Attendance at this year's Freedom Fest State Fair in Upper Freehold, New Jersey would have exceeded records had it not been for one uncontrollable obstacle: rainstorms. The fair, which took place from July 9th to 14th, lost the weekend to torrential downpours.
"Three of our six days were the best we've ever had. We lost Friday. We couldn't even open. Saturday the rain just continued throughout the day," said Freedom Fest State Fair General Manager Nick DeMauro. "People were so excited about coming to the fair that we still had our second-best Saturday ever. Without the rain, it would have been the biggest day."
Due to the ongoing rain, fair organizers also had to postpone the scheduled Saturday fireworks to Sunday, which DeMauro says was the best Sunday the fair HAS ever had. DeMauro attributes this year's high attendance to the hand-picked selection of live entertainment..
"We made a decision to bring the fair to the next level. We had two of our biggest bands, The Marshall Tucker Band and the Little River Band," said DeMauro.
Originally from South Carolina, The Marshall Tucker Band has been playing a blend of rock and country music since the 1970s. The band plays between 150 and 200 shows per year, and their song "Can't You See" was used in the opening and closing credits of the 2008 film Swing Vote, starring Kevin Costner. The Little River Band, also formed in the 1970s, is a rock band from Australia. In 2001, the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), deemed their song "Cool Change" to be one of the top 30 Australian songs of all time.
Other musical acts at this year's fair included Jeffrey Gaines, Tusk, Lindsay Highlander, CB Radio, Kindred Spirit, The River Dogs, and Eryn Shewell and the Miz Band.
Free entertainment included racing pigs, a petting zoo, a nightly pie-eating contest, and a dog show. Local radio personality Big Joe Henry from 101.5 FM agreed to be hypnotized by Las Vegas-trained hypnotist Catherine Hickland. On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, members of the US Wild Horse and Burro Association performed a riding demonstration, and on Friday and Saturday the Autumn Riders of New Jersey showcased their horses. The cast of Lizard Lick Towing, a reality television series that airs on truTV, also made an appearance.
Approximately 25 food vendors provided a wide variety of international and traditionalfair eats. On Healthy Eating Saturday, the fair hosted herb-tasting alongside a gardening show and a farmers market.
The Freedom Fest State Fair has been partnering with Reithoffer Shows for five years.. Reithoffer's route takes them as far north and Vermont and as far south as Florida.
"They provide a really a phenomenal ride package for us with about 30 rides. We have three years left on the contract. The carnival midway was a little down because of the rain and the special deals, but the new Vertigo and Full Tilt rides were the major successes," said DeMauro.
Admission was $10 for adults and $5 for children. Camp Days at the Freedom Fest State Fair offered an opportunity for campers and counselors to spend an afternoon enjoying the Fest's rides, attractions and entertainment for just $12. Other special promotions included Ten Buck Tuesday, when guests could enjoy all the rides for $10, Car Load Night, when up to seven legal passengers per car could enter the fair for $60 (including all rides and admission), $1 off gate admission and $2 off rides for each donated non-perishable food item, and a $25 pay-one-price-per-ride night. For the second year, the Freedom Fest State Fair made a partnership with Walgreens to sell half-price tickets and Megapasses.
"We tried it last year on a smaller scale, and we really pushed it this year. It worked out well. Through our carnival company Reithoffer Shows, they have a connection that facilitated everything with Walgreens for us," said DeMauro.
The fair's advertising budget was $30,000, which was divided among print, internet, billboards, signs, store coupons, and radio. The marketing team was able to track a digital banner ad campaign on NJ.com, the number one news and information site in New Jersey. In addition, the fair organizers partnered with Groupon and direct mail coupon companies to offer discounted admission. Groupon promotions included a two-person fair package for $12 ($25 value), a two-person fair package including rides for $23.50 ($50 value), and a four-person fair package including rides for $70 ($150 value).
"With the media sponsors, we give them a nice sponsorship package, and they give us a lot of in-kind services in return," said DeMauro.
Free advertising came in the form of the fair's Facebook page, which currently has more than 1,000 likes. On the page, organizers post updates about the fair, photos, and reminders about live events.
"Facebook was really a big plus this year. We started the year with only 300 likes," said DeMauro.
The fair's total annual budget is $200,000, and it's been run by an independent agricultural association, Freedom Fest State Fair Inc, for the past 11 years.
"We started out as a small-town carnival," said DeMauro.
Next year's Freedom Fest State Fair is already scheduled for the same dates, and organizers are beginning the planning process. Most of all, DeMauro hopes to increase the agricultural offerings at upcoming fairs.