The Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair must have sent a beacon across the Florida skies from November 6 through November 17 - Entertainment! Wow!
The wow factor came from the long line of entertainment the fair featured every night, from the old, tried and true rockers of the past like Molley Hatchet, the Atlantic Rhythm Section, with all of their high energy from the 70s, to the up-and-coming singing sensations from today, like Sara Evans, with three platinum albums and several number one singles.
The fair, held in Jacksonville, Florida every year, had a spectacular run, said Gayle Hart, vice president of marketing.
"We did incredibly well," Hart said. "The weather was great. We had one day of rain, and we had a couple of days when it was really cold, but that didn't stop anything."
The gate attendance was 378,354 people, Hart said, a slight increase over the previous year. Admission advance tickets sales were tremendous, she said. The advance tickets were sold through Walgreen's Pharmacy, "a great promotion."
Fairgoers could also purchase a Mega Pass at the same time, she said.
The Greater Jacksonville Fair has been going on since 1955. About 45,000 people attended that first year. The goal of the fair since the beginning has been to educate, enlighten and inform people of North Florida about science, the arts, agriculture and horticulture.
The organization that owns the fair is a private, 501 c (3) not-for-profit educational corporation chartered by the state of Florida and dedicated to maintaining a high-quality family fair.
The fair's original home was once the Gator Bowl, now the Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. In May 1989, the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair Association broke ground on its permanent home adjacent to its prior location. In 1990, the first fair was held at the new fairground. More than 700,000 people attended.
The fair operates under the direction of a volunteer board of directors and volunteer membership. Volunteers are an integral part of the fair's success, Hart said. Over 500 volunteers participate in the development and presentation of the fair every year.
The Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair is the largest fair/festival in northeast Florida and is currently ranked 47th in the United States by carnivalwarehouse.com. The fair has an estimated economic impact on Duval County in excess of $10 million. The impact to the city of Jacksonville through lease revenues and revenues from parking during the 12 days of the fair is annually in excess of $195,000.
The fair impacts the community in other ways, too. Since its inception, the fair has made contributions totaling approximately $3.1 million to charitable and civic organizations.
This year marks the 58th year of the greater Jacksonville Fair. The fair is held in downtown Jacksonville adjacent to EverBank Field.
Admission cost at the gate was $8 for adults and $5 for children and senior citizens over the age of 65. But there were plenty of specials to attract fair visitors. Admission was only $3 all day for everybody on opening day, and there was a $15 ride wristband available.
Senior citizens were free on November 8, and the Youth Beef Cattle show was held on that night.
On November 9, students 17 or younger were admitted free between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. On Sunday, November 10, there was a pet food drive and a Youth Dog Show.
Members of the military and their dependents, with proper identification, were admitted free the following day, and there was a $10 wristband available for the rides. Seniors 65 and older were admitted free again on November 15, and the Brahman Cattle Show was held.
For the fourth year in a row, Belle City Amusements took over the midway with a spectacular display and over 60 rides, said Hart. Her favorite was the Moonraker, the only one of its kind in the United States. On the Moonraker, riders sit on a giant spinning disk which rises into the air with an oscillating action. The Moonraker was built by SDC of Europe and is currently the only ride of its kind traveling in North America, said Hart.
As for more entertainment, Grandpa's Cough Medicine came on stage on the first day of the fair. The band, with a banjo, acoustic guitar and standup base, is touted as walking "the fine line between traditional bluegrass and hell-raising outlaw music." The trio has a following throughout north Florida and southern Georgia.
Dance Day was held on November 9. Local dance schools performed all day. VIP passes to the concerts were available online before the fair at $10 each. Free seating to all of the concerts was available with the price of admission.
There was also an opportunity for fairgoers to get on stage themselves with the "Take the Stage" promotion. All they had to do was submit their videos and win a chance for a $500 prize.
Sara Evans was a big headliner, Hart said. The girl has won awards from the Academy of Country Music, the Country Music Association, from Broadcast Music and she's won a Dove Award. Her latest single is "Slow Me Dow," released in August.
Cassadee Pope, winner in the third season of "The Voice" was also on stage at the fair. Her current top hit single is "Wasting All of Those Tears."
There was also Robinson's Racing Pigs, Jump the Dog Clown, The Fire Fighters Show and all of the other agricultural shows held throughout the fair.
For the first time this year, the Jacksonville Fair had North Carolina barbeque and Mexican food, and that was fun, said Hart. But the most popular food of all at the fair was definitely Ragin' Cajun Harvell Chicken. It was the first time for the chicken at the fair, said Hart, and everywhere you looked on the fairgrounds some had their hand in a bag of chicken.
"Everybody was eating it," she said.