By MARINA WATERS
While fair-goers were taking in Friday night, country concerts and riding up high on that glowing, technicolor ferris wheel at the Appalachian Fair, David Stover was taking in all the Appalachian Fair sites too—through a camera lens, that is.
David has been an Appalachian Fair photographer since 1995 and has shot hundreds of photos of livestock, pageant contestants, exhibits and musical entertainers throughout the years.
Now the Washington County native has stacks of photo albums that could cover two coffee tables from all those years of photography.
On the fairgrounds, where he showed up one afternoon asking for a press pass, not knowing he’d walk out with a photography job instead, David is known by many as the man behind the camera.
But when he first got his start, he had another job — until his passion for photography took hold.
“I was in electronics. That’s what my degree was in. I worked over at Eastman in the electrical instrumentation group and if something happened or would go wrong and break, then I was the one they called on to come take the picture,” he said. “I was one of the very few that had a camera inside Eastman. When I was working I’d take a half day of vacation and go to the fairground. I went to work at 7 o’clock and have half of a day in by 11 o’clock — that way I could get to the fairground pretty early.”
From Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw to Chris Young and Miranda Lambert, the photographer’s been up close and personal with every entertainer at the fair. He says his favorites were the older country singers, but nothing puts a smile on his face quite like the name Charlie Daniels.
“Oh, Charlie’s my buddy,” David said. “He used to have a man who drove the bus for him who was one of Ernest Tubb’s sons. He was a good one.”
David and his wife Thelma also recalled a plethora of roses a LeeAnne Womack admirer sent backstage just before her performance at the fairgrounds — along with some extra security that night.
During his time shooting photos at the fair, David has been on board an United States Army Parachute Team’s aircraft, within a few inches of enormous monster trucks barreling right by him and Thelma and was chased by a prize-winning bull who was, luckily, kept away thanks to the protection of a fence. But for David, his favorite part was when he could create a beautiful photograph that included the winner of the Fairest of the Fair pageant.
“Some of my favorite things to do, and I didn’t get to do it too much because of scheduling problems, was shoot pictures of the Fairest of the Fair up in the carnival participating in some of the games,” David explained. “You pick out one that’s really colorful and have her participate and shoot pictures of her.”
As for Thelma, who has accompanied David on each of his summertime fair adventures, her favorite part of the Appalachian Fair has always involved the livestock and their owners.
“I love the Wool and Woolies because you see those kids and adults out there working with those sheep and then they come in with the clothes they’ve made to wear that evening,” Thelma said. “They’re all dressed up and it’s just a different person to see. They really look pretty. That’s one of my favorites.”
Thelma and David aren’t just regulars at the Appalachian Fair — the two also go to the Tennessee Valley Fair in Knoxville and the North Carolina Mountain State Fair in Fletcher, North Carolina, which is also involved with Drew Exposition, the ride-operation company that has been involved with the Appalachian Fair for decades.
But for David, it’s not just a social event for him and his wife where they can visit with old friends they’ve seen each year at the fair; it’s also a place he used to visit as a young boy growing up on a farm on Hairetown Road.
“(Going to the fair as a boy) started my interest years ago. We’d go to the fair real late in the evening — we didn’t go in the day because we had too much work to do,” David recalled. “It’d be tobacco cutting time and we’d cut tobacco until late in the evening and then come night time, we might ride out to the fairground. The guy who ran the fair, we just about grew up together.”
His tubs of photo albums are full of pictures of ferris wheels, guitar slingers, cows and sheep and monster trucks, but one of his favorite pictures, somewhere hiding in one of the many hardcover photo albums, is a picture where the stars (and the moon) seemed to line up just right on one of David’s many nights at the Appalachian Fair.
“You don’t get this short very often — I only remember it twice — there was a shot of a full moon coming up looking across the stage, looking east, and the entertainer’s on the stage at the same time,” David recalled, eyeing the closest photo album. “It’s in here somewhere.”