Why I won’t be attending Mountain State Fair this year

I’ve had an ongoing issue with the North Carolina Mountain State Fair for the last three years. After 18 years with no dress code sign or any specific rules about how people are supposed to dress at the fair, in 2011 they erected a large “Shirt and Shoes Required” sign at their gate.

As a full-time “barefooter,” I was a little taken aback. I contacted the fair director, who stated that since Asheville had had its first female go-topless rally a few weeks before, fair officials were concerned about women showing up at the fair with bare breasts. As to why they added the “shoes” part, I never got a definitive answer other than some vague reference to safety, though there had never been an issue or incident related to bare feet during the previous 18 years.

I  discussed this issue at the time in two letters to Mountain Xpress, which appeared in the Sept. 21, 2011, print edition and can be found online at avl.mx/0ga and avl.mx/0gb.

In the meantime, the fair director told me that, in spite of the sign, I would always be welcome at the fair while barefoot, and I have attended every year since then.

I never cared much for being an exception and really wanted that sign removed, as I felt it was not only unnecessary, but a very unwelcoming insult to anyone who chose my lifestyle. So, at the fair director’s suggestion, I contacted the N.C. Department of Agriculture attorney in Raleigh to request the sign be removed.

The response I got back was not only a curt refusal to remove the sign, but I was informed that I was no longer welcome at the fair in my usual mode of dress, barefoot, and the reason given for that decision was only: “Now that the issue has been raised. …”

I see this as much more vindictive than logical.

Kriss Sands

Mars Hill



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21 thoughts on “Why I won’t be attending Mountain State Fair this year

  1. Jason

    A full time “barefooter”…WTF is wrong with you. Why would you want to walk around the fair without shoes on? If it’s such a big deal, why not just take off your sandals once inside? Don’t be a moron, it’s the freakiking Mtn State Fair…probably the biggest redneck get together this area has.

    • James McCauley

      Actually, for all your sarcastic quotation marks and rudeness, it’s a legitimate lifestyle and movement, with tens of thousands of followers and growing. Shoes are bad for you. They’re the cause of -most- of the problems we in the third world have with feet, ankles, knees, hips, and spine as we age, because of the way they force you into an unnatural heel-first landing as you walk or run, which takes away the foot’s natural impact absorption, and the calf muscles’ natural function as a component similar to a car’s suspension. They’re also the cause of almost all other foot maladies, including foot fungus, foot odor, calluses, bunions, nail fungus, and more.

      For this fair to exclude people based on a decision they’re making for their own health and well-being is simply inexcusable at best, and in some cases, with disabled people who -need- to go barefoot, it is actually -illegal-. Mountain State Fair… get your act together, and take down the sign!

    • Victor Sudakov

      Jason, your personal rudeness aside, I really cannot grasp the idea why a fair should enforce any dress code at all, especially if it is such a redneck event as you describe it. It should be a “come as you are” event. And take a chill pill really.

  2. Kriss

    “…probably the biggest redneck get together this area has.” LOL! You know, Jason, that was more or less the point I tried to get across to the fair director when they first put the sign up, when I told him this wasn’t the Metropolitan Opera. Why would they need to tell anybody how they’re supposed to dress just to go to a small local, fair? People don’t care how anyone else is dressed at places like that. It just made no sense at all – and all because they were afraid some woman was going to go there and bare her breasts and shock everyone. Not likely.

    • Anemone

      My experience with small towns these days is that they’re usually more conservative, and that it’s big city people who are more likely to be open minded about bare feet, probably because they’re more likely to be aware of the health/fitness benefits of going barefoot and the hazards of wearing shoes. Though I don’t know about the opera.

      • Kriss

        Well, Anemone, I’m not sure how familiar you are with Asheville, but it’s not exactly a “small town,” though not huge either like some large cities. But regardless of how you classify it in size, Asheville has a reputation for inclusiveness of all people, regardless of their lifestyles. And the actions taken by the fair 3 years ago by putting up a rude, unwelcoming, and blatantly discriminatory sign is not typical of the openness, and friendly and accepting attitudes of most people here.

  3. Kriss

    Just wanted to mention something here. When I sent my letter in, Mountain Xpress did some very slight editing before publishing, all very minor. But one that surprised me was the word “barefooter,” which I did not originally have enclosed in quotation marks. I guess the reason for the edit was – as I found out when researching – that word itself apparently has not made it into any standard dictionary. But I would never intentionally enclose that term in quotation marks, as it is a valid and very descriptive term that is used in the barefooting community (yes, there IS a barefooting community, a very small minority around the U.S. and the world, but nonetheless thousands of people who have made an informed decision to never wear shoes or other footwear), and a term I and many others use and have used almost daily for many years.

  4. Tory

    Is this letter real? The fact that this letter is worthy of publication is disturbing.

