The Big Butler Fair returned for 2018 from June 29 through July 7 in Prospect, Pennsylvania.
Now in its 163rd year, the Big Butler Fair is often known as the largest agricultural fair in Western Pennsylvania, and for good reason – annually, it draws more than 100,000 people from around Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and West Virginia.
Things started off a bit rough this year, however, due to the intense heat wave sweeping across the area.
Vice President Ben Roenigk says that attendance for the fair was dramatically down this year during the first several days and adds that the weather was primarily to blame for killing the vibe. Six out of the fair's nine days were fraught with temperatures that averaged over 90 degrees, which made for an uncomfortable outdoor experience. It was the stifling heat kept potential fairgoers away. Roenigk adds, however, the fair experienced a surge in attendees toward its end, happily.
“The last two days were terrific,” he says. “Things cooled off and we had a great crowd come out.”
Cost of admission
Tickets at the gate for the 2018 Big Butler Fair were $7 before 4 p.m. and $9 after 4 p.m.
Roenigk says that one successful aspect in relation to fair cost has been the fact that kids under the age of 6 get in for free, a big fair perk that was implemented in 2017.
All-day ride bands were available for purchase at a cost of $20. Parking was free.
The variety of entertainment offered is one factor that keeps guests coming back year after year.
Big Butler Fair also boasts several free concerts. For 2018, these concerts included Joe Patrick and Four on the Floor Band, Neal McCoy, Frank Vieira, Sam Grow and Dylan Scott.
For other entertainment options, some of the new attractions this year included the Bengal Tiger Show and a butterfly house, which were said to be a huge hits, especially with children. A blacksmith showcase was also featured and Roenigk says it was highly successful. The blacksmith performed demonstrations and also offered some of his creations for purchase, which drew quite a crowd.
The fair was chock-full of a number of additional activities. There was lively square dancing, several different demolition derbies that included a school bus demolition derby as well as a giant auto demolition derby, monster trucks, a petting zoo, camel rides, chainsaw carving, harness racing, a celebrity milking contest, a shooting on horseback exhibition and a mud bog.
The Y108 Freedom Fest free concert was also a big success, and the night of Freedom Fest the fair hosted bike night, where people driving their bikes into the Grandstand through the West Gate could take advantage of free admission to the fairgrounds and concert.
For children, there were special activities such as the Carnival Kiddle Land and the Kids Caravan Parade.
Roenigk says that animal features are also always popular with visitors. Aside from the usual 4-H events, visitors had the opportunity to observe a mini horse demonstration and a draft horse fun show.
The fireworks show is another fair favorite and frequently draws a huge number out. The annual fireworks show is managed by Shively Fireworks.
On the Midway
We can't forget the vast amount of entertainment on the midway. More than 60 rides are featured on the Big Butler Fair midway and the amusements are provided by Powers Great American Midways, which offers an extensive number of rides for everyone. Some of the most popular with fairgoers are said to be the carousel, Ferris wheel and chair swings. Gross revenue for the rides could not be provided at this time.
The fair also boasts between 75 and 100 food vendors. Roenigk says that popular offerings this year included the crepes and stuffed hot peppers.
For a new twist, local company Steel City Jerky also had a tent, offering homemade beef jerky in a variety of wonderful flavors including barbecue, mesquite, pepper jack and hot and spicy.
Big Butler Fair spends around $60,000 on advertising. Roenigk says that as newspapers are being phased out, the fair does not utilize advertising in them as much, and spreading the news on the Internet is probably the most popular way to get the word out these days. The majority of the budget is broken down through radio, TV, Internet ads, on Facebook and with billboard advertisements.
Challenges and Looking Ahead
One challenge for the fair is keeping the younger generations interested and coming back, according to Roenigk. He says that the fair board tries to sit down and make a number of changes each year to ensure that there is entertainment that is fresh and unique and especially appealing to fairgoers in the younger crowd.
“We have success with things like the truck pulls and horse pulls,” he shares. “These keep them coming out. But we also have a variety of things to do. Our fair is special because we are nine days long, which is an advantage, as most fairs are shorter and run for about six days. We are also open over the fourth of July, which is another advantage. And our fair price can't be beat.”
When it comes to the future, he is hopeful and he says the fair board aims to simply grow the fair to be bigger and better than in previous years.