Last year was a mixed bag for Tennessee fairs due to whether challenges and a slowly recovering economy. But the attitude of the fair industry remains upbeat and committed,
"If you're in the fair business, you love the fair business and you stick with it," said Emily Pitcock, Executive Secretary, Tennessee Association of Fairs. "You have to be positive."
How successful any given fair can be is partially determined by the weather, and rain hurt a few events. "It all depends on the weather," said Pitcock. The bulk of Tennessee Fairs occur in August and September, which tended to be very rainy months last year. "But we also have Spring and Summer fairs, and they had better weather."
The economy is also mixed in Tennessee, although generally on the upswing.
"The economy is getting better in some places in Tennessee," she said. "There are a lot of industries coming into the state of Tennessee and unemployment in some counties is the lowest it has been."
The Tennessee Association of Fairs represents 57 fairs, all of whom share the main goal of promoting agriculture. "Our main goal is agricultural, supporting agriculture and educating the public about the importance of agriculture," she said. "Western Tennessee is more rural and have more crops, and they are not doing as well as the Eastern portion of the state, where it's more livestock. Livestock prices are doing better than crop prices."
The annual convention of the association attracted 925 attendees, of which she estimates that 50 were associate members. Nearly everybody who attended the convention was a volunteer and going to the three day event is both a show of appreciation and an opportunity for networking, idea sharing and education. The Break-Out Session topics at the convection included: Round Table Discussion on Entertainment, Sponsorship & Volunteers for Fairs; 10 Principals of Good Advertising Design Before You Start Your Next Marketing Project; Round Table Discussion on The Function and Running of your Fair; and Showcases of Entertainment.
Because of limitations of trade show floor exhibit space at the hosting venue, there were only 18 exhibit booths and a limited entertainment. Tennessee fairs are looking to book more motor sports and grounds entertainment, said Pitcock, mainly as a reaction to soaring entertainment costs. "Entertainers have outpriced themselves," she said. "The small fairs and county airs in Tennessee can't afford those big entertainers."
A few county fairs book "one or two" big names, but for the most part they are replacing star power with motor power. "We are seeing more demolition derbies and monster truck shows, which have a big drawing power. We are doing more walking or strolling acts, as well as local contests, which brings in the community."
By cutting back on big name entertainment, this frees up some entertainment dollars which many Tennessee fairs are using to expand other entertainment offerings. "We are using more strolling acts," she said. "These are very important for fairs, the children love them, and we can also use them to educate children. They are a lot cheaper than the headline entertainment, so we are increasing those acts."
In addition to a wet late summer negatively impacting Tennessee fairs, negative publicity also had a deleterious effect. Two ride accidents within a month's time in Tennessee captured local headlines, gained national exposure and sent shockwaves throughout the Tennessee fair industry that were still apparent at the annual convention. In August, three girls were injured after falling from a Ferris Wheel at the Greene County Fair in Greenville. Then in early September a Moon Raker ride also malfunctioned.
"It was my understanding that ride inspectors held meetings with carnival companies about new procedures," said Pitcock. "The carnival companies have taken responsibility, and this was a discussion at our associates member meeting. Everyone is sympathetic to the fairs and we are all concerned. We have to ensure the public that our state's midways are safe."
The association also gave out its annual Merit Awards at the convention, including: Champion of Champions Fair award - Single "A" Division/Bledsoe County Fair - White County Fair/ 1st runner up A Division; Trousdale County Fair/Single "A" Division, and Humphrey's County Fair, which won Most Improved Fair/Single "A" Division; Double "AA" Division - Rhea County Fair won Champion Fair; Clayborn County/1st Runner Up AA Division; Obion County/2nd Runner Up AA Division and Lauderdale County Fair, which won Most Improved Fair; Triple "AAA" Division - Cumberland County won Champion of Champions; Putnam County Fair/1st runner up AAA Division; Wilson County Fair/2nd Runner Up AAA Division and Sevier County won Most Improved Fair/ AAA Division. Champion of Champions Premier Fair winners were Fentress County Agricultural Fair/ Single "A" Fair; Anderson County Fair/ Triple "AAA" Division; Benton County Fair/ Single "A" Division.
2017 Fair Showcase Winners were : Premium Book - A Division: 1st - White County Fair; 2nd - Fentress County Ag. Fair; 3rd - Bledsoe County Fair; Premium Book - AA Division: 1st - Obion County Fair; 2nd - Dickson County Fair; 3rd - Franklin County Fair; Premium Book - AAA Division: 1st - Sevier County Fair; 2nd - Putnam County Fair; 3rd - Williamson County Fair; Fair Brochure: 1st - Tennessee Valley Fair; 2nd - Rhea County Fair; 3rd - Smith County Fair; Showbill: 1st - Dickson County Fair; 2nd - Wilson County Fair; 3rd - Overton County Fair; Flyer: 1st - Bedford County Fair; 2nd - Wilson County Fair; 3rd - Sevier County Fair; Fair Poster: 1st - Williamson County Fair; 2nd - Bedford County Fair; 3rd - Tennessee Valley Fair; Pick Tennessee Products Exhibit: 1st - Wilson County Fair; 2nd - Jefferson County Fair; 3rd - Coffee County Fair; Fair Promotional Item: 1st - Warren County Fair; 2nd - Lauderdale County Fair; 3rd - Franklin County Fair. Best Fair Theme: 1st - Sequatchie County Fair; 2nd - Gibson County Fair; 3rd - Rhea County Fair: Best Video (DVD/USB): 1st - Bledsoe County Fair; 2nd - White County Fair; 3rd - Warren County Fair.