    Wearing shoes is a liability issue. If the writer of this letter were to step on broken class, cut his foot on a ride, or slip and fall, the Fair would have liability and the ‘barefooter’ would probably sue. The NC Dept of Agriculture is simply attempting to keep you safe, despite your adverse views on footwear.

    • Kriss

      Tory, I’m glad you brought up this issue. Because bare feet being a “liability issue” is just another myth that is stated occasionally by people who simply don’t understand or put into a reasonable perspective what happens in the real world.

      The short answer is, no, in the very unlikely scenario of me (or any barefooter) injuring my foot at the fair, the fair would, for all practical purposes, have no liability at all, and no, neither I nor any other barefooter would sue, because no lawyer would ever take such a flawed case.

      IANAL, but having been a full-time, 24/7 barefooter for 12 years, I have done extensive research, and am well aware of every legal, medical, or safety ramification that could possibly ever be associated with living this lifestyle.

      First, to declare that “shoes” are required just seems fundamentally flawed, without defining exactly what is meant by the term “shoes.” Almost anything attached to or held on by feet nowadays is accepted as “shoes,” including flip-flops and other flimsy sandals. And there is clear documented proof on record that flip-flops are extremely hazardous, based on hundreds of claims and court cases on record (I have a list of those if anyone would care to see it). Even the fair director cited to me a case of a flip-flop wearer getting his foot injured at the fair a few years ago. Yet the fair is unable to cite a single case of anyone ever getting a bare foot injured at the fair. In fact, in spite of unfounded fears and assumptions to the contrary, there are practically NO court cases on record anywhere in the U.S. involving a barefoot injury in a store, fair, or other business where being barefoot is not otherwise the norm (such as a swimming pool).

      But, even if someone barefoot in a store or other business, or while attending a fair, were to sustain some injury to his or her foot, there is little to no likelihood in this state that the business or fair would be held liable for such an injury. That is because North Carolina follows a pure contributory negligence law system (unlike some other states whose laws are based on a comparative negligence system). That means that in North Carolina, and a few other states, if the injured party were responsible for the injury in ANY way – even 1% – no damages would be awarded. Therefore, the chances of a barefoot person prevailing in such a claim are practically nil, especially in this state. That’s because someone making a free will choice to actually enter a store, fairground, or other business while barefoot and then sustaining an injury would, in all likelihood, be seen as the party at fault – for simply being barefoot in the first place – and therefore responsible for that injury. Even a small part of the blame would render him or her ineligible to recover any damages. No lawyer would even take such a case, with no real chance of winning. There is no reason, other than what can only be groundless speculation, for the N.C. Mountain State Fair to ever have any concerns over that issue.

    • Dr. Porcupine

      Actually, the liability argument is a fallacy. Establishments and venues are only required to make reasonable efforts to maintain a safe environment, which is typically reflected in the legal code and/or regulatory statutes. As far as I am aware, and I have done some research on this, there is no regulation or law anywhere in the United States that requires customers to wear any type of footwear in a business or venue. OSHA and related labor standards only apply to employees, not patrons. If the state fair follows all established safety regulations, and can demonstrate they made a reasonable effort to keep the area safe, they are not subjected to liability. Further, it is assumed that not wearing footwear places a certain degree of responsibility for injury on the individual who chooses to go shoeless. A related fact is that more injuries are reported every year related to wearing flip flops, which are notoriously know for their tendency to slip around on the foot causing falls and sprains, yet I am sure these shoes are not prohibited as a safety issue. Further, if safety was really a concern, all attendees would be required to wear some sort of slip resistant closed-toe footwear that provides sufficient foot and ankle support, because I don’t recall anyone having their toes protected by sandals or flip flops.

      Be careful what you wish for here, because your attitude is one that would result in a no flip-flop policy following the first incident where someone wearing their $2 rubber “shoes” from Walmart or Dollar General gets a sprained ankle, rips a toenail off on a ride, or gets a good puncture wound to their foot. Perhaps there should be a “no shorts or short sleeves” policy in case someone might get a bad sunburn and sue because they didn’t provide adequate shade or sunblock for visitors. It may also be wise to require safety gear like knee pads, elbow pads, helmets, eye protection, and safety harnesses just to make sure nobody gets an owie should the slip and fall. Most importantly, all visitors should be required to wear protective gloves at all times! We know how most infectious diseases are spread by the hands after someone has touched an area where someone who is carrying an infection touched the same spot. With ebola, the flu, and that nasty respiratory infection going around right now, it’s a critical safety issue that all visitors to the fair be required to wear surgical gloves, and then wear padded work gloves over those to prevent injuries to the hands.

