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Wilson County Fair: Tops in Tennessee and beyond


By Linda Van Slyke

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While anticipating next year's Wilson County Fair (mark those 2016 calendars: August 19th through the 27th), what better thing to do than to relive 2015's many great moments.  

After all,you don't get to be a Top 50 Fair by sleeping at the Big Wheel.
What makes this fair "Tops" is not just such legendary headliners as the Four Tops, but also an overall potent blend of old-timey traditional with state-of-the-art modern.  Plus, as they say in the biz:  location, location, location!
North, South, East and West
It has been said that Wilson County, part of Nashville's greater metropolitan area, is just a day's drive from 75 percent of the U. S. population.  Helen McPeak, Executive Director of the Wilson County Fair, stated, "We are in a perfect location, less than a mile off of Interstate 40."
McPeak explained, "Our fair draws crowds from North, South, East and West.  Just one look at the license plates in our parking lot bears this out.  A lot of people plan their vacations around coming here."
Nashville, of course, is known as "Music City."  The locale is also renowned for its history (e.g., Civil War sites and Andrew Jackson's Hermitage), architecture (Parthenon replica), food (meat-and-three meals), university life (Vanderbilt and Fisk), museums (Tennessee State) and galleries.
Wilson County itself is quite distinctive.  Once the site of an important saltpeter mine, it supplied the main ingredient for gunpowder during pivotal battles of the 19th century. Wikipedia explains that the county is also "home to a large concentration of cedar glades, a unique ecosystem."  The county seat, home to the fairgrounds, is named Lebanon after the famed Cedars of Lebanon.
One of the fair events is designed to give patrons a real feel for the surrounding locale.  McPeak explained, "We lead a bicycle ride around Wilson County.  It begins early on Saturday morning and goes around for a number of miles.  There's a short loop and a longer loop."
Old and New
 The fair's epicenter for old-timey happenings is within Fiddler's Grove.  McPeak elaborates, "Fiddler's Grove is our historical village.  It contains more than 50 buildings that have been either relocated or replica-built."
The fair's website explains that these buildings include the Hagar Cabin, the Stringtown General Store, the Grist Mill, the Blacksmith's Shop, the Rowland Barnyand the Melrose Church.  There are nightly demonstrations in such skills as campfire cooking, broom making, wood carving, quilting, spinning and weaving.
The freshly-made molasses is finger-licking good.  McPeak added, "We have a working grist mill that is powered with electricity to turn the water wheel.  We grind corn for meal, grits and hash."
"On Saturdays we have salsa making and a barbecue cookout.  There's a worship service at the Melrose Church on Sunday morning at 9 o'clock.  We also do sacred harp singing."
"Plus, there are two different Civil War camps, providing two different views at how life might have been back then.  One camp shows the military tents, attire, things like that. The other shows how civilian families helped out with canning, washing clothes, cooking, etc."
McPeak continued, "We attribute our success to having good clean family fun and something for everyone.  On the modern end of our spectrum, Amusements of America brought us some new rides this year.  A very popular one was Nemesis 360."  
"Crazy Mouse and Ring of Fire have also been midway favorites.   Amusements of America has been our provider for the last five years, and they will be with us again next year."
"The 4-H Chicken Shack was another real crowd pleaser.  They work with an old family recipe that's been passed down for years and years.  Their barbecue chicken is grilled over an open fire and served with cobblers."
As for other happenings, there were plenty.  McPeak said, "We had livestock shows in three different barns each night of the week.  There was music on seven stages, and a motor sports arena every single night of the fair.  The Exhibit Buildings featured entries by our local community, both youth and adults."
"This year, for the very first time, we extended the school spirit jam to include our football kickoff.  All of the area schools brought their football players, which involved even more of   the students and their parents than usual."
Great Stats
 McPeak reported that attendance reached 557,702 this year, the second-highest total ever.  

She added, "We had a couple of days of rain that affected us, but good weather otherwise. Temperatures were in the 80s by day, and in the 70s by night."
"We were able to keep our advertising budget within set limits by utilizing a lot of in-kind services.  Our person who's been heading this up for many years does a great job with community networking.  Being this close to Nashville also really helps."
"We had some really good promotions, too.  On Saturdays we had Early Bird Specials with $2 off admission from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.  On Monday, Senior Citizen Day, people 60 and over got a dollar off.  On Sunday, if you brought a bulletin from your favorite place of worship, you got $2 off (adults only).  On opening day, if you bought one carnival-ride $22 armband, you 
could get a second one at half price."

Gate admission was regularly $8 for adults, $6 for children 6 to 12, and free for children 5 and under.  Season tickets were $33 each.  There were acres of free parking, and preferred parking was $5 per car per day.  On Saturdays only, patrons could purchase round-trip train tickets from Nashville to the fairgrounds and back.  These special ticket prices ($21 for adults, $16 for kids ages 6 to 12) included fair admission.
The Wilson County Fair committee is already working on next year's plans.  McPeak and her team are hoping that at least part of the new Expo Center will be ready for use by then.  She's hoping for a 2016 as bright as 2015 and then some.

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