For the first time, the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo went cashless. That doesn't mean admission, rides, games entertainment and food were all free, rather, fairgoers didn't have to worry about bulky wallets and heavy purses.
They simply loaded money onto Smart Cards before entering the fair and handed over the card to pay for everything from entry fees to corn dogs.
It seems to be the wave of the future for fairs across the land, general manager Chris Wiseman said, and it worked very well. "Most customers really liked it, especially the younger ones, I think," said Wiseman. "There was a little resistance from the older folks, but that was because they just weren't used to it. I believe Colorado is the first state fair nationwide that has gone this way. We are a pioneer in the technology. We plan to do it in the future."
The new system will provide information to help shape the future of the fair. According to the new system, the top three food items sold at the fair were funnel cakes, turkey legs and corn dogs.
"We found we had better control of the cash," said Wiseman. "All in all, we're happy."
And, as far as the fair went, everybody was happy when it ended its run from Aug. 23 through Sept. 2.
The weather was "fairly cooperative," Wiseman said. A little hot, but there were no nights of rain. Temperatures were in the hot 90s every day but settled into the comfortable 70s at night, perfect for watching concerts and riding thrill rides.
Crabtree Amusements had the carnival well handled, with 48 rides and a kiddy land separate from the adult entertainment. None of the prices for the rides were raised from last year.
Tickets were $1 each, and there was an unlimited wrist band available for $30. A special mega band sold for $90.To get to the midway, "Follow the Ferris Wheel (at night) and the bright lights and happy shouts," the fair's website instructed.
Attendance at the fair this year was up slightly, Wiseman said, likely 1 or 1 1/2 percent above last year. Attendance increased to 476,966; in 2012, 474,914 people attended the Colorado State Fair.
Admission for adults was $7 Monday through Thursday and $10 on weekends. It cost $7 for children from 5 to 12, and children under 4 got in free when accompanied by an adult. Hours for the fair were noon until 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Labor Day. The entry fee also remained the same as last year.
The rodeos, put on by the Professional Rodeo and Cowboys Association, were some of the most popular events, said Wiseman. There was Randy Houser and the PRCA Ram Rodeo and Dwight Yoakam and the Ram Rodeo. The Dwight Yoakam event was sold out.
The rodeo that ran from Tuesday through Saturday offered $120,000 in prize money to cowboys and cowgirls fro across the country. Admission to the event was $25. For the admission of $7 to $12, you could watch the American Freestyle Bullfights. The Ranch Rodeo was held on Aug. 28.
The Professional Rodeo and Cowboys Association ran for five nights and brought some of the country's top cowboys and cowgirls to Pueblo.
Pueblo is located right at the edge of the great plains of Colorado, said Wiseman, about 20 miles from the mountains. It is about 112 miles south of Denver and 43 miles south of Colorado Springs. Fair officials figure that about 50 percent of the people who attend the fair come from the Pueblo area, about 30 percent from the Colorado Springs area and the rest from around the state.
2013 marked the 141st year of the fair. Fair officials call it Colorado's "premiere celebration of agriculture." The fairgrounds provides nearly $34 million in economic activity to Colorado throughout the year; $29 million of that activity is driven by the annual State Fair event.
The fair features numerous horse and livestock shows, crop displays and 4-H and Future Farmers of America exhibits throughout the fairgrounds. The state fair dedicates much of its time and resources to supporting 4-H and FFA, said Wiseman, providing $479,830 of the annual budget to supporting these organizations each year.
The Colorado Touchstone Energy Cooperative's Junior Livestock Sale celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. According to preliminary totals, approximately $451,750 was raised for the youth of Colorado's 4-H and FFA organizations.
For example, $57,000 was bid on the grand beef cow this year. The animal is owned by Kyndal Reitzenstein, of Kersey, Colo.
Also auctioned off were hogs, sheep, goats, rabbits and poultry.
The Junior Livestock Sale Committee was formed 50 years ago in 1963 through the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce. The committee has 54 members, including five who have been working to help the sale every year since the committee was formed. The committee does all of the behind-the-scenes work to put on the event, contributing more than 1,800 hours of work.
Participation for the fair's horse shows and special horse events this year matched last year's high numbers, especially in the Draft horse and Mule Challenge, Youth Freestyle and Steer-Gathering contests.
In a variety of categories, including fine arts, canning, quilts, crops and cooking, the state fair general entry department received more than 8,000 entries.
Among the concerts, Lynyrd Skynyrd, with their special style of southern rock and roll, took the house down at the Colorado State Fair, said Wiseman. "That band was definitely the most popular," he said. "The concert was very close to being sold out."
Skynyrd, which became popular in the 1970s, is known for their own style of southern rock and roll. Two of the band's best known songs are Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird.
The Oak Ridge Boys, popular in their own right, and Seether also entertained at well-attended concerts.
Two grand opening ceremonies were celebrated during the fair.
The Colorado Proud Store debuted to educate consumers about the financial and environmental value of buying local products while also making the products available at the fair.
The Colorado State Fair Foundation celebrated the renovation of the Growing Minds Dormitory, which is used by approximately 450 4-H and FFA members annually.
The 2014 Colorado State Fair will be held from Aug. 22 through Sept. 1.