The chickens have come home to roost.
This year’s Washington County Fair features the return of the crowing and egg-laying set -- namely, roosters, hens and other poultry that were banned last year due to a multi-state avian flu outbreak.
The festival runs from Wednesday through Sunday, Aug. 3-7. If features the popular Swinetime Pig Races, police K-9 demonstration, carnival, equestrian events and demolition derby.
Local farmers and 4-H youth will display their best cow, pig, goat, llama, rabbit or sheep. A champion ribbon will be awarded at the Washington County Fair to the best animal in the 4-H and open class categories.
This year’s entertainment schedule features musicians from the smallest to the most seasoned.
On the younger end of the roster, there’s 12-year-old singer Gabrianna Bruestle of Woodbury. She will compete in the County Fair Talent Show at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
“Gabby” took second in last year’s talent show and hopes to do one better this year, since a win would earn her a spot at the Minnesota State Fair.
That Wednesday evening, she’ll sing “It’s Time to Say Goodbye” in Italian.
“When you stand up in front of an audience, it's more nerve-wracking because you don’t know what people would think of you,” she said. “I still have butterflies, but I don’t have it as bad when I first started.
“You try not to screw up. You just keep going if you do.”
Gabby began entering talent shows last year, when she won the preteen division at the 2015 Stillwater Log Jam. She also competed at this year’s Strawberry Fest Talent Show.
Andrea Mayer-Bruestle remembers that her daughter was singing before she could talk.
“She was singing in the back seat of the van before she was actually verbal,” her mother said.
“You could hear the tune of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” even when she couldn’t even say the words.”
Gabby got the nickname Sparkle when she was 3 and put on an impromptu show at the R.H. Stafford Library.
“I started rounding up these little kids and they’re following me around all over the stage,” she said.
She takes lessons from vocal coach Lesa Jacobsen of Woodbury.
“I’m just so proud of Gabby and the progress she’s made,” Jacobsen said. “She’s very tenacious She is very concerned about doing her best at all times. She listens well. She takes my suggestions. I don’t coddle her.”
Asked what she learned, Gabby replies, “Not singing through your nose. She taught me that right away. How to breathe. How to stand when you’re on the stage.”
As for a career, it’s a toss-up between playing hockey and singing. And one of these days she’s going to try writing her own songs.
“I haven’t yet but I’m planning on it.”
Darlene and the Boys play Sunday from 2:30 to 5 p.m. The five piece-country band is fronted by vocalist and fiddle player Darlene Nelson and her husband, Ken, who plays lead guitar. The Cottage Grove couple formed the band five years ago but their musical careers date back to childhood.
Ken Nelson, who began playing guitar at age 9, recently retired after nearly 36 years as a custodian for District 833. Darlene was 5 when she started singing.
“We try to play something for everyone,” she said. “We kind of look over the crowd and see what our crowd is. If it’s an older crowd we’ll do our classic stuff. If it’s a younger crowd we’ll do our classic rock. It just kind of depends.”
The quintet is rounded out by multi-instrumentalist Ed Schmidt, who plays saxophone, accordion and steel guitar. Thanks in part to this “utility player,” the band can play classic country songs like “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” as well as cajun stompers, with Schmidt’s squeezebox and Darlene Nelson’s fiddle riffing in tandem. They also play classic rock.
“We never have the same set list. I don’t like predictability. I’m always making different set lists every gig. Every show is different.”
The Nelsons have performed numerous times in Nashville, Tenn. Darlene sang on the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree radio show, where she once shared the bill with Kitty Wells. Darlene and the Boys will also play at this year’s Minnesota State Fair as well as the Midwest Country Music Theater in Sandstone, Minn., on Aug. 11.
If you go
The Washington County Fair runs Wednesday through Sunday, Aug. 3-7. Gates open at 7 a.m. daily and close at 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and close at 8 p.m. Sunday. The Washington County Fairgrounds are located at the intersection of Manning Avenue (aka County Road 15) and Highway 5 in Lake Elmo.
Daily general admission is $7 for those ages 16 and older; $4 for those ages 6-15 and free for children ages 5 and younger. Friday is Senior Citizens Day, when those ages 65 and older can enter for $2 until 1 p.m.