Everyone’s Fair – that was the tagline for the 2018 Delta Fair & Music Festival held in Memphis, Tenn. According to fair organizer, Mark Lovell, president of Universal Fairs, the genesis of this tagline Everyone's Fair was to both emphasize and build upon the wide appeal of the fair’s programming – a mix as its name implies of agricultural exhibits, midway rides and other traditional fair attractions with a hefty roster of music acts.
“We came up with the tagline because the fair is for all age groups,” said Lovell. “I think it was successful, it gained attention.”
Reticent about revealing exact figures, the advertising budget was increased slightly this year and the marketing approach combined a mix of traditional and grass roots methods. “We tried a few new things, he said. “We think outside of the box, some were successful, some not super successful.We try different strategies, with the basic formula being to get the biggest return, but some are difficult to track.”
The grassroots component consisted of fliers and posters, but the bulk of the expenditure was on TV, radio and billboards. “In the last couple of years, we switched to less TV, and to more outdoor advertising. With TV, there’s too many commercials. You get lost. There are too many other options, like Netflix or Amazon, and they don’t have any commercials. Broadcast networks have been taking a beating and don’t have the same response that they used to.”
The outdoor advertising – which included both static and digital billboards – seemed to have a more effective impact in the Memphis market, mainly due to the captive audience. “We experimented with the digital advertising. That worked well. Until they invent flying cars, placing billboards strategically gets noticed. We combine them with posters around the area.”
With an emphasis on music at the event, unsurprisingly radio remains the main medium for the fair. “We didn’t cut back on radio, but what station we use depends on the music lineup of the programming, whether it’s country or rock. Terrestrial radio works the best. We haven’t done the streaming services as much. I haven’t done satellite radio, I don’t think Sirius has dominated the market like they thought it would.”
For the purposes of the Delta Fair & Music Festival, radio reaches a targeted audience, and is trackable. “Long or short trips, people flip on the radio and there’s enough people still to justify spending on a radio campaign.”
Lovell shifted the music lineup of the fair, featuring fewer major national acts to more local and regional acts. The Music Festival component of the Delta Fair & Music Festival was still remarkable – three stages showcased the music – featuring more than 150 acts. Equally impressive as the amount was the array of genres represented – successfully mirroring the dynamic diversity of the Memphis music scene of the 21st century.
Acts included such crowd pleasers and niche players as R5, The LACS, Uncle Kracker, The S.O.S. Band, Jason D. Williams, Hot Chelle Rae, Will Tucker, AJ Mitchell, Morgan Johnston, Madison Beer, In Real Life, Jessica Meuse, Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, McKenna Bray, Susan Marshall, John Paul Keith, Negro Terror, Pulse - A Tribute to Pink Floyd, James and The Ultrasounds, The Ranger Bluegrass Revue, Jacob Bryant, Eric Hughes Band.
The most popular band and biggest draw was a homecoming tribute to Johnny Cash, who recorded his hits in Memphis. The closing night concert featured “a night of songs and stories from multi generations of the Cash Family.
Performances by Johnny’s nephew Mark Alan Cash, grandson Thomas Gabriel, nephew Roy Cash, friend of Cash Family and world-renown trumpet player Dan Oxley and closing out the night will be WS “Fluke” Holland and Band. Fluke was Johnny’s dear friend and his only drummer for 37 years … Also on display will be Johnny’s Famous “One Piece at a Time” Cadillac”
“The entire night was all dedicated to Johnny Cash, it had the same Tennessee Two performers who were on the Sun Sessions records,” said Lovell. “It was a great night and a great draw, but it was even better walking through the fair and knowing what a good state or county fair really feels like. It had a good wholesome, all-American feel.”
Making the lineup heavy on the local talent was both challenging and rewarding. “It made it more about community,” he said. “We didn’t really save that much because we still paid our local acts. It is more challenging to promote local and regional people than the bigger acts. You pretty much don’t have to promote them as much. But with the local and regional acts, you have to do more hands-on, ground-level stuff. Radio always jumps on board with the bigger acts, but that is not as true with the local acts. The national acts have their own following, but the local acts also have their own following and do their own marketing so they also bring in people.”
He added, “we may have gone a little too heavy with the local acts this year. We were about 90 percent regional, maybe next year we might go to only 70 percent.”
Another change from 2017 was contracting with three different carnival companies for a midway of 58 rides. Last year, the Delta Fair & Music Festival contracted with Reed Expositions for this midway, this year Lovell added Mitchell Brothers & Sons Amusements and PBJ Happee Day Shows. “We wanted a stronger presence with the rides so we added more companies,” he said. “We were just trying to step up our spectacular rides. We had nice, clean good quality rides. We had more thrill rides and higher capacity rides. We also did everyday wristbands and they were up.”
Lovell made sure the event lived up to its Everyone’s Fair boast with a plethora of family friendly activities, including Meet & Greets followed by performances with Sky Katz from Disney's hit show Raven's Home and Asher Angel from Andi Mack.
A major interactive exhibit was Ed Expo, that featured learning experience of “a traditional rural fair with modern touches.” The curriculum covered agriculture, commerce, family living, history, technology and natural resources. In addition the fair featured an Inflatable Planetarium, petting zoo, white tiger exhibit as well as a range of contests including livestock competition, talent show and crafts contests.
While a jam-packed roster of musical talent may have highlighted this urban fair, organizers also keep the event in touch with its farming and family value roots. “It is a traditional fair, and entries into all our contests were up.”
The fair also benefitted from a positive economy. “Things are better than last year, people are working and they were spending money. Sometimes that can go against you, but overall the economy was pretty strong.”
The one drawback was inconsistent weather. “You have to take the good with the bad. We were probably off by 30,000. We started strong and we wanted to finish strong. We had a few days of rain. On a Saturday night we had to close the fair at 7:00 because of lightning and a heavy downpour. It was heavy rain, coming down in buckets. We opened late on Sunday, which was soft.”
He added, “we had a good fair. I never exceed expectations. I am always trying to step up our game, fine tune the fair. Next year we may be looking at different carnival companies. I am always looking for new ground acts. You want to keep it fresh and new.”