For brevity's sake, it might be easier just to list the few things you won't smell at a county fair. But then again, you can't count anything out.
"I will say this. If you do a survey, 99 percent of the people come for the food," says Bill Edmondson, the director of the biggest county fair in North Carolina, the Cleveland County fair in Shelby (which isn't really a summer event, since it's held in September, but heck, we had to include the smelliest fair, right?). "The old saying is, we diet until fair time comes, then we eat fair food.
"Onions, sausages, French fries, pies. As you move from one area to another, you just smell that aroma until your saliva glands get to workin' and you just gotta have a taste of something, even if you don't have any intention of purchasing it," Edmondson adds.
And then, of course, there are those odors from the tail end of the digestion process. "We don't mix the food smells with the livestock smells," he says. E. coli has plagued some fairs, causing Edmondson and others in North Carolina to be extra cautious.
Most of the livestock odors are "from the bowels," he says. And no two animals' poop smells alike. Edmondson and anyone else who has spent time around livestock can pass a blind smell test. "I know the difference between a bovine odor and equine odor or even a poultry odor," he says. "But it's hard to put it in words."
They aren't all bowel smells, though. Billy goats emit smelly pheromones when they rut. "If you start rubbing them around the head or ears, the scent gets stronger," Edmondson says.
"Every fair is unique within itself," he says. "Every fair has something that puts them aside from another fair because of its uniqueness." When Edmonson was the North Carolina Mountain State Fair director in Fletcher, for example, the event included molasses-making and butter-churning contests, which filled the air with sickly sweet and salty aromas. Edmonson says Cleveland County's fair, while not as big as the state fair, offers almost as much variety. Floral contests add some fragrance to the potpourri. Dog, horse and pig races draw many spectators to Cleveland's fairgrounds.
The entertainment at a fair provides even more olfactory opportunities. The one-man band, a man who walks around with an entire band strapped to his body, can't possibly smell too fresh. And the carnies themselves don't exactly have a reputation for grooming. With more than 100 rides designed to induce nausea, not all that food is going to stay down. The bonus smell at a fair is that unmistakable acidic fume of recycled funnel cake, cotton candy, buttered corn and turkey leg.
Since the Cleveland County fair isn't technically a summer event, here are some earlier fair dates: Stanly County: August 31-September 4; Iridell County: September 4-9; Cabarrus County: September 8-16; Rowan County: September 18-23.