      Wait, I have a better idea; the fair could simply post a sign indicating that shoes are recommended and attendees assume all risks associated with inappropriate footwear or going barefoot. Of course, in our lawsuit happy world where everyone is looking for a “free lunch” coupled with a general intolerance for anyone who chooses to express themselves differently, that’s just too simple isn’t it?

    • Dr. Porcupine

      One other quick comment. How about you let Kriss worry about keeping Kriss safe, I worry about keeping myself safe, and Tory worries about keeping Tory safe? I don’t need some random government bureaucrat or group of politicians who know nothing about me deciding what they think is “best” for my health and safety.

  5. Pardon me for jumping in but the fact that you disagree with the letters author does not mean it is not worthy of publication. He took the time to write to the dept of agriculture and mountain xpress so that much should show it is important to him. There is no liability issue in unlikely event he should get injuried due to there fact he chose to go barefoot. That would fall under contributory negligence. There are many health benefits to going barefoot. Way to many to list here. There is also a growing movement towards going barefoot. Just because someone has a lifestyle different than yours does not invalidate said lifestyle.

  6. Alan Adler

    Bill Black is correct. I have researched this very subject from the health benefit standpoint to the legal liability considerations and can assure Tory that both Kriss and Bill seem to be knowledgable with regards to reasons for being barefoot as well as a proven lack of increased liability as a result. 18 months ago I was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal for a story regarding the health benefits of a barefoot lifestyle that the editors considered worthy of page one in the U.S., European, and Asian editions. Certainly a letter like Kriss’s has it’s place in this publication.

  7. Kriss

    And the really ironic thing is the initial purpose of the sign, after 18 years of no sign and no problems, had nothing whatsoever to do with bare feet. The fair director told me in a voice mail message (a recording that I still have, with his actual voice telling me this) that the sign was erected because they were concerned that the female go-topless rally in Asheville, held a few weeks prior to the fair starting that year, was going to cause some women to attempt to go topless at the fair, and that was the reason for the “shirt required” part of the sign. And why add “shoes” to it? Because – my words, not his – you just can’t require shirts without requiring shoes. They just go together. Posting “shirt required” without throwing in “shoes required” would be some kind of sacrilege. Of course, I’m being sarcastic here, because it’s rare that you ever see a sign that says only one or the other. Though I did see a sign once at a little cafe in Laguna Beach, CA that only read, “shirts required.” If the fair’s only concern was women being topless – which it was – then they only needed to post “shirts required” and left off the “shoes” part, which had never been an issue at the fair before.

    • Dr. Porcupine

      Kriss, you bring up an excellent point that should be more obvious to all of us. This was clearly a solution looking for a problem. I seriously doubt you are the only person who has attended this fair barefoot over the years, and there hasn’t been a single reported injury. Why the sudden concern, especially when it was done in response to a totally unrelated incident to spur the reaction?

      And this is where the real crux of the issue becomes visible. We live in a society that proclaims to love liberty, respect diversity, encourage indivudality, and support the freedom of personal expression. The reality is quite different. Instead, we see people lash out at any behavior, personal identity, or form of personal expression that they view as unusual or different. They apply disparaging labels to those who are different, because they can feel their adherence to social norms somehow makes them “better” than another who has the courage to risk being stigmatized because they choose to express themselves differently. When social pressure isn’t sufficient to keep people in line, freedom-loving people resort to creating formal rules and regulations that give their arbitrary personal views “official” weight that can be enforced by governmental authorities.

      When you buy into the idea that government and businesses have a legitimate and moral responsibility to provide for our “health and safety” throughout every aspect of our lives, you are giving up your rights and freedoms to satisfy the concerns of politicians, insurance companies, and personal-injury lawyers. The prohibition of bare feet due to concerns of safety and liability is no different than other rules like New York City’s efforts to ban salt and large beverages, zero-tolerance policies that earn kids an expulsion from school for eating their Pop-Tart in a way that it looks like a handgun, or force us to be personally violated when we try to get on an airplane. What does it say about our society when governmental authority is used to dictate the type of clothing a private individual is allowed to wear in a public place?

  8. boatrocker

    Patchouli, incense, artisan crystal herby ‘deodorant’, etc is just as disgusting.

    • Kriss

      I completely agree, boatrocker. The arrogance of the attorney for the Dept. of Agriculture was beyond belief. First, it made no sense that such a sign was even erected, because if bare feet were such a big issue, then why did they then say it was OK for me to ignore the sign? I was most likely the only barefooter that ever attended that fair in the 18 years it existed through 2011. So they put up a sign to ban who? Me, obviously. Then they say, no, it’s OK for me to go right on in and enjoy myself, even though their official sign and “policy” said I couldn’t. It was perfectly OK until I decided to rock the boat (no pun intended) this year, and insist that they remove the hypocritical and unnecessary sign so it wouldn’t be there, useless in its supposed intent anyway, yet continuing to perpetuate a myth by reminding the 200,000 or so attendees each year that bare feet are somehow a bad thing – so bad, a sign needs to be erected to keep all those awful barefoot people out. So this year, the sign finally accomplished its purpose. It kept the one and only barefooter who most likely has ever attended the fair, or would ever attend the fair, away. Yes, the way this was handled is indeed disgusting.

