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Citrus County Fair has good run

5/2/2014

By Linda McNatt

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Stormy weather caused breaking news at the Citrus County Fair in Inverness, Florida this year.

On Saturday, March 29, torrential rains set in for the day, and tornadoes threatened the surrounding area. The fair closed for the day.

Hal Porter, fair manager since 2006, said he couldn't recall that the fair had ever before closed for a full day.

"Closing on Saturday was a big deal," Porter said. "We've closed part of other days before because of weather, but never full days before. It probably cut a little into our normal attendance numbers, but we're still trying to figure that out. We had to do what we had to do."

Weather for the rest of the fair which ran from March 24 through March 29 was beautiful, warm with plenty of sunshine. Weather in Inverness in  March is usually about 80 degrees, Porter said. It was very close to that this year, except for the final Saturday, when a slight chill moved in with the bad weather and rain.

Admission to the fair was $5 for adults and $3 for children. Children under the age of 4 were admitted free. There were specials offered on several days, like $2 Tuesday, when admission to the fair for everybody who attended was $2. Students would have been free on Saturday, had the fair remained opened that day.

Fair officials used radio, television, newspapers, billboards and "email blasts" to advertise the fair in this central Florida city about an hour north of Tampa. The city has a population of just over 7,000. According to Wikipedia and the late historian Mary McRae, Inverness got its name from a lonely Scotsman who saw the blue waters of the Native American-named lake Tsala Apopka and thought the area looked like the headlands and lochs of Inverness, Scotland. He felt the city deserved the name Inverness. Inver is a Gaelic word meaning "mouth of the River," and the River Ness flows through the city, originating from Loch Ness. Inverness was incorporated on March 6, 1917.

The fair started in 1948, just a couple of years after the end of World War II and has been celebrated every year since, said Porter. At the time, Inverness was the most northern point in the state of Florida where citrus trees grew. There are still some citrus groves in the area today, he said, but not nearly the number that there used to be.

The Citrus County Fair was originally meant to be used as a way to promote and celebrate the citrus industry and the agricultural elements the county enjoys, said Porter. Today, the agriculture of the county is just as prominent as it once was and is still a very important element of the fair. There are stock shows and competitions promoted by the schools and the Future Farmers and 4H organizations.

"Our livestock shows, agricultural and crafts exhibits are still very successful," said Porter. "We're thankful the community supports the fair so well."

The fair this year had all of the elements that have made it a success year after year, said Porter. All of the familiar fair foods were available throughout the fair grounds. And the entertainment went on from morning to night.

Mercy's Well, a well-known, popular gospel group opened the fair this year. The concert was included with the price of admission. Mercy's Well is based in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the group performs at fairs and conventions all over the country. It's made up of founder Brad Strider, Greg Gainer, Kyle King and pianist Josh Simpson. One of the group's most recent releases is "More Like Jesus, Less Like Me."

Strolling the fairgrounds from beginning to end was Oscar the Robot, a high tech strolling act that attracts crowds with its witty conversation, music and antics. Oscar takes his magic anywhere on the fairgrounds. He performed for up to six hours a day, said Porter. He greets fair goers in any of 15 languages as they arrive and then entertains them while directing them to the midway, commercial or 4H exhibits, emergency facilities or special events and attractions.

Porter said Oscar is often call the electronic pied piper, leading families and school groups on impromptu tours through agriculture and livestock areas, introducing them to the 4H and FFA kids and fielding questions. Oscar has his data-banks filled with amazing animal facts, his promoters say, such as Easter egg chickens, swine sunburn, dairy cow donor cud, sheep hygiene and hair crimping and honey bee career paths.

From his on-going work with NASA and the U.S. Army, Oscar introduces new technologies such as crop analysis via satellite, thermal imaging, hydrogen fuel cell and GPS technologies for tractors. Porter said Oscar fascinated children and adults alike.

Wade Henry, a juggler and unicyclist originally from Canada, was also a big part of the entertainment. Henry performs at fairs and conventions in both the United States and Canada. He's also a comic and a magician who now lives in Clearwater, Florida.

The Sweeny Family Band is a country comedy group a backwoods group with a flair for having fun. The Sweenys are based in Orlando, Florida.

Lloyd and Willy rounded off the entertainment with their comedy and music. Lloyd Mabrey plays a 12-string guitar and "Washboard" Willy performs on the jazz'd washboard.

All of the bright lights of the Citrus County Fair sparkled on the midway with Belle City Amusements. The company brought more than 30 exciting amusement rides with them, said Porter. The rides were for both adults and children and armband specials included one that offered unlimited rides for $3 for a period of four hours. Belle City has a reputation for one of the cleanest midways in the business. The company is based in Deltona, Florida and has 65 years of experience in the business.

If there are no weather issues next year, the Citrus County Fair will be held for six days, from March 23 through March 28.

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