Local resident films ‘Essence of Fair’

By Josette Keelor

When Roy Stokes of Maurertown took 9-year-old Devin Clark to the Shenandoah County Fair with him one night to scope out filming opportunities on the carnival rides, he expected the following night’s shooting to be a breeze.

Instead, “I found out I had great video of my feet,” Stokes said. He and Devin had to return for a third night to do it all again. But there are far worse things than having to return to the county fair night after night and record area residents having a good time.

On the cover of his short film “Essence of the Fair,” Stokes said it’s “the ultimate keepsake for the annual summer event we know as the County Fair.”

The film begins quietly with a quick image of the DVD cover followed by a box of items representative of any fair — like E.B. White’s children’s book “Charlotte’s Web,” which is also quoted at the film’s end in a recording by the author that Stokes found on YouTube.

Then a guitar strikes up the first chords of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine,” and we’re off and running to the fair. Rabbits, chickens, horses and more make up the first eight minutes of the 32-minute, 12-second video that Stokes posted to YouTube and has provided for free on DVD at the Virginia Cooperative Extension office in Woodstock. Stokes said an optional $2 donation will go to the 4-H youth program.

He hasn’t videotaped the fair in 20 years, not since his video equipment was stolen from his home, but he couldn’t stay away for long.

“[The fair] was an inspiration,” said Stokes, a carpenter by trade.

“This time I did it purely as a free artistic project,” he said.

He spent five eight-hour days at the fair, plus five hours editing files in his home studio. What started out as a simple idea became more and more artistic as the week went on, but he said he had a blast doing it.

“I think this was the best fair I ever witnessed.”

The DVD is separated into five sections of animals, crafts, fair food, “the community at play” and carnival rides, each set to music Stokes chose either for its appropriate length or its tone.

One of his favorite moments happens during R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People” when a local teenager Stokes was filming jumps up and down showing his enthusiasm.

“You just see this pure joy in his eye,” Stokes said. “I live for that.”

Another favorite during that section is “the little girl getting onto the merry-go-round.”

“This is a home movie,” Stokes said. “That’s essentially what it is,” and he said the film is all the better for its imperfections.

With section five the tone changes to adapt to the fair’s nightlife. A truck drives up with a license plate reading TM SWYR, and a little boy steps out wearing cargo shorts with a sling shot in his back pocket. He approaches the gates to Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City,” sticks out his hand for a stamp — proof of payment — and then promptly steals a baseball cap off of someone’s head.

The little boy is Devin, and he takes viewers through the fair along with images of other area residents enjoying themselves.

Stokes said he’ll consider doing this again sometime, but he doesn’t have any immediate plans yet.

“There’s consistency to the fair,” he said. “How many times can you show goats?”

Next time he said he’d rather show people goofing off more, “letting their hair down.”

“It brings out the best in humanity,” he said.

“I would love to thank each and every person who was at the fair who either ignored me or helped me or goofed off in front of the camera.”

For more information about Roy Stokes’ film, search for “Essence of the Fair” on YouTube, call the Virginia Cooperative Extension office at 540-459-6140 or call Stokes at 540-436-3773.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com>