The fair is coming to town.
And when it arrives — this year’s Scott County Fair will be August 17-24 — organizers say it’s going to be bigger and better than ever.
That’s easy enough to say, of course. It’s what event organizers always say.
But this year really is going to be different at the fair, members of the Scott County Fair Association say, and it starts with the carnival operator. Gone is the James Gang, which has contracted with the Scott County Fair for years. Here in their place is Casey’s Rides out of Utica, Ky. And that’s going to make a big difference, organizers hope.
“It’s going to be a different setting and a different atmosphere,” said Gabe Krahn, a member of the fair board. “We are hoping that this is going to be a major turn-around for the fair.”
Krahn said that she doesn’t have an official role with the fair, other than being a member of the fair board. But others involved with the fair say that Krahn and her husband, Kable, who is president of the Fair Association, have worked tirelessly to make the fair better. And as those volunteers work behind the scene in the final few days before it’s show time, there’s a certain buzz that’s been missing for a while — an anticipation that this year is the start of something better.
“We want to create an environment where if you want to just come out and grab a hamburger from the concession stand and sit and socialize, you can do that,” said Stacey Swann, the Fair Association’s secretary and treasurer. “We want you to be able to have a good time, meet friends and talk and things like that.”
In other words, the Fair Association is hoping to recapture the magic of a bygone era, when the county fair was truly the focal point of late summer.
If they’re successful in that, there will be a bigger crowd at the fair this year — which will help the fair be bigger and better for years to come.
“The James Gang went on participation, and when participation is down, they’re not going to bring as much to us,” Krahn said of the rides that were featured at the fair in recent years. “With Casey’s Rides coming in, we’ll have new rides and a new midway. We’re hoping that’ll bring more people in. What we want to tell people is, don’t judge us on the past; give us a chance for the future.”
When the midway opens on August 20, there will be a total of 15 rides, including rides that are suitable for every age group. That’s a big deal, said Swann, as one of the biggest complaints the past couple of years has been a lack of attractions for teens and older children.
Many of the rides that will be featured this year, Krahn said, have also been featured at the Tennessee Valley Fair. And with the new rides comes a new price structure — set by the carnival provider — that is a bit chaper than it has been in recent years.
On Friday, August 23, when the fair opens during the day and students and senior citizens are admitted free, one-price wristbands will be $12 for the entire day. During the evenings, one-price wristbands range from $15 during the week to $18 on Friday and Saturday.
Single-ticket sales will also be a bit cheaper: $1.25 for a single ticket, 10 tickets for $10, or 26 tickets for $20. Each ride takes 2-5 tickets.
There also will be some changes to concessions. While the Fair Association doesn’t compete with the midway on concessions, it does operate its own concession stand, proceeds from which help fund the fair in future years. “That’s where you get your hamburgers and hot dogs, chips and Frito pies,” Krahn said. New this year, homemade ice cream will be at the fair, thanks to an agreement inked with locally-owned B&B Ice Cream. The family-owned business — led by the mother-daughter team of Sandra Sproles and Kristi Russ of Huntsville — is a hit at local events, and the Fair Association said it’s an effort to “bring back local” that will be expanded to include other vendors in years to come.
“When we looked at it, we said, ‘What’s not sold at the fair?’ And ice cream was something you can’t get at the fair,” Swann said. “We’re looking around at things that we currently don’t offer. B&B will help us, because they have people who follow them and like their ice cream. And, hopefully, those people will come in and enjoy the fair.”
Other changes will be subtle, like free games — cornhole and checkers — for those who are just coming to the fair to socialize, and there will be a free bounce house for kids on Friday.
Speaking of Friday, this year is likely to be the last-ever “fair day.” It’s one of rural America’s dwindling traditions, and the writing has been on the wall for a while; Scott County Schools have had classes on Fair Day the last two years, before ultimately changing the calendar to release students early so they could go to the fair if they choose. While the Fair Association is exploring a “family day” on Saturday for next year’s fair, Krahn said the hope is that this final “fair day” will be special.
“That’s why we’re doing the $12 bands this year, with free admission on that day,” she said. “We want it to be the best blowout of fair day that it can be on Friday.”
Of course, no fair is truly a fair without the agricultural components, and Scott County 4-H is also making some changes. Seth Whitehouse is in his second year as the agriculture extension director in Scott County through the University of Tennessee, and said a few improvements can be expected this year. The livestock show will be held on Friday, as usual, with livestock entries beginning at 10 a.m. A new addition to the livestock show will be a 4-H poultry show-and-sale, with a live auction at 1:30 p.m. on Friday so the public can bid and purchase birds to support 4-H and its Poultry Project.
“These barred rock pullets were born on March 18 and raised by our very own Scott County 4-H’ers,” Whitehouse said. “I believe this will be a wonderful experience not only for the responsible youth that are showing their ribbon-winning chickens, but also for the youth that will be coming out to the fairgrounds during school day to see animal agriculture up close and maybe even participate in the Poultry Project next year.”
Among the highlights of the fair will continue to be the pageants — five of them, beginning with Little Miss Fairest of the Fair on Saturday, August 17, and continuing with pageants on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, before the Miss Scott County pageant on August 24 as the fair concludes.
New this year will be a talent show, Scott County’s Voice, on Friday night. Contestants will compete in three age categories — kids, youth and adults — with winners invited to perform prior to the start of Saturday’s pageant. The event is being presented by the Scott County Chamber of Commerce, and winners will also be invited to sing at the Chamber’s Fall on the Mall festival in October.
For now, organizers are counting down the days, making last-minute preparations, and anxiously watching the weather. Local legend says it always rains during fair week, a reference to some memorable fairs that were deluged by heavy rain in the 1980s and even the ‘90s. If the week of August 17-24 arrives with mostly dry and sunny weather, that’ll be the first sign that everything is going just as organizers hoped.
“We want the fair to be something for the community — a community event and an individual, fun time,” Krahn said. “We’re trying to make it better. We’re trying to do things that incorporate more for our community and represent our community better. We’re just trying to do everything we can to give Scott County a fair they can be proud of.”