GOLD BEACH ? Bigger does not always mean better, as evidenced by the 2001 Curry County Fair.

The fair appeared Thursday to be slightly down on all counts: attendance, exhibits and entertainment.

Floral Superintendent Viola Cuatt and her assistant Joan Cooper said exhibits in their department were down in many categories, up in some and of unusually high quality.

The same could probably be said for every part of the fair: a bit smaller, but better than ever.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning actually was bigger and better. All of the Curry County Commissioners, the entire 2001 fair and rodeo court, and most of the fair board members and staff were on hand to welcome visitors.

Grand Marshal Rose Walker cut the ribbon with relish. ?I?ve been waiting 80 years for this,? she said.

Following that, 30 to 40 racing pigeons were released by Jerry and Terri Aubrey. The birds immediately flew across U.S. Highway 101, circled three or four times and made a beeline for their Cape Ferrelo home.

The fair?s theme is ?Slammin? Jammin? Fun,? but on Thursday, most of that was still to come.

Thursday lacked a rodeo, junior livestock auction, talent show, hypnotist, parade and other features that make the weekend so fun. Even ?Gentle Biff,? the balloon artist clown, seemed to be missing in action.

Without the excitement, and much of the crowd, Thursday?s theme might have been ?A relaxed good time.?

Sure, the action-oriented among us could climb a rock wall, perform acrobatics on the bungee-trampoline, or lose a corn dog on the whirling gyroscopic ?Tornado.?

Thursday?s fair, however, was more like the old-fashioned fairs of 100 years ago. The finest pies, paintings, quilts, canned goods, flowers and vegetables had just been judged and were at their best on display.

Without the crowds, department superintendents could take time to explain, for example, why one unassuming little flower impressed the judges more than any other floral entry.

It turned out the flower was extremely difficult to grow in this area and showed off the skill of the entrant.

Fairgoers could watch members of the Webfoot Weavers and Fiber Artists Guild turn washed wool into yarn.

Member Sally Glynn of Crescent City explained that wool may be the most commonly used fiber, but fine yarn is also made from alpaca, or even dog and cat fur.

Sheryl McDonald of Gold Beach was cutting up prize-winning pies to sell to benefit the 4-H Club. How she kept from pocketing every other slice is a mystery.

Displays in Docia Sweet hall included a stained-glass rendering of the Mary D. Hume by Walter Edwards of Gold Beach, stuffed bears by Lonni Munson of Gold Beach, and a viking ship straight out of the Bayeux Tapestry by Leonard Webb of Port Orford.

A scarecrow by Katherine Hazard won the Judges? Choice Award. The three-dimensional photo art of Jeff Sampo of Gold Beach was truly unique.

Commercial exhibits, both inside and outside, seemed to be fewer in number this year, but not in quality. Some rented double spaces so they could put up more elaborate displays.

Both political parties, several religions and the U.S. Army were all recruiting.

The Catholic Information Center, from Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Brookings, had a booth for the first time.

Evangelism and Catholicism aren?t always thought of together, but volunteers Lori Rogers and Dandi Kenoyer reminded me that Catholics were the first evangelists.

With missionaries like St. Patrick and the Spanish priests in early California, the historical credentials are there.

Anyway, with the Catholics offering free rosaries, the Seventh-Day Adventists offering free books and the Army offering money for college, it wasn?t easy to get through the Curry Showcase building without engaging in some kind of discussion.

Floral exhibits were down overall, but some categories were up. Cooper said the lack of rain this winter changed the climate, favoring some plants but hurting others.

The Brookings Harbor Garden Club won first place for its display featuring Bruin sports.

Livestock was a mixed bag. There were plenty of goats and sheep, some good-looking (relatively-speaking) pigs, but not much in the way of cattle.

At least the judging will be done under cover this year, thanks to a rather fragile-looking plastic patch over the gaping hole in the Youth Pavilion roof.

The food court didn?t have room for many vendors, but the variety and quality of food was remarkable.

I can personally vouch for the Rogue River Pups corn dogs, the Polynesian Stir-Fry, the strawberry lemonade at the smoothie stand, and the fry-bread at the scone stand, and that was just for lunch.

I deeply regretted lacking the room to also sample the hamburgers, pizza, Italian sausage and giant burritos. Plus, the carnival has its own food stands. Just inhaling is one of the great pleasures available at the fair.

In fact, just sitting on a bench on the green lawn in the warm sun, being caressed by gently firm ocean breezes, was worth the price of admission. The Curry County Fair is nothing like the dusty, hot, dirty stereotype of fairs.

The entire grounds are a giant floral display, thanks to the year-round effort of the staff and volunteers. In fact, Curry County Commissioner Rachelle Schaaf was out painting benches during the weekend.

Back when fairs were rated on how clean and attractive they were, instead of how much money they made, the Curry County Fair always won top state awards. It still would.

The karaoke contest Thursday afternoon fizzled, but those in the crowd enjoyed playing with the machine.

Some of the singing was so good, it brought tears to the eyes. Some of it was so bad it had the same effect. It didn?t matter. It was tremendous fun.

Three young girls took a stab at Don McClean?s ?American Pie,? one of the most complicated rock-poems ever written.

By the time they got to the chorus, ?the day the music died,? it truly did. But the girls did it all with style and gusto, and provided the sympathetic crowd with great entertainment. They got plenty of applause from people who knew they couldn?t do any better.

In the middle of one song, a young lad stopped and said, ?I don?t know this one. I was thinking of the Limp Bizkit version. This one is George Michael.?

My most memorable experience Thursday was of a young couple hugging over by a speaker that was playing ?You Are So Beautiful to Me? while their flaxen-haired daughters ran circles around them.

If that wasn?t cute enough, how about the foot-high toddler fascinated with the flowers surrounding the stage, or two little girls washing their snow-white lamb for judging?

Maybe the best part was just sitting in the sun, watching the Ferris wheel rotate with the green hills in the background. A white sea gull hanging motionless in the brilliant blue sky made the scene as good as it gets in Curry County.