We all know the feeling. You’ve waited for months for that special something, be it a date, concert, movie, party or some other highly anticipated event.
Then the day finally arrives and… sigh. It wasn’t a bust, but it sure didn’t live up to your expectations. As is so often true, anticipation was the best part.
Back in the spring of 2015, when I started planning to attend the Country Living Fair in Stone Mountain, Georgia, in October, I wondered if this might be the case. I didn’t want to drive all the way to Atlanta and be let down.
Once the long-awaited weekend was complete and we rolled back into our driveway on Sunday evening, the bed of my truck filled with “fair finds,” I have to admit, this is one event that more than lived up to its billing.
A Bit of Fair History
Presented by Country Living magazine, the Country Living Fairs are put on by Stella Shows, a family-owned, New Jersey-based event management business launched by Irene Stella in the 1970s.
The scope of the fairs now is nothing short of remarkable when you realize the first one was held just a decade ago at the Chicago Botanical Gardens in 2006. One of the vendors at that inaugural event offered his Ohio farm for the next fair, but the 2007 event drew such crowds that the management company quickly realized a bigger venue was required.
“It was like Woodstock. We were parking in pastures and almost shut down the highway because it was just a two-lane road to the farm,” recalls Michele Oswald, an event manager with Stella Shows. “We had thousands show up that first day and had to come up with a new plan for parking, get more restrooms and arrange for more food.”
That overwhelming response has become the norm for the Country Living Fairs.
“We’re now in four different locations every year (Ohio, New York, Tennessee and Georgia), and at each one we draw 20,000 to 25,000 people from almost every state,” Oswald notes. “It’s all about bringing the pages of the magazine to life. It started very organically, and it’s really been a great thing for our company and for Country Living magazine.
“It’s very exciting to interact with the people who come,” she adds. “People plan their trips in advance, and for many of them, it’s a bucket list thing. They have waited so long to come that when they arrive they’ve very energetic and enthusiastic.”
The Country Living Fair in Georgia was added in 2010 and has always been at Stone Mountain Park, which is truly a picturesque setting. My husband and I were two of the 25,000 who attended over the course of three days.
The fair takes place from 10am to 5pm each day and goes on rain or shine. The Country Living kitchen, main stage and general store are all tented, so there’s no worry even if the weather is questionable. The weekend we attended, the weather was mild and sunny as we strolled along the tree-lined paths.
More than 200 vendors from across the country participate in the fair, and their offerings encompass everything related to “country living.” There are antiques sellers, crafters, furniture makers and artists whose work covers a wide spectrum. Folk art, home decor, garden items, upcycled and handcrafted items of all sorts fill the booths. If you can’t find something you like, well… let’s just say, that won’t happen.
It helps if you go with something specific in mind. Otherwise, the incredible amount of goods for sale is almost overwhelming. I went to the fair with a mission. We had recently finished a room addition and I wanted a particular piece of artwork for one blank wall. In addition, I was determined to find the components for a gift-wrapping station.
The latter is something I’ve been wanting for years. My friends teasingly refer to me as the “queen of gift wrapping,” because I get a special joy out of creating appealing presentations.
By the end of day two of the fair, I had scored both of the things I was hoping to find.
In the very busy booth of a talented metal artist, I found the perfect piece for that blank wall: an old wooden window frame sans glass with birds perched on three metal branches attached to each portion of the frame. I’d never seen anything quite like it; it’s the just-right combination of rustic and unique. It had to come home with me.
Finding what I needed for my gift-wrapping station took a little more effort.
I found numerous pieces that would have worked for the base, but finally discovered the ideal one in the booth of a vendor from New England. It was an antique four-drawer dresser she’d painted, but left the top with its original wood finish.
One of the most convenient aspects of the fair is the customer service. You can’t be buying things like dressers, farm tables and antique barn cupolas and lugging them to your vehicle. When you purchase something you can’t carry, the vendor puts a tag on it and gives you a pickup slip. The vendor then alerts the fair’s porters, who promptly come retrieve the item and safely transport it to a holding area. When you’re ready to leave, you just drive up, hand them the slip and they load it into your vehicle. This way you can concentrate on shopping instead of worrying about how to maneuver your finds through the crowds and across the parking lot.
