By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
Chase County fair board members expressed nothing but excitement for the success of the 2009 edition of the fair.
Board President Dave Schilke said people in the county seem to have a reborn enthusiasm for the fair over the past several years.
Schilke said their challenge is to keep the fair entertaining and be ready to make changes to sustain this newfound enthusiasm.
This year marked some of the best attendance for the fair in a number of years.
Friday and Saturday night’s grandstand shows drew some of the biggest crowds in several years.
Friday’s show, featuring 38 Special, followed by The Rumbles, drew slightly more than 2,400 fans.
On Saturday, more than 2,300 fans turned out to see Little Big Town, despite a delay midway into the show due to rain.
Last year, more than 2,400 turned out to see Alice Cooper.
This resurgence didn’t just happen, Schilke noted.
About three years ago, the fair board knew they had to make some changes and adapt if the fair was going to continue its tradition as “Western Nebraska’s Greatest County Fair.”
With the cost of entertainment for the grandstand shows skyrocketing, the fair had to find shows that would still fall within their budget while still drawing fans.
Each year, the fair budgets between $80,000 to $100,000 for entertainment acts with the goal of making the shows self-sustaining.
Schilke said they met that goal this year, which shows the changes made are starting to work.
Some of those changes have included beer sales at the Friday and Saturday shows, the sale of tickets on the Internet, the creation of a Chase County Fair e-mail fan club and contracting with a new carnival, Heart of America Shows.
All of those things together have created a new excitement for the fair, Schilke said.
Ticket co-manager Larry Munger estimated that about 80 percent of this year’s ticket sales were made through the fair’s web site.
E-mail fan club members got to purchase tickets several days before general sales opened, accounting for about 10 percent of all sales.
Corporate sponsorship up
This year’s fair drew the largest number of corporate sponsors in its history with 34 on board. Schilke said the board has already been contacted by individuals and businesses about joining those ranks next year.
Corporate sponsorship helps defray cost for fair events and activities while building a fund for ground improvements.
Overall attendance strong
Overall attendance continued at a strong pace with a large crowd on hand for Saturday’s parade.
The Young Farmers and Ranchers served more than 920 people during their barbecue following the parade.
The two car shows Saturday afternoon drew their largest number of entries ever.
The expo grounds were sold out and featured a variety of vendors showing their wares.
The Imperial Lions reported this year as one of its top four ever in gross proceeds for its bingo stand, despite the rain, and food vendors said sales were up this year, as well.
Carnival a real plus
Schilke said the praise continues to come in for the new carnival hired by the fair last year and is one of the positive changes made to help build the fair.
People said the carnival was well-maintained, workers were clean and friendly and selection of rides and booths was significantly better than in past years.
When people heard the fair was getting the same carnival this year as last, sales of mega-ride passes skyrocketed to an all-time high, Schilke said.
The fair has a contract for the carnival through next year and will soon consider a three-year extension.
Entertainment chair Dan Kunnemann said the carnival operators expressed their desire to grow with the fair, as well.
He said Heart of America is wanting to know what they can do to improve the carnival experience for those coming to the fair.
It’s a good partnership, Kunnemann noted.
Rain not real disruptive
Attendance at the fair got a boost from recent rains which allowed farmers to shut down their sprinklers for a couple of days and come to the fair.
While rain fell Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, it did little to disrupt planned activities, fortunately.
A light rain fell just before the Christian family concert Wednesday but moved through without bothering the concert.
On Thursday, rain delayed the start of the demolition derby but helped improve the conditions of the track inside the arena.
On Friday, the start of the 38 Special concert was delayed until a storm passed but the evening was completed without any more rain.
On Saturday, the Little Big Town concert was already underway when an approaching thunderstorm and lightning forced them to halt the show for about 45 minutes.
After the storm passed, the group returned to the stage to complete another memorable fair show.
Schilke said the fair is always scheduled to conclude on the third weekend of August. That makes next year’s fair dates Aug. 15-22.
This year’s Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln runs Aug. 28 through Sept. 7.
This marks the state fair’s final year in Lincoln. It will be relocated to Grand Island beginning in 2010.
Kunnemann also serves on the board of the state fair.