carnival portion opens a day earlier), is the 67th one. Thomason’s been here for 36 (the short drive in front of the office is named “Hilda Circle” in her honor), but she’s excited year after year to welcome visitors to her hometown and a step back in time.
“It’s the most beautiful place to live,” she said. “I love the cool nights in the summertime. I love the people, the community. All the people here are so friendly and nice.”
If her expectations are correct, she’s about to make about 35,000 new friends.
“Atlanta’s our main market,” she said. “They come from all over the Southeast, but I would say 50 percent come from Atlanta.”
So, what can we expect? Crafts and exhibits, carnival rides, demonstrations of quilting, blacksmithing, soap and hominy making, moonshining and more. A chance to tour log cabins, a general store, a one-room schoolhouse, a saw mill and other structures dating from the mid- to late 1800s. Entertainers including Brenda Lee, Rhonda Vincent, Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers and Mickey Gilley. And the Miss Georgia Mountain Fair pageant.
“We’ve got lots of new entertainment this year,” she said. “New demonstrations and new food booths. It’s an experience.”
Much of the activities take place outside. Musical acts perform in an air-conditioned music hall, and displays of items such as vintage tractors and other farm equipment will be housed in an exhibition hall. That’s where you’ll find Jerry A. Taylor and part of his collection of antique organs.
“I have about 35, spanning from the 1840s to the 1950s,” he said. “Music was always part of my family life.”
The organist at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Hayesville, N.C. (about 10 miles north of Hiawassee), he plans to display 11 of them during the fair. He naturally can’t recommend one over the other.
“I can’t say that — they’re all my favorite,” he said. Although his instruments are old and unique, he will let even young visitors have a hands-on look.
“They’re intrigued by it,” he said. “I let the kids play, with supervision.”
Kids 12 and younger get in free, by the way. For everyone else, daily admission is $12. There’s no additional fee for musical performances, but midway rides do have an additional cost.
“Where else can you go for $12?” Thomason noted. “It’s a very affordable opportunity.”
Some things to keep in mind: No outside coolers are allowed. Parking is free and shuttles will ferry visitors in from off-site parking areas. Pets are allowed only in the campground area if you’re staying there; they’re not allowed onto the fairgrounds site.
Thomason advises guests to dress for comfort and to pace themselves. There are plenty of large trees under which to seek shade, and the breezes off Lake Chatuge are refreshing. But still, this is July in Georgia.
Mostly, Thomason wants guests to leave the bustle of metro Atlanta in the rearview mirror for a while, and enjoy a step back in time.
“It’s unique. It’s our heritage,” she said. “It’s just a real country fair.”
Georgia Mountain Fair
July 21-29. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. The carnival, which begins a day earlier than the overall fair, opens at 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Musical performances vary daily. $12 for a day pass, $33 for a three-day pass and $90 for the entire duration. Free admission for children 12 and younger. 1311 Music Hall Road, Hiawassee. See georgiamountainfairgrounds.com for full details.