The secret of success for the Clay County Fair in Green Cove Springs, Florida is - without a doubt - the network of dedicated volunteers.
About 1,200 volunteers spent 10 days in April putting all of their energies into the fair, said Pete Sutton, fair general manager. The fair was held from April 3 through April 12.
"Some of our people take their vacations from work to volunteer at the fair," said Sutton, who is in his 10th year of managing the fair. "They do everything from helping people get around to helping to keep the grounds clean. I don't know what we'd do without their dedication. We are absolutely blessed."
The fair this year was also blessed with fair weather. The weather the last three days of the event was perfect, said Sutton. Attendance was down the first Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday due to threatening weather in the area.
But, when the fair finally started, there were brief periods of rain only on Monday night and early Tuesday morning.
"It actually rained only that once," he said. "We were very, very blessed."
As a result of the fabulous weather, the 28th annual fair broke all-time attendance records. The 2014 attendance was 109,862, a 6.49 percent increase over last year.
The previous attendance record for the fair was 106,789, and that record was set in 2011. Fair officials set a goal this year for 110,000.
"We almost made it, only short by 132," said Sutton.
The fair has been going on since 1986 in this city on the St. Johns River, famous for its warm mineral spring. Green Cove Springs is located in northeast Florida, south of Jacksonville. It was originally thought that the mineral spring was the legendary "fountain of youth."
Admission to the fair was $8 for adults, $5 for senior citizens over the age of 65 and $5 for children. Children under the age of 5 were admitted free.
On Tuesday, all armbands for the rides were only $12. There was also "Think Green" Day, when a donation of two cans of food per person equaled one-half the cost of admission.
Coupons from the fair program were another money-saver. Select food vendors were allowing those attending the fair to use the coupons from the program, or the coupons could be downloaded from the fair website.
The fair was originally meant to be dedicated to agriculture, said Sutton, and it continues along those lines today. The area also has a lot of timbering going on, he said.
"Forty-nine percent of the people who come to the fair come from outside of the city," he said. "We've had a little of everything here when it comes to animals. Goats, pigs, steers and cattle. The people in the area have a genuine appreciation for agriculture. Timber is big here, too."
The 4H and Future Farmers of America Youth Livestock sale was very successful this year, Sutton said. The total sale brought in $223,325 for the participants. The amount was a new record, he said.
Sutton said he was pleased that there were several visitors representing other fairs at the Clay County Fair this year. They came from the state of Virginia and from Columbia County, Pasco County, Osceola County, Miami-Dade County, Volusia County and Duval County, Florida.
In addition, he said, the National Independent Concessionaires Association Board of Directors and the State Future Farmers of America officers attended.
"Post visit feedback was very complementary," he said.
Many of those comments were a tribute to the volunteers, he said.
Entertainment for the fair was kicked off by Kellie Pickler. Pickler, a country and western singer who found fame on the fifth season of American Idol, performed to a packed house. The petite blonde has had hits like Best Days of Your Life, Didn't You Know How Much I Loved You, Little Bit Gypsy, Red High Heels, I Wonder and My Angel, a song she wrote for her grandmother when the woman died of lung cancer when Pickler was 15.
Also, on the same night that Pickler performed, Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell, head coach Gus Bradley and a few Jaguars players attended the fair. The ROAR cheerleaders also made an appearance.
The Swon Brothers took the stage on April 12. The American Country Music duo Zach and Colton Swon finished in third place on the fourth season of NBC's The Voice in 2013.
Reserved seating for all of the concerts was available for an extra cost, said Sutton, but general seating at the concerts was free with the cost of admission to the fair.
Chloe Channell, a contestant on America's Got Talent, opened for the Diamond Rio Concert. That concert was held on Thursday, April 10.
Diamond Rio replaced Ronnie Milsap, who was forced to bow out at the last minute.
The previous night, on Wednesday, April 9, country singer Thomas Rhett performed in concert. His recording, Got To Get Me Some of That, rose high on the country music charts.
On the midway, Deggeller Attractions, based in Stuart Florida, presented more than 40 rides for both adults and children. Sutton said popular this year were the high-swinging Vertigo, the Mind Bender and the Super Nova.
The fair featured ground acts, strolling acts and the concert series, with something going on for everybody for most of the time the fair was opened, said Sutton.
The frog jumping competition and the pig races were popular favorites, he said.
The fair was advertised in print ads, television and radio as well as social media, according to the fair manager.
Next year, the Clay County Fair will be held from April 2 through April 11, 2015. Fair officials are already busy making plans.