Once I had the base to my wrapping station, it was all about finding a compatible piece I could mount on the wall above it to hold all my spools of ribbon. This was easier said than done. It took multiple passes through the meandering paths of vendor booths until I spotted a narrow three-tiered shelf. It wasn’t an antique, but it had been painted and distressed in a manner I loved and the dimensions were right.
On closer examination, I realized there was no price tag on it.
When I asked the vendor if it was for sale, she admitted she’d just brought it to display things on but agreed to sell it. She even came off her price when I countered. (Don’t be afraid to offer 10 percent less than the asking price for furniture and antiques. Antiques vendors expect that, and the worst they can do is say no if their original price is firm.)
After leaving the festival, we popped into a local Wal-Mart where I bought three tension rods to fit inside the shelf unit and hold ribbon spools. Mission gift-wrap station complete!
So Much To Do
You can only shop so long (Did I really say that?), so you’ll want to check out the schedule of demonstrations, seminars and book signings each day. Whether you’re into vintage, shabby chic, classic antiques, DIY adventures or cooking, there’s probably a presentation that will strike your fancy.
They aren’t lengthy, so it’s easy to plan your day around the ones you don’t want to miss. The sessions I attended were each less than an hour and ended with the audience wanting more. There was an intimate, down home feel to these events, especially when the presenters bantered with the audience and answered questions.
Many of the presenters are personalities you’re familiar with if you watch any home improvement and food television channels. At the 2015 event, Ree Drummond, aka “The Pioneer Woman,” made a special appearance at the Main Stage, followed by a book signing of her latest cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime: Comfort Classics, Freezer Food, 16-Minute Meals and Other Delicious Ways to Solve Supper!
“Ree patiently signed about 1,200 books,” says Oswald. “She was so gracious and engaging with everyone; it was very exciting to have her there.”
If you watch the Cooking Channel, you’re likely familiar with Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, “The Fabulous Beekman Boys.” The duo, along with Country Living editor-in-chief Rachel Hardage Barrett, had a free-spirited audience Q&A session on Saturday and then headed to the Country Living General Store to sign copies of their new book, Beekman 1802 Style.
Unlike many outdoor festival events, where your only choices are typical fair food (corn dogs, hamburgers, fries, ice cream and such), the organizers make sure the Country Living Fairs have the predictable options and a whole lot more, including healthy fare.
One afternoon we had exceptionally tasty margherita flatbreads, with juicy ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The next day, I got a delicious veggie wrap sandwich. We gave in and had homemade ice cream as well, which was worth the calories.
I should mention that unless your significant other is into decorating, antiques, DIY home projects and shopping, you’ll probably have more fun going with a girlfriend—or two or three. The first morning as we walked through the park gates, my husband made the observation that the vast majority of the attendees were female. I knew that would be the case, and, I have to say, he was a good sport about it. He manned the handy fold-up canvas wagon we brought to stash our finds while shopping.
Attending the Country Living Fair was definitely on my bucket list, but I don’t think it should be a one-time experience. Next time around, I’ll recruit a girlfriend as my travel companion—I don’t think my husband will mind!
want to go?
October 21-23, 2016 › Stone Mountain Park, Georgia › (866) 500-FAIR (3247) › countryliving.com/fair › stellashows.com/event/country-living-fair-atlanta
Get Your Tickets!
Advance tickets are on sale now. If you plan to go, book your hotel EARLY and be sure to ask for the Country Living Fair discount. The Stella Shows website lists area hotels. (We were very happy with our accommodations at the Country Inn & Suites in Stone Mountain, which is just minutes from the fair.)
One-day pass: $16 at the door/ $13 advance
3-day weekend pass: $20 at the door/ $15 advance
Early bird 3-day weekend pass:(Priority shopping from 8:30-10am on Friday and/or Saturday, regular hours on Sunday): $40 at the door/$40 advance
Advance tickets available by phone until Tuesday, October 18 at 5pm and online until Thursday, October 20 at midnight.
3-day weekend fair special parking
$15 per day at the door/$20 for 3 days advance
jChildren under 16 free if accompanied by an adult
jAdvance parking available for purchase until October 11.