  9. Tragedy with a Happy Ending

    My god, the hyperbole and utter irrationality here astound me.

    The fair put up a sign, a typical sign that’s found all across the land. Kriss contacted the fair director, who said he was welcome to attend anyway, despite the sign. At some point, that wasn’t enough for Kriss. The sign is now apparently offensive and mean-spirited to the barefooter movement, a movement that’s so microscopic 98% of the public has never even heard of it.

    There was no issue here. The fair director seemed to be decent and understanding, and welcomed Kriss’s attendance, barefoot or no. It should’ve ended there. What more do you want? Oh right, everyone wants their little crusade because they’re so incredibly, dismally victimized, and every niche movement has to holler and storm and fume to stand up to Homogenized Society.

    I see numerous people yammering about liberty and expression and so on, which is completely irrelevant. To repeat: the fair director said Kriss could attend. I just can’t fathom why this person didn’t just say, “OK, thank you. I understand the point of the sign, and I’m glad you understand my point as well, and won’t be taking the sign literally.” Easy.

    This is blown out of all proportion, and is typical of the little crusaders of the world. They’ll create victimization where none is evident. I suppose it increases their feelings of self-righteousness and martyrdom, but to most others it’s baffling behavior.

    • Barefooted Mike

      There’s a big difference between one individual being allowed an exception to a rule and removing the rule and removing (or amending) the offensive signage. The simple existence of the sign may be sufficient to deter many people who might otherwise attend in bare feet. OTOH, I don’t see the presence of the sign encouraging attendance by anyone, except perhaps by the “microscopic movement” of podophobes (look it up!). It might be one thing if there was a genuine NEED for shoes (or which there are virtually none), as opposed to a minority’s opinion of what they feel is “needed” to maintain their illusion of proper social decorum.

      Unless one’s choice of attire presents a threat to the safety of other fair-goers (and a barefooted person is hardly a threat, at least not by way of being barefoot) it should be nobody’s business and certainly should not be subject to rules and signs dictating what one must wear – including (especially?) on one’s feet.

    • Kriss

      Thanks for your observations, Tragedy with a Happy Ending, but I believe they are based on a limited perspective and lack of facts in this matter. Of course I was free to attend the fair barefoot – that is, prior to this year. And it was no doubt due to the fair director’s ability to see in his own mind the utter ridiculousness of adding the “shoes required” part to a sign that was originally erected for the sole purpose of preventing a spillover of the very first female “go-topless” rally in Asheville (he told me as much in a voice mail, which I still have on file) held a few weeks prior. Though there was obvious political pressure from conservative politicians (and still is) to do something about this female topless issue, putting up such a sign was nothing short of a knee-jerk reaction to the “problem.” I feel the fair director was as much of a victim of this over-the-top nonsense as anyone who might have been directly affected by the sign. It wasn’t his sole decision to allow me to ignore the sign. In an email to me in March of 2012, he stated, “…I had to refer advice from our Legal Department in Raleigh. The decision is you are welcome to come and enjoy the fair with no shoes.”

      So why did the “Legal Department in Raleigh” rescind that decision this year? Because I had raised “the issue.” In other words, I wrote to the attorney as well as the Commissioner of Agriculture and requested that the sign be removed – therefore “raising the issue.”

      This issue is not about me. If it were about me, I might have said exactly as Tragedy with a Happy Ending suggested above. The issue is about an ill-conceived and completely unnecessary sign that in effect sends a message to every one of the some 200,000 fairgoers who go through the gate each year that being barefoot is a very bad thing; so bad, that a sign is necessary to prevent it from happening. And what’s the real point of it? As I’ve said before, I’m probably the only person who has ever or would ever attempt to go there barefoot. Have you seen the rough surface of broken asphalt and gravel at that fairground? I can’t imagine anyone possibly walking around there all day barefoot except someone like me.

      Even if such signs are found “all across the land,” that in no way justifies this sign. Actually, in this area, WNC, such signs are relatively rare. But it’s a shame that such signs even exist anywhere in this country, the ONLY nation in the world where some businesses post signs telling customers how they must dress in order to be welcome. Such signs began during the Vietnam War era only as a means to keep war-protesting hippies out. Other countries didn’t have the same political upheaval as the U.S. did at the time; therefore, no other country ever felt the need to try to exclude anyone for political purposes based on their attire. I was alive and well at that time. I saw it all, and that’s how these signs got started.

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