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Tennessee State Fair: Showcasing the best

2/20/2015

By Linda Van Slyke

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It's tough to compete with all of Nashville's excitement.  However, the Tennessee State Fair has more than managed to do so for 108 seasons.  Fair Manager Scott Jones explained that everyone "from Bob Hope to presidential candidates" have enjoyed this fair's sterling qualities. 

Jones added, "Our fair used to be run by the state.  From the 1930s until 2009, it went over to the metro government.  The non-profit Tennessee State Fair Association began running it in 2010. Most of our past records are still in the state and metro archives.  We intend to do some digging around for descriptions of some old-time highlights."

Showcasing Local Talent 
The Tennessee State Fair especially prides itself on discovering and showcasing local talent.  This year's 10th Annual Karaoke Showdown went by this motto:  "You might not be a big country star, but that doesn't mean you can't sing like you are."

The Karaoke Showdown offered monetary awards for 1st place ($500), 2nd place ($250) and 3rd place ($150).  Preliminary rounds were held for the first nine consecutive nights of the fair; then the top two from each of these rounds were invited back to compete one last time.

Jones added, "Our Moosic Stage (near the Dairy Parlor) featured top regional and local acts such as Wanna Beatles and the Tennessee State University Band.  This stage was right in the middle of our food court, and people often got up to dance.  We've had artists there that went on to achieve some stardom; one was young Taylor Ware, a yodeler who became the runner-up on America's Got Talent."

Plenty of 'Edutainment'
Around every bend, there seemed to be something that was not only entertaining, but also quite educational.  Monday and Tuesday were designated as Field Trip Days in which children were "able to tour a variety of FUN STATIONS."  The fair's website states that these stations were "filled with learning interactions about agriculture, sciences and technology."

Marketing and Event Manager Kinsey Emery said, "We started a few new educational initiatives this year.  We're essentially in downtown Nashville where fewer and fewer individuals have been exposed to the agricultural lifestyle.  Our daily FFA 'Ag' tours were therefore very well received."  

The Tennessean described these 'Ag' tours in the following manner:  "Future Farmers of America student members will take fairgoers on a tour of the barns to see various livestock, cow milking, a working bee hive, displays of fall produce such as gourds and pumpkins, as well as the rabbit barn, swine barn, etc." 

Fairgoers also had the educational opportunity to experience "international entertainment such as African drumming, Hispanic music and performances by local groups from the Kurdish, Chinese and Filipino communities on the Cultural Arts Stage daily through the fair."

A Great Deal  
The Tennessean had nothing but praise for what a great deal the 2014 fair was.  The columnist "Ms. Cheap" wrote, "Heck, you could easily spend less going to the fair than you would if you went out for a movie night...  I mean, where else could you go for as little as $5 and witness racing pigs, a dog agility show, some cowboy trick riding and roping, a mule pull, a sheep show, celebrity cow milking demonstrations, a parade, and lots of mini concerts... all in one place."

Jones mentioned some popular ground acts which were included in the gate admission.  He stated, "People especially loved Hendrick's Racing Pigs and the Kenya Safari Acrobats.  The crowds just continued to gather for the acrobats every time they performed.  Their bleachers were filled during almost every show, so we're looking to add bigger bleachers next year." 

The Flying Houndz Frizbee Trick Dog Show and Wade Henry "The High Roller" were also real crowd pleasers.  According to the fair's website, Wade Henry "features comedy juggling, tall unicycling, fire eating, balancing, music and plenty of audience participation."

Midway Memories 
Scott Jones said that North American Midway Entertainment has been providing the carnival since 2009.  Billed on its website as "the largest traveling outdoor amusement park in the world," the company is based in Farmland, Indiana.  Jones said, "This year we had a White Water Flume Ride that seemed to be a bit hit, and the Super Himalaya always draws some of the biggest crowds."

As for food, Jones waxed eloquently about the Deep-Fried Goo Goo.  He said, "It was the first candy bar here in Nashville that had mixed ingredients, so we embraced that tradition and deep-fried it on a stick." 

Then there was the Pineapple Whip.  Jones explained that this extremely popular frozen dessert was missing for the first stretch of operating days because "the vendor had an auto accident."  

When a substitute vendor arrived, fairgoers responded heartily.  Pineapple Whip is located in Springfield, Missouri.  Licensing rights are currently being handled by Island Whip, Inc.

Summing Up    
All in all, 2014 was a good year for the Tennessee State Fair.  Jones explained, "Our attendance at the gate was up, even though our advance-promotion ticket sales were down.  We had 106,663 last year; this year will probably total 109,000 or 110,000 when all the numbers come in."

Emery added, "In past years we purchased ads from radio, TV, etc.  This year we sat down with our media company in order to strategize how to get these stations to partner with us.  We then met with every radio and TV company in Nashville, and put the ball in their court by asking what they could give us in terms of value for money spent."

Both are looking forward to another successful year in 2015.  Jones stated, "We're continuing to grow, and we're here to showcase Tennessee's best industries and education.  That's our main focus."

Emery concluded, "The value that a family receives by visiting our fair is outstanding.  You really get a bang for your money in the form of entertainment, educational exhibits, kids' competitions, etc.  There's certainly a whole lot to do and see at the fair for very little